Donor Spotlight: Jeff and Linda Franklin Paying It Back by Paying It Forward

Jeff and Linda Franklin (Photo by Timothy Lee Photographers)

Jeff Franklin BS’68 credits Columbia Engineering with many things: an education, a vocation, and a network of friendships stretching back 50 years. And that gratitude is what inspired him and his wife, Linda, to give back, with the creation last year of the Jeffrey and Linda Franklin Scholarship Fund.

“I truly believe that the Engineering School, and the things that happened both before and after graduation, set my career on the path that it took,” he said. “And so it really became a desire on my and Linda’s part to pay it back.”

Franklin graduated with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering in 1968. He and his chemical engineering classmates were the last of the Engineering School’s students to attend a five-week academic program at Camp Columbia, in rural Connecticut near Bantam Lake. The experience created a certain closeness among this group, as evidenced by the two or three dinner get-togethers that they have had, and continue to have, virtually every year since graduation.

Camp Columbia alumni—called “Owls”—used to hold annual reunion events, at the Camp, for past attendees. It was at the annual reunion in the summer of 1971 that Jeff met fellow alumnus Ken Harris BS’64, who invited him to apply for a position working for the City of New York under Mayor John Lindsay. That meeting—and the subsequent internal management consulting position in the city’s welfare department—gave him a completely new outlook on, and greater appreciation for the value and broad applicability of, the undergraduate engineering education, he said.

“It changed my vision of what a Columbia engineer could do,” he added.

After 12 years in management consulting, including positions at Citibank and City Investing, Franklin pivoted again, channeling his passion for personal finance into a new career as a certified financial planner, and founder and owner of Life and Wealth Planning, LLC, a job he’d hold for the next 31 years.

“I enjoyed it more than I can express,” he said. “The interaction with people and the ability to help clients by educating them so that they can take control of their own personal finances—it all was absolutely wonderful.”

After selling his firm in 2013, Jeff has devoted himself to studying, and educating others about another passion: wine.

“I do it on a part-time basis,” he remarked. “My feeling is, I don’t want to be a full-time anything anymore. I think I’ve earned the right to wake up late.”

The Jeffrey and Linda Franklin Scholarship Fund supported its first student last year, and the Franklins have ambitious goals to create between five and eight such scholarships, all of which will be fully endowed through their estate plan. By planning their future giving now, the Franklins are able to consider a gift that will have a transformational impact on Columbia Engineering’s undergraduate financial aid program.

“I never would have been able to attend Columbia without the full-tuition scholarship that I received,” Franklin noted. “There will be people who are able to attend Columbia through our giving, and maybe one or two or three of them will do something similar to what we’re trying to do and expand on it and keep that spirit and goodwill going.”

Linda Franklin said discovering that they could create a scholarship fund now—then fully endow it later through their estate—made the decision easy.

“Originally when we were doing our estate planning, I was joking—or maybe not—saying, ‘It really is too bad that we’ll be dead, and we’ll never know who these young people who will receive the scholarships are,’” Linda Franklin remarked. “So we thought, why don’t we do something while we’re alive and with our eyes open?”

“This year we went to our first scholarship dinner and met the young woman who received our first scholarship,” Jeff Franklin said. “We have no children of our own, so it was great to see in person the people who are benefiting by what we’re doing. If you’re a parent, you see these benefits in real time, so finding out we could do that as well was very attractive to us.”

—by Jennifer Ernst Beaudry