W&M athletics receives $23.9 million gift from Zable estate

Walt Zable used to playfully tell William and Mary athletic director Terry Driscoll: "You'll be happy with me when I'm gone."

It was a nod to the multi-millionaire businessman and philanthropist's sense of humor, as well as a promise to his beloved alma mater.

As usual, Zable's word was golden, as his estate provided a $23.9 million gift to William and Mary, the school announced Friday.

"He was a very special man, a guy who I got to know personally," Driscoll said. "Just a very, very unique and wonderful guy to be around. He was extraordinarily generous throughout his life."

Zable's gift was the largest ever to W&M athletics and the second-largest estate bequest in the history of the school. Roy Charles donated $24.485 million after he passed away in 1999.

Zable's gift is to be split three ways: $10 million toward the cost of football scholarships, $10 million for repairs and renovations to the football stadium that already bears his name, and $3.9 million for the school to spend how it wishes.

Zable, W&M Class of 1937, passed away in June 2012 at 97, leaving a mountainous legacy. He was an honorable mention All-American in football and lettered in basketball, baseball and track. He was a physics major who relocated to California and founded a billion-dollar electronics company.

Cubic Corporation became a worldwide leader in military training technology systems and automated fare collection equipment, and Zable ran the company until his death.

"He was in some respects a larger-than-life guy, but he was as down-to-earth as you'd find," Driscoll said.

Zable and his first wife, Betty, who he met at William and Mary, donated a total of $29.4 million to the school through the years. The Board of Visitors named the stadium after him in 1990, and he served on the board from 1992-2000.

The $10 million toward scholarships will go into an endowment that's expected to generate approximately $400,000 annually, Driscoll said. Football scholarships cost $2.3 million for 2012-13.

"It would relieve some of the financial pressure from our fund-raising, and we hope free up some of the funding we already have and spend it in other places," Driscoll said. "It's very significant to receive a gift like this. It goes to the largest component of our budget, which is scholarships cost."

Driscoll said that a study is being done to determine the extent of repairs and renovations needed for the football stadium, which was built in 1935. Once repairs are made, the athletic department can look into possible upgrades and amenities.

"Not being a construction guy, I'd hate to say that we have $10 million in repairs," Driscoll said, "but there are some things that we need to do to the stadium."

The remaining $3.9 million can be divided and spent in many ways.

"A hard look will be taken with that to see where it would do the most good and reflect what Walt felt about the school, something that would be consistent with how he felt about the school," Driscoll said. "There was always an athletic and academic component to Walt. The gift, I would assume, could fall in either area."

Driscoll got to know Zable after he became athletic director 17 years ago and regularly visited him at his home near San Diego. Zable was close friends with former Boston College athletic director Bill Flynn, and he needled Driscoll, a BC grad, that the only reason he got the William and Mary job was through Flynn's influence with Zable.

"For me, his legacy lives," said Driscoll, who went back to Zable's remark about W&M folks being happy when he was gone. "This was sort of his way of making sure we'd be happy. Just a very special person. Great businessman. One of those larger-than-life personalities that you had a wonderful time being around."

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