From Season Tickets to Naming Rights

Issue Date: 
February 21, 2011
Pitt and sports: The ties that bind the Bigley and Smith families. Front row, from left, Cameron (Smith) Foos (EDUC ’03), Joan Bigley, and Georgia Smith (A&S ’70); back row, from left: David Foos (KGSB ’03), Jack Smith (A&S ’69, MED ’73), and Tom Bigley (KGSB ’56).    Pitt and sports: The ties that bind the Bigley and Smith families. Front row, from left, Cameron (Smith) Foos (EDUC ’03), Joan Bigley, and Georgia Smith (A&S ’70); back row, from left: David Foos (KGSB ’03), Jack Smith (A&S ’69, MED ’73), and Tom Bigley (KGSB ’56).

While many Pitt graduates have enjoyed meeting and befriending other alumni while cheering on the Panthers, not many have demonstrated their appreciation for a heartwarming Hail to Pitt! friendship in as grand a style as Pitt Alumni Association president Jack Smith (A&S’69, MED’73) and his wife, Georgia (A&S ’70).

The two could barely hide their excitement as they conspired about how and when to tell Tom (KGSB ’56) and Joan Bigley what they had done. After having spent more than 30 years with the Bigleys as avid Pitt fans, the Smiths had decided to honor their longtime friends by making a generous pledge of support for the new Petersen Sports Complex—one that would allow them to name the visiting team bullpen of the new baseball field the Tom and Joan Bigley Baseball Visiting Team Bullpen.

“I was speechless,” said Joan Bigley, whose spirited retelling of the story confirmed that the term “speechless” does not normally define her conversational style.

Bigley explained that the couples’ friendship began as a casual acquaintance between fellow fans and season ticket holders whose seats happened to be just one row apart on the 50-yard line of the visiting-team side of the stadium. Nowadays she says that the Smiths are more like family, attending football and basketball games together, visiting one another frequently, and sometimes traveling together.

“They are just incredible, giving, loving people,” she says of the Smiths.

Both the Smiths and the Bigleys are thrilled about the new Petersen Sports Complex. The just-completed state-of-the-art home for the Panthers’ baseball, softball, and men’s and women’s soccer teams has been built on 12 acres at the peak of Pitt’s upper campus; it is ready for this spring’s baseball and softball season.

Smith says their gift was not only an excellent opportunity to support what he fondly calls the “field of dreams,” but also a way to honor the Bigleys, who were the first ones to give the Smiths the idea of supporting Pitt athletics in a more significant way.

Smith says that many years ago, after watching a Pitt placekicker miss an important field goal, he jokingly told his friends, “We should hire a new kicker.”

It was then that the Bigleys say they made the decision to endow a scholarship for a student-athlete.

Smith said that the Bigleys’ act of generosity made him realize what a great way this type of philanthropy would be to repay the University for the experience and education that had contributed to his own success.

Smith, an orthopaedic surgeon, and his wife have provided financial support to the School of Medicine, the Pitt-Greensburg regional campus, and Pitt Athletics, including the establishment of the Jack D. and Georgia M. Smith Endowed Athletic Scholarship to provide scholarships to varsity student-athletes from Westmoreland County.

The Bigleys’ many gifts to the University have included support for the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business, the Mark A. Nordenberg University Chair, and Pitt Athletics, including the establishment of the Thomas G. Bigley Baseball Scholarship and the Joan Bigley Endowed Baseball Scholarship fund.

Bigley says he is very flattered that the Smiths chose to recognize his wife and himself with such a generous gift to the new fields, which, according to Bigley, are not only beautiful, but also fill out the upper campus and are a huge boost to Pitt’s Olympic sports programs. The fact that his name will be associated with the baseball field is particularly meaningful to him since he earned a full scholarship to Pitt to play catcher for the Panthers baseball team.

“That was the only way I could have come to the University,” says Bigley, who has repaid Pitt handsomely through both his generous financial support and his exceptional service to the University.

A retired managing partner of Ernst and Young’s Pittsburgh office, Bigley has been a member of the University’s Board of Trustees since 1994 and formerly served as its vice chair. He has served on numerous board committees, including the Athletics Committee, and is a lifetime member of the Pitt Alumni Association. He received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the Katz School in 1984 and was named Golden Panther of the Year in 1991.

Bigley was an accomplished Pitt student as well. He was a member of the Pitt Pathfinders, the Beta Alpha Psi business information honors society, and the Druids honors society, and he graduated cum laude.

Smith also has provided outstanding service to the University. He has been an active member of the Pitt Alumni Association, holding leadership positions since 2004. He also serves on the Pitt-Greensburg Advisory Board.

As a student, he was a member of Student Government and served on the staff of The Owl yearbook and on the board of the Student Union.

Jeff Gleim, the University’s associate vice chancellor for alumni relations, said Smith is providing the Pitt Alumni Association with strong leadership: “He really leads by example and is always willing to do himself what he asks others to do.”

Smith firmly believes that all he has done for Pitt and its Alumni Association and athletics program has been repaid to him many times over in the richness of the friendship he has enjoyed with the Bigleys and the many other friendships he has gained through his involvement with Pitt.

“It may be cliché,” says Smith, “but you get more than you give.”