Schreyer Honors College

Penn State mourns death of leader and philanthropist William Schreyer

University Park, Pa.—In a statement released today (Jan. 23), Penn State President Graham Spanier and Penn State Board of Trustees President Steve Garban announced the death and mourned the loss of William A. Schreyer, chairman emeritus of Merrill Lynch & Co Inc., and one of the University’s most prominent alumni and supporters. Schreyer, a class of 1948 graduate who served as president of Penn State’s Board of Trustees and as chair of its first major fundraising campaign, died in Princeton, N.J., on Jan. 22. He is being remembered at his alma mater as a pioneering leader and philanthropist whose legacy includes the nationally recognized honors college that bears his name.

“No one has had greater ambition for Penn State and its students than Bill Schreyer,” said Garban. “He and his wife, Joan, have always believed that our institution could be a home to extraordinary achievements, and through their service and generosity, they have made those achievements possible. The Schreyer Honors College may be the most visible manifestation of their commitment to Penn State, but Bill has had a profound and enduring impact across the University he loved so passionately, and he will be deeply missed by his countless friends in the Penn State community. As a volunteer and a supporter, he has set the standard for many generations of Penn Staters to come.”

“The Schreyer Honors College is truly the fulfillment of Bill’s vision and values,” said Penn State President Graham Spanier. “Through his own life, he showed that real leaders are dedicated to both excellence and ethics. Thanks to the Schreyers’ support and guidance, our students are graduating from Penn State prepared to follow in his footsteps and take on the challenge of conscientious service and leadership in an increasingly global society. His example and his generosity will continue to help our students and our institution to fulfill their vast potential.”

The Schreyers made national headlines in 1997 with their $30 million commitment to endow the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State, one of the largest gifts in the University’s history and the single biggest commitment to the Grand Destiny campaign under way at the time. Their support created an integrated program of opportunities for top academic achievers, from a living-learning environment located in the University Park campus’ Atherton Hall to merit-based scholarships and special seminars for students enrolled as Schreyer Scholars. Schreyer often remarked that after spending a lifetime on Wall Street, the Schreyer Honors College was still the best investment he ever made in life.

The program became a model for other higher education institutions. In 2006, the Schreyers renewed their support to the college with an additional commitment of $25 million toward scholarships, study abroad and international opportunities, and programs emphasizing civic engagement and leadership.

Schreyer was born Jan. 13, 1928, in Williamsport, Pa. His father headed the local branch of financial services firm Merrill Lynch, and Schreyer’s own career with the company began with a part-time post during his high school years, writing stock prices on the office chalkboard. He graduated from Penn State in 1948 receiving his degree from what is now the Smeal College of Business and returned to Merrill Lynch as a management trainee. His early posts included Buffalo, N.Y., where he met his future wife, Joan Legg. The couple married in 1953.

Over the following decades, Schreyer rose through the ranks at Merrill Lynch to become chief executive officer in 1984 and chairman in 1985. During his 45 years with the company, he helped it to become a dominant force in the global financial markets, and he is credited with helping to restore national confidence after the October 1987 crash with a television commercial in which Schreyer announced, “At Merrill Lynch, we are still bullish on America.” He also deepened the corporation’s engagement in the community and initiated the Merrill Lynch Scholarship Builder Program, a trust that assisted economically disadvantaged students with the costs of higher education.

"No one was more bullish on Penn State than Bill Schreyer," said Joe Paterno, head football coach. "In all my years here, no one has done more for us or been more loyal. From helping our kids get jobs on Wall Street to leading the charge in our first fundraising campaign, Bill was always there for the University. He cared deeply about young people and giving them opportunities to be successful in the world. He challenged us, too, always wanting Penn State to reach beyond its grasp. The Schreyer Honors College will stand forever as a living legacy to his values, beliefs, and principles. Bill was simply a great guy who was fun to be around. We have lost a great friend and all of us are blessed for having known him."

Schreyer often credited his success to his Penn State education, and he was named a Distinguished Alumnus, the highest honor offered by the University to its graduates, in 1979. He served on the Penn State Alumni Council from 1980 to 1983, and he was a member of the Board of Trustees from 1986 to 1998, serving as president from 1993 to 1995. In 1984, he became chair of the Campaign for Penn State, the University’s first comprehensive fundraising initiative. Under his leadership, the campaign exceeded its original goal of $200 million and raised a total of $352 million.

In the ensuing years, the Schreyers continued to lead the University’s fundraising efforts by example, supporting areas across Penn State. Schreyer felt an especially strong connection to the Smeal College of Business. He mentored many students who went on to careers with Merrill Lynch and created several endowments in the college, including the William A. Schreyer Chair in Global Management Policies and Planning.

“Through his philanthropic and personal leadership, Bill Schreyer redefined what it means to be a loyal Penn Stater,” said Penn State Senior Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations Rod Kirsch. “He helped to make giving back an essential part of our culture, and his enthusiasm not only for the University’s traditions but also for its future has inspired thousands of other alumni and friends to support Penn State through their gifts and service. I will miss his passion for Penn State, his keen insight into people, his quick wit and good humor, and his natural ability to relate to people from all walks of life.”

Schreyer, who made his home in Princeton, N.J., is survived by his wife, Joan, who was named an honorary alumna of Penn State in 1991; their daughter, DrueAnne Schreyer, and her husband, Rodney G. Frazier; and two grandchildren, Kelly and Charles. For more information on Bill Schreyer's life and accomplishments, see





William A. Schreyer Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated October 17, 2019