Philanthropy with Vision

William Dial Family Endows
Center for Written and Oral Communication
at the University of Florida


The University of Florida recently announced that well-known Orlando lawyer and SunBank founder William Dial and his family made the school a $500,000 gift to endow the Center for Written and Oral Communication (CWOC).

Born in Madison, Florida in 1907, William Dial grew up in Gainesville and worked his way through college and law school at UF. Hired by an Orlando law firm after graduation, Dial relocated to Orlando in the early 1930s, where he met his wife-to-be, Grace. They married and had two daughters, Joan and Patricia.

The William and Grace Dial Center for Written and Oral Communications was named for the Dials, right.

Once established in Central Florida, Dial quickly became involved in state and community affairs, says his daughter Joan Dial Ruffier. "He was the attorney for just about everything," she remembers, "the railroad, the newspaper and many of the big companies." In addition, he served on the state Road Board and the state Board of Control, the precursor to the Board of Regents. Dial is perhaps best known for bringing I-4 through downtown Orlando, in opposition to original plans which called for the new interstate to by-pass the metropolitan area completely. The location of I-4 was one of the biggest factors that convinced Walt Disney to build his new theme park in the area.

In the late 1950s, after the second-in-command at what was then called the First National Bank of Orlando died in a tragic accident, Dial, who had written the state's banking laws and been the bank's legal council for many years, was asked to fill the position. He accepted, ending a successful law career to begin an equally impressive career in banking. Dial's influence at First National resulted in the company buying up smaller banks around Florida, eventually transforming itself into the much larger and very successful SunBank (now SunTrust Bank).

"I am persuaded this is the perfect gift for our family to make," Ruffier says of the UF endowment. "My father has been part of the University of Florida Foundation almost since its inception and has served as Foundation President. He has always been proud of the university and its past successes, and through the CWOC he can be a tangible part of its future as well.

Dial is now 90, and his wife died seven years ago. Ruffier, who earned a BA in English from UF in 1961 and an MBA from Rollins College in 1982, has become the spokesperson for the family's gift, appropriate since she shares her father's dedication to enhancing the educational and economic well-being of the state of Florida. In addition to working in the Orlando area as a CPA, Ruffier was the first female Chair of the Board of Regents (1987-89) and became the first female President of the Florida Foundation in June. She was named a UF "Distinguished Alumni" in 1994 and a UF "Alumna of Outstanding Achievement" in 1997. Ruffier has lent her expertise to boards and committees of many organizations and foundations including the Federal Reserve, the Florida Progress and Florida Power Corporations, the Winter Park Hospital and the Shands Healthcare Corporation.

Since SunBank had already established both a professorship and an eminent scholar chair in banking in William Dial's name at UF's College of Business (1977 and 1986, respectively), the Dial family decided to create the new endowment in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, where both Dial and Ruffier received undergraduate degrees.

"My father was a good communicator," Ruffier explains. "He was a marvelous speaker and he wrote well, too," she says, "so this gift to the Center for Written and Oral Communication seemed like something very suitable for him, especially because it transcends all disciplines. We hope the endowment can provide a base from which the Center can eventually attract more funding to help it achieve its immense potential."

Jane DouglasFounded in 1996, The Center for Written and Oral Communication teaches students to write and speak clearly in a variety of academic and professional fields. As CWOC Director Dr. Jane Douglas (at right) explains, "Writing and speaking are no longer considered subjects reserved for the humanities. At CWOC, we focus on situating writing and speaking squarely within the highly particularized discourse of a discipline." Since its inception, the Center has worked with College of Liberal Arts and Sciences departments like Zoology, Psychology and Chemistry as well as departments in other colleges including Business, Engineering and Health Sciences.

Fiona Barnes
Dr. Fiona Barnes (at left), a lecturer in the Center who has taught writing in a number of different departments, describes the typical CWOC curriculum: "In the engineering course, we start off by working on résumés, cover letters and interviewing skills." Later in the course they tackle proposal writing and techniques on disseminating technical information to the public among other professional tasks. Similarly, in her neuroscience course, Barnes works with students on their med-school applications and other immediately relevant, real-world material. "We talk about how they should present themselves, how to put in grant proposals and how to submit work for publication," she says. "I've actually had a number of students publish their research papers in journals at the end of the semester. They can't argue with the success and applicability of such experience."

The Center's hands-on, pragmatic mission is not lost on Ruffier, who says that her father has always been a very "practical and down-to-earth" person. "I know he'd appreciate the fact that CWOC teaches skills that people can graduate with and take to work immediately," she says.

In honor of the Dials' generosity, the newly-endowed Center has been renamed "The William and Grace Dial Center for Written and Oral Communication."