Words matter. Everyone is capable of saying things that are misheard and misinterpreted, resulting in deeply hurt feelings and potentially unbridgeable rifts.
In the case of Jon Brumley WG63 and Isadore Maximilian Martin Jr. W30 WG32, an offensive comment was made — causing hurt feelings and confusion. Yet despite a perceived racial insult, a second chance was offered. These two Wharton graduates, who would separately work to bridge the racial and equality divide, are now publicly joined by a $1 million gift to the Wharton School from Brumley in honor of Martin. The gift — which creates a named fellowship to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion in the MBA student body — is an acknowledgment that second chances can lead to societal progress.
Brumley and Martin would first cross paths in 1961 when Brumley, from modest means in Austin, Texas, arrived on a last-minute, wing-and-a-prayer chance to attend the Wharton MBA program. Martin, the son of the then-president of the NAACP’s Philadelphia branch, was also a realtor in Philadelphia at the time.
The two met amid the upheaval of two vastly different but significant emergencies: the Cuban missile crisis and Brumley’s own panic over how he would pay his Wharton tuition. While attempting to sort out where he and his wife would live at a time when the School did not arrange housing for married couples, Brumley found an affordable West Philadelphia apartment owned and managed by Martin. But the meeting with Martin did not go smoothly because of a verbal misunderstanding. Martin relayed the offending exchange to the then-dean of the Wharton School. Questions were raised about Brumley’s suitability as a student, and he was advised to return to Texas.
However, Brumley felt the need to make amends with Martin and sought to speak with him. “He invited me to sit with him on the steps of his front porch, and we talked things through,” recalls Brumley. “Mr. Martin accepted my explanation that what was said was awkwardly expressed but was not meant to be racist. He told me, ‘Tomorrow go to class. I will talk to the dean.’”
Today, Brumley still lives the lesson he learned that day from Martin’s grace. “Thankfully,” he says, “we can all learn to become better.”
Brumley went on to complete his MBA, and both men continued on separate paths toward success. Martin, like his father before him, lived his life as an outstanding member of the NAACP’s Philadelphia branch and worked tirelessly to fight housing discrimination, segregation, and inequality in the city. Brumley returned to Texas after serving in the military and spending three years working for an actuarial firm in Philadelphia. He settled in the Fort Worth area and found professional distinction in the energy sector. Brumley also developed an abiding commitment to support the uplifting value of education. “If we all keep pushing along — driving along together — things can change,” he says.
Brumley served as chairman of the Texas State Board of Education and, alongside his current wife, Rebecca, is a significant and active philanthropist dedicated to educational and civil rights issues. Together, they created the Jon Brumley Texas Venture Labs at the University of Texas at Austin and have endowed multiple scholarships and fellowships. Their Red Oak Foundation funds a program that encourages reading to young children through non-profit agencies and pediatric clinics, and provides scholarships to prospective teachers. Chaired by Rebecca Brumley, Red Oak Books has given over 740,000 new, hardback books to disadvantaged families.
In 1984, Martin recommended Jon Brumley as the person to replace him on the Wharton Board of Advisors. For Brumley, his gift honoring Martin today “closes a lot of circles.”
“This,” he says, “is my opportunity to support future MBAs who could also go on to do good in the world.”