‘A Kentucky original.’ UK alum and largest donor Bill Gatton dies at 89


Bill Gatton talks with students after the celebration honoring him in the Student Center on Friday, August 31, 2018 in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Arden Barnes | Staff

Hannah Stanley

Carol Martin “Bill” Gatton, UK alumnus and the school’s biggest donor, died Tuesday at age 89.   

Gatton was a “Kentucky original” who grew up in a small coalfield near Bremen in Muhlenberg County and became a strong businessman. He held lifelong beliefs in the value of hard work, generosity and service, said UK president Eli Capilouto. 

“As part of that commitment, Mr. Gatton always saw his alma mater as a shining beacon – the place that could do the most to serve and make better his native state,” Capilouto said. “And he pushed us – every day and in so many ways – to live up to that responsibility and to make real that aspiration. He knew from his own life how important an education was and is to the future, and he endeavored to make such an education possible for thousands and thousands of students, most of whom will never know him or how much he was committed to their success.” 

Gatton was known for giving back to the university and the community. He was the founder of the Bill Gatton Foundation, which gave support and charitable sums to educational organizations, according to the Gatton College website. 

He was also responsible for being the largest donor in UK history in 1995 after his $14 million donation built the Carol Martin Gatton College of Business and Economics, later named in his honor. 

In addition, he was responsible for a $20 million donation to build the UK Student Center, later renamed the Gatton Student Center.

Earlier this year, Gatton donated $5 million to UK for a scholarship prioritizing first-generation and medical students from medically underserved areas of the commonwealth.

In addition to his donations to UK, his generosity to East Tennessee State University led to the naming of the Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy, and he funded Western Kentucky University’s ​​Carol Martin Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science.