A lasting impact

John Godfrey (BBA ’64, PhD ’76) and his wife, Flavel McMichael Godfrey, are unlocking a world of possibilities for UGA Economics students and faculty
man stands next to wife seated in rocking chair on patio near waterfront

It was a gray November 2023 afternoon, chilly and damp. But inside the Business Learning Community, the mood was festive and bright.

A crowd of students, faculty, administrators, family and friends gathered inside Amos Hall’s Casey Commons to celebrate a milestone for the Terry College of Business: the University of Georgia’s Department of Economics had a new name.

Opening the ceremony, UGA President Jere Morehead noted the significance of the occasion and addressed the guests of honor, who “have helped to secure Terry’s place among America’s top public business schools,” he said. “Their transformative gift will ensure the Economics Department continues to provide outstanding education and valuable research for generations to come.”

Holding a pair of commemorative scissors, John Godfrey and his wife, Flavel McMichael Godfrey, sliced cleanly through a shiny red ribbon. 

The John Munro Godfrey, Sr. Department of Economics was born.

A meaningful relationship

Savannah native John Godfrey (BBA ’64, PhD ’76) credits his Terry education for laying the groundwork for his distinguished career.

“Economics is a rigorous discipline,” he says. “On the academic side, it’s the foundation of the concepts of economics: scarcity, allocation, and how societies do that. The practical side of it is, what’s the economy going to do? At Terry, the emphasis was on the practical role of economics.”

After earning his undergraduate degree, Godfrey enrolled in graduate school at UGA thanks to a National Defense Education Act fellowship, which he says allowed him to commit fully to his studies.

“It paid all of the tuition and the books and something like $200 a month. Back in 1964, $200 a month was strutting money,” says Godfrey with a smile. “The difference between my ability to study and prepare versus my friends who had to get an assistantship and teach was night and day.”

While pursuing his doctoral degree, Godfrey began working for the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. “I went to work as an intern and later was a Research Officer and Senior Financial Economist,” he recalls. “I had a good introduction to monetary policy, real economic problems.”

Shortly after completing his PhD, Godfrey began to realize how grateful he was for the education he’d received and the opportunities that lay ahead. It was then he made his first financial gift to the University of Georgia.

The grand total? $20.

It was “a modest amount,” he admits, but “it started a process. It started the habit of repaying. It wasn’t huge, but it built a connection.”

In the coming years, Godfrey would make a name for himself as one of the Southeast’s leading business economists, moving to a senior role at the Atlanta Fed before becoming an executive officer for Barnett Banks Inc. in Jacksonville, Florida. As Senior Vice President and Chief Economist, he published an influential newsletter, Barnett Economic Week. Later, he would form Florida Economic Associates, a consulting firm. 

Active in his professional field throughout his career, Godfrey was a member of the National Association for Business Economics, serving on its Board of Directors and as an elected Fellow, as well as chapter President in Atlanta and Jacksonville. In addition, he was in the inaugural class to receive the Certified Business Economist designation.

As his career progressed, Godfrey paved a path leading to that consequential day last fall. He remained closely connected to Terry, serving as President of the alumni board and as a member of the Building Terry National Campaign Cabinet, the leadership group that helped raise private support for the construction of the Business Learning Community. Support from the Godfreys led to the naming of the Godfrey Auditorium in Orkin Hall, and this year the couple received the Terry College Dean’s Distinguished Service Award.

Along the way, personal relationships made clear the power of giving. 

“I was on the board in 1990 when Herman and Mary Virginia Terry gave the gift to name the college,” says Godfrey. As it happened, the Terrys and Godfreys became friends and neighbors in Jacksonville. “They lived a half mile from us,” he adds. “We saw how philanthropy works at that level.”

The Godfreys’ decision three decades later to name and endow the Economics Department was the result of many deep discussions, they say, but it ultimately felt like the right next step in a long and meaningful relationship.

“I have always felt a debt of gratitude to the Terry College,” says John Godfrey. “When the Business Learning Community was being built, there were a lot of opportunities (to give back), which led to the naming of the auditorium. As the facility came along, it became obvious that we could do that.”

History of excellence

As evidenced by the many achievements of its students, faculty and alumni — including its namesake’s career — the John Munro Godfrey, Sr. Department of Economics has a reputation for excellence that well predates its naming.

Home to the 10th largest undergraduate program at UGA, the department is known for producing top scholars; its students consistently receive prestigious awards, including Rhodes, Fulbright and Schwarzman scholarships. One in five of the university’s Foundation Fellows and Ramsey Scholars are economics majors. 

Likewise, economics boasts the largest PhD program at Terry, with faculty and doctoral students advancing research in specialized areas such as health and labor economics and industrial organization. Over the past decade, the department ranks among the top 15 public institutions for economics research. 

Though economics is applicable to many fields of study, it is particularly crucial to business education, says Chris Cornwell, who served as head of the Economics Department from 2008-2023, overseeing a period of growth and productivity that saw the number of tenure-track faculty increase to 25.

“When we started to grow, we thought we were better off supporting Terry by concentrating deep instead of wide,” says Cornwell. “We tried to be deeper in select areas of expertise that map well onto the kind of learning a business school student should expect.”

Last year, Josh Kinsler was appointed to lead the department, the latest in a line of faculty members committed to adapting and expanding its reach as business itself evolves.

“We took a strategy of building deep strength,” says Kinsler, “and that worked well for us. But in the more recent period, we’ve expanded our expertise to include other fields like econometrics. If you think about the world we live in, everything is data-driven, so having a strong group in that area is critical. We’ve broadened in an important way.” 

Kinsler says he is committed to helping the department continue to fulfill its mission “to hire faculty who are doing cutting-edge research that’s having an impact in the world, to train undergraduates with the tools they need to excel in the business world, and to prepare graduate students to step into the world of research.”

What’s in a name?

“I’m a Godfrey grad.” 

There’s a ring to it, and a certain heft, too — signifying something more than your average economics degree.

With its naming, the Godfrey Department of Economics joined the J.M. Tull School of Accounting, named in 1982, as Terry’s second named program or department. Dean Ben Ayers hopes the Godfrey endowment leads to further philanthropic momentum.

“A naming creates a lasting impact,” says Ayers. “It distinguishes the department and creates a brand that promotes stronger connections among students, faculty and alumni. It also serves to elevate the college as a whole, strengthening our standing among business schools as we work to recruit outstanding researchers and develop dynamic leaders.”

Kinsler says the naming is a beacon that will continue to attract top minds to Terry.

“It forces people to stop for a second and say, ‘What is going on there that would encourage somebody to put their name on it?’” he says. “And once people take a closer look, I think they’re impressed by what they find.”

In practical terms, the endowment is much more than a status symbol. It’s a deep well, ensuring opportunities for economics students and faculty for generations to come. 

In addition to funding scholarships, study abroad experiences, speaking engagements, research data, faculty and PhD recruitment and other critical efforts, the Godfrey gift unlocks untold potential, says Kinsler.

“We can make critical investments to improve the undergraduate curriculum, the graduate program and the broader productivity of the department,” he says. “Many of these investments would not be possible without Flavel and John’s support. Most importantly, when new opportunities arise, we’ll be able to take advantage of them.”

For the man who is now synonymous with economics at UGA, the naming is just the beginning of another exciting chapter for his alma mater. At the ribbon-cutting event in November, Godfrey implored those assembled to imagine the possibilities.

“I hope that, in addition to these gifts that have been pointed out, this serves as a catalyst,” he said. “I hope a spark comes out of this that nobody in this room today has thought about yet.”