Author: Charles McNair

Published

Moore-Rooker Hall, raised in Phase II of the buildout of Terry College’s Business Learning Community, faces Hull Street on the west side of the business school. The structure commands attention – it looks big and imposing and rock-solid, as befits a flagship business school.

But not too far in the past, you could easily fit Moore-Rooker Hall into a small cardboard box. In fact, that’s where the new addition to Terry got its start, a few loose bills at a time.

In the early 1960s, a group of friends in Atlanta formed First Fulton Corp., a corporate partnership focused on investments in real estate. The founders took up $50 donations, once a month, upping the ante to $100 after a couple of years.

Two of those original investors, Terry alums Dudley L. Moore Jr. and John W. “Jack” Rooker, managed and multiplied the funds for the next half century, ultimately buying out, outliving, or outlasting all the other founders. The investments eventually morphed from a few bills in a box to a valuable Atlanta warehouse property sold in 2016.

Moore and Rooker gifted the proceeds of that sale to Terry College, a key piece of capital funding for the building that now proudly bears their names.

The Moore-Rooker story offers a remarkable example of friendship and business partnership sustained over the course of five decades … a relationship begun at Terry, fostered by Terry education and associations, and culminated with an act of giving back to Terry as a way of thanking the college for its role in two successful careers.

• • •

They go way back.

And, in retrospect, the paths of Dudley Moore and Jack Rooker always seemed somehow destined to connect.

As an incoming freshman, Jack became a pledge of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity where Moore and Jack’s older brother Bill were already members. Later, the trio shared campus life and many adventures together. While their friendship has continued, Moore and Jack’s common business interests and their membership in the Young President’s Organization created a thread for confidentiality and deeper bonding.

Moore kept busy. He’d been forced to “master the art of negotiation,” as he puts it, simply to get to Terry — Dudley Moore Sr. started an independent insurance agency in 1950, and assumed his only child would come straight into the business after high school. The elder Moore didn’t have a college degree, and wasn’t convinced his son needed one either.

Moore and his mother convinced the patriarch to let Dudley Jr. enroll at Georgia Tech, where he shouldered a 20-hour load … all the while itching to move away to UGA. “I wanted to take some insurance courses,” he says, “and look at all the pretty girls.” He finally bargained with his father to let him transfer … under strict conditions.

“I had to enroll in the school of business. I had to major in insurance. And I had to pay half my own tuition and expenses,” Moore says.

Simple enough. Moore got in touch with his inner entrepreneur. He opened a campus laundry and dry-cleaning service, taking in clothes mostly from fellow fraternity houses. Though a far cry from future days when he would head multiple companies and become one of Terry’s most illustrious alums, Moore remembers his basic training in customer service as a very valuable experience.

“The rules don’t change,” he says. “You work hard. You take care of the customer. Everything else falls into place.”

Rooker, a junior classman, remembers that “Dudley would take in nearly any kind of laundry. Except underwear. He drew the line at underwear.”

Even with the demands of running a business, Moore kept his eyes on the prize. Taking with him lessons from the insurance and real estate classes of Dr. A. Aldo Charles and professor Jeff Cobb. (“fanatical about contract provisions”). Dr. Charles described himself as a good teacher of the class subject, but also a teacher of the “practical” side of life. Moore describes him as a “classic,” reciting one of his practical advices about the real world: “You better watch out, cause if you don’t, when you get out among the doers, you’re gonna get did.” Moore graduated from UGA in 1957 after just three years of college classes.

For his part, Rooker hit the books in Terry classes too, but he also held down a job as assistant business manager for The Red & Black, UGA’s student newspaper. He pulled in $300 a month, giving him enough seed money to make his monthly investments in First Fulton Corp. Like Moore, Rooker would enter working life with his father. Terry alum William A. Rooker Sr. (BSC ’33) ran Southern Bonded Warehouse, a third-party distribution company that stored and shipped inventory for businesses in fast-growing Atlanta.

Rookers at UGA, in fact, had become a family tradition. Both Jack’s parents attended. So did his wife, Cindy, as well as his two brothers and, later, his daughter and son, along with numerous cousins, nieces and nephews. (The family today holds eight season tickets to Bulldogs games.)

Moore also boasts a red-and-black bloodline. His father-in-law attended UGA, and so did his wife, Peggy. (Peggy Moore and Cindy Rooker were — and remain — close friends like their husbands. Cindy even wore Peggy’s wedding dress when she married Jack.) Three of the Moore’s children are UGA graduates.

Clearly, both men have their own heartfelt reasons for giving back to Terry.

• • •

Shortly after Rooker graduated in 1960, his father and his brother Bill got together “10 or 12 friends and future friends” and launched First Fulton Corp. Bartow Morgan, a friendly Lawrenceville banker with a nose for bargains, spotted a deal in Gwinnett County. First Fulton quickly bought its first property. Morgan continued to spot one undervalued property after another. The group systematically swapped up, then swapped up again, growing value.

Partners came and went — a function of shifting interests, divorce, mortality, financial straits, etc. — but Moore and Rooker stayed the course. After decades, just the two of them remained.

Much of the real estate decision-making in later years appropriately fell to Rooker, the realty expert. In 1965, he launched the Rooker Company, a construction and development business specializing in industrial and commercial real estate. (The enterprise “made a nice complement,” he says, to the family warehousing business.) Rooker’s eye for properties made him a natural steward for First Fulton’s late investments.

Meanwhile, Moore left Terry and kept his promise to join his dad’s insurance firm … which he then turbocharged. He shrewdly found an untapped market niche, making Dudley L. Moore Insurance a name independent insurance agents instantly called to mind when looking for coverage for automobile drivers turned down by standard insurance companies after receiving excessive numbers of traffic tickets or because of their age.

“You could say that we created brand awareness back before branding became a popular corporate buzzword,” Moore says.

But that’s not all Moore did. One after another, the tireless businessman applied his energies to new opportunities, acquiring through the years controlling interest in a laundry list of ventures: Southeastern Fidelity Life Insurance. American Agency Financial Corp. and American Agency Life Insurance Co. Hilltop Auto Salvage Co. (also a nice complementary business for an auto insurer). Citizens Bank of Hapeville (renamed Capital City Bank and later sold to Prudential Insurance Co.)

Moore’s portfolio amazed Rooker. “Dudley would have so many side deals working that you’d think he was a juggler in the Ringling Bros. circus,” he says. “He could throw balls in the air and keep them going 10 or 12 at a time. That always impressed me. He wasn’t scared to take a risk. I’m probably a little bit less of a risk-taker. But Dudley was really good at it.”

The men drew close professionally after Moore asked Rooker to join his board of directors at Omni Insurance Group Inc., a public company created to umbrella his firms. (Hartford Financial Services acquired Omni in 1997.) The two men worked closely on deals and decisions, trusting one another and intuitively understanding one another’s thinking. They shared a chemistry.

“From my standpoint, Dudley and I were always good at shooting straight, with no holds barred,” says Rooker. “That’s what made our relationship work.

“We never had to use a lot of words to get our points across to one another. No is a complete sentence. Yes is a complete sentence. The other one just understood.”

• • •

Later, when Terry College came calling, Moore and Rooker answered.

Moore stepped forward first. Already active in his family insurance business, he agreed to serve a three-year term as a practitioner-lecturer in the Risk Management and Insurance Program. He valued the opportunity to speak to students about the real world, a ferociously competitive insurance industry. After that stint, Moore says, he was hooked. He merrily climbed aboard “the merry-go-round” of service to his alma mater.

Moore put his money where his lectures were too. In 1986, he endowed the Dudley L. Moore Jr. Chair of Insurance. His engagement continued. In 2001, he became founding chairman of Terry College’s Board of Overseers. He signed on as chairman of the UGA Foundation Board of Trustees, as a trustee of the UGA Real Estate Foundation, and as a trustee of the UGA Athletic Association Board of Directors.

The work took time and tremendous commitment, but Moore had his heart in it.

“We live in a world that is fast-changing,” says Moore. “A good education is one of the best ways to meet the challenge of change. Our system of education, however, must also meet the challenge of change. It’s why I wanted to give back with my support for good strategic planning, adequate funding, state-of-the-art equipment and facilities, modern, functional buildings and sustainable resources.

Rooker’s involvement with UGA through the years has had an equally profound impact.

In 1992, the college honored him with the Distinguished Alumni Award. When the UGA Real Estate Foundation formed in 1999, Rooker became its first chairman. He held that post for five years, at a time when he also served on the board of trustees for the University of Georgia Foundation. Rooker and his family gave to the athletic association’s golf facility and equestrian team center, and they funded the Rooker Equine Receiving Area at the new Veterinary Medicine Hospital.

In 2005, one of the new residence halls at the university’s East Campus Village was named John W. Rooker Hall to commemorate his years of alumni leadership and support.

Rooker’s motivation? Gratitude.

“Relationships make a huge difference in our lives,” Rooker says. “If Terry did nothing else but provide the contacts that have made many of us successful in our professional lives, that’s a job in itself. There’s a network through Terry that you just can’t replace.

“When asked for my support, I’ve always asked myself, How do we keep it going? How do we keep developing contacts?” Rooker continues. “Terry can make that happen better than any other thing I can think of. The school’s just been wonderful to me, and it’s been well worth my time to give back in return.”

• • •

In recent years, Moore and Rooker confide that they were looking for one more opportunity to make a difference for Terry.

“I’d been approached about involvement with the new business school campus,” Moore says. “The will was there, but I was financially uncomfortable funding the entire building myself.”

The answer, it turned out, lay only as far away as that old collection box. First Fulton Corp. had grown and grown, and now held title to a valuable Atlanta commercial property. A buyer approached the last men standing, Rooker and Moore. They shook hands on a deal.

Now Moore and Rooker faced a choice. They could put the money in the bank … where it would take a substantial tax hit. Or they could put the money philanthropically to a new Terry College of Business building.

The rest is history, as they say.

The longtime friends and partners say there was never any question about the order of the names on the front of Moore-Rooker Hall.

“It was clear to me,” says Rooker, “that it ought to be Moore-Rooker, with Dudley’s name first. That’s because he’s older than I am, smarter than I am, and richer than I am. I’m proud to be number two. We didn’t have to argue about it. It came natural. The way it should be.”

Moore laughs at that statement, but it’s clear from his response that he’s honored.

“It’s a real compliment,” he acknowledges. “It would have been easy for Jack to just fund this building on his own. I can say unequivocally that Jack is the most generous, admirable man, with his spirit of conduct and purpose, I’ve ever known.”

And there’s a lesson in this for all Terry alums. A lesson of giving back.

“Each of us should reflect upon the people, places, and experiences that have helped us succeed in life,” Moore says.

“If UGA and Terry are notable in your reflections, I strongly encourage you to show your appreciation by making a meaningful financial contribution to Terry for the enhancements of its programs, scholarships and facilities. Your gifts will give you a sense of personal gratification and greatly enhance the lives of many Terry generations to come.”