By Jonathan Scott
University of Mississippi
The Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy, a scholarship program at the University of Mississippi, has welcomed a new chair and a new member to further its mission to nurture student leadership, philanthropy and mentoring.
Suzan Thames, of Ridgeland, is the new chair, and Margaret Khayat, of Oxford, is the latest addition to the 34-member council.
“Suzan is a phenomenal philanthropist and a charismatic leader who is widely respected for her remarkable track record in successfully pioneering and leading some of the largest philanthropic endeavors in Mississippi,” said Liz Randall, also of Oxford, the outgoing chair.
“Her magnetic personality and leadership style allow her to easily connect with students, council members and donors, and the entire Women’s Council family sees her as the perfect fit to navigate our dynamic growth.”
As the OMWC enters its 23rd year, Thames plans to enhance the program’s positive impact.
“The common thread throughout my tenure will be the continuation of ‘mission critical’ initiatives and growth in our transformative programs,” Thames said. “Specifically, we will pursue the expansion of diversity in all areas of the Women’s Council, proactive and intentional inclusivity, fundraising for the programmatic endowment, the newly launched Robert C. Khayat Lecture Series and a new facility dedicated to Women’s Council scholars and staff to house our thriving organization and strengthen our culture.”
Since its launch in 2000, the OMWC has built an endowment of nearly $19 million and is recognized as one of the most innovative and elite scholarships in the United States. Forty-one scholars are on the $40,000 scholarships, which provide $10,000 per year for four years.
Thus far, 174 students, including the newest cohort of 11 freshmen for the 2022-23 academic year, have been awarded OMWC scholarships. These awards have become among the largest on campus and are given to young men and women who desire a philanthropic lifepath.
The scholarships provide numerous resources, including full-time scholar support staff, career mentoring, leadership development, guidance for a philanthropic approach to life and opportunities to travel, study abroad and attend cultural events.
For many years, Thames has championed the health care services and research at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, particularly when it comes to children’s medical care and the study and treatment of dementia-related diseases.
She served as the inaugural president and board chair of Friends of Children’s Hospital, which supports pediatric services at UMMC. Her efforts led to friends and family endowing the Suzan Brown Thames Chair in Pediatrics with $2 million in contributions.
She also chairs the Memory Impairment and Neurodegenerative Dementia Center advisory board and serves on the Children’s Cancer Clinic board.
Thames, who earned a bachelor’s degree in speech pathology and audiology at Ole Miss and a master’s degree in communicative disorders from Tulane University, was chosen in 2011 as the Volunteer Fundraiser of the Year by the National Philanthropy Association.
She also serves on the boards of directors of the UM School of Applied Sciences and the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. She and her husband, Tommy, have three daughters and six grandchildren.
Last year, the OMWC launched the Robert C. Khayat Lecture Series to bring speakers to the Ole Miss campus who inspire students and community members through thought-provoking topics and conversations. The lecture series serves to share aspects of the Global Leadership Circle, which provide students opportunities in international studies and internship experiences on a local level.
The GLC’s organizers named this new series in honor of Chancellor Emeritus Robert C. Khayat, who, along with his late wife, Margaret, was instrumental in establishing the OMWC. Their daughter, also named Margaret, has become the council’s newest member.
“Before formally joining our group, Margaret was an invaluable architect and partner with us in formulating the concept and launch of the Robert C. Khayat Lecture Series,” Thames said. “With her longtime familial connection and direct involvement with the Women’s Council, Margaret is absolutely a perfect fit.”
Khayat has continued her mother’s legacy as a council member and by working alongside with her father in launching the lecture series.
“She is a brilliant and skilled attorney who possesses a thoughtful and kind intellect,” Randall said. “Margaret has unofficially been a member for many years through her involvement and loyal support of the council.”
Khayat’s career has encompassed working for the late U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran; teaching Southern and Renaissance literature to undergraduates; practicing law with a focus on international trade issues, internal investigations and securities compliance; and devoting more than 15 years to public service as a federal law clerk in U.S. district courts. She has actively mentored others throughout her career.
Khayat, who graduated from Yale University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees and from Vanderbilt University Law School with a Juris Doctor, said she is honored to join the Women’s Council.
“The opportunity to participate as a member of the OMWC is a tremendous gift, and I am grateful beyond words,” she said.
“The OMWC embodies the highest ideals of servant leadership, mentorship and philanthropy. Moreover, the OMWC channels these ideals into remarkably effective action, contributing to the flourishing of individuals and communities in myriad ways.”