Bill Gatton donation

Vice President for Land-grant Engagement Nancy Cox, Gatton Foundation Trustee Danny Dunn, UK President Eli Capilouto and Mike Richey, retired VP for philanthropy and alumni engagement. (Arden Barnes l UK Photo.) 

LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) – Continuing a “legacy like no other,” late University of Kentucky alum and former trustee Carol Martin “Bill” Gatton bestowed a gift of $100 million to the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment (CAFÉ) through The Bill Gatton Foundation.

The gift, announced Thursday by UK and the Gatton Foundation, is contingent upon the UK Board of Trustees approving it during its June meeting. It is not only the largest to the university in its nearly 160-year history but is also believed to be a record for a college of agriculture anywhere in the United States.

“This is a transformational gift that will have a profound impact on CAFE and the University of Kentucky,” said UK President Eli Capilouto. “It will be a cornerstone in our efforts, and our singular mission, to advance Kentucky in everything that we do. Like Mr. Gatton did, we dream of a Kentucky tomorrow that is healthier, wealthier and wiser than it is today. This gift reflects his profound belief in this institution to be a partner for progress in our capacity and commitment to advance Kentucky.”

Gatton, who passed away in April 2022, was a lifelong philanthropist and supporter of UK. He was a 1954 graduate of the university’s College of Commerce, and went on to become a successful businessman, entrepreneur and investor.

His impact on the University of Kentucky now exceeds $180 million, making Gatton UK’s single largest donor.

According to UK, Gatton's strong ties to agriculture trace back to his childhood on a farm in Bremen, in Muhlenberg County. From an early age, he developed a strong work ethic, selling roadside produce during summers and gradually expanding his sales and clientele. Gatton's knack for business was evident even during his time as a student, as he began selling cars at a local dealership, a venture that later contributed significantly to his success.

UK is not the only university to be a beneficiary of Gatton’s largesse. Opened in 2006, the East Tennessee State University Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy is also his namesake. In addition, Gatton donated a large sum of money to the formation of the gifted academy at Western Kentucky University, opened in 2007 as the Carol Martin Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science, where high school students could finish their last two years of high school taking rigorous college classes.