United Way Supporter's Legacy Lives On Through Pinebelt Foundation Fund

By Jonah S. Taylor

United Way of Southeast Mississippi was recently presented with a $5,534 donation from the Bob James United Way Endowment Fund.

The fund was established with the Pinebelt Foundation in 2000 by the family of Bob James, who was a longtime supporter and volunteer of United Way. During his lifetime, Mr. James served the local community through United Way in various ways, including as a member of its Board of Directors and its Funds Distribution Committee. He was also a longtime donor.

“Bob all his life had been a donor to the United Way through payroll deduction working for the telephone company. They made it really easy for him,” said Gwen James, who presented the check to United Way CEO Tracie Fowler at the United Way office in downtown Hattiesburg. “I was not as loyal to the United Way before I married [Bob] 50 years ago, and he explained to me how our monies put in with other monies could do good, whereas ours would not do that much good by itself.”

Community service is a family affair for the Jameses, according to Mrs. James. She said her husband’s passionate work with United Way was the result of being on the frontlines of the organization’s impact in the community, and that passion became hers as well.

“Bob served on the Funds Distribution [Committee] and he saw firsthand how the benefit was dispersed throughout the community and they are held accountable, the recipients of these funds. And then I served as president for two terms…We both have been very loyal to the United Way,” she added, “My son and I served the Pinebelt Foundation. So he understands the benefits of the funds there.”

As a partner agency of United Way of Southeast Mississippi, The Pinebelt Foundation receives funding to support the Foundation’s America Reads program, which provides literacy tutors at Hattiesburg area schools. Mrs. James said the capacity to affect change for more individuals through United Way’s partnerships with other nonprofits like Pinebelt Foundation is the reason her family decided to establish the Bob James Endowment Fund.

“Friends have given and companies have given, too, and that has helped it to grow. And we wanted it to be an example for other Board members particularly to know that they could spread the message that these endowments are available and can be self-directed as to where you want them to be spent,” said Mrs. James.

Fowler said United Way is grateful to the James Family for their ongoing support of the nonprofit, which serves a four-county region that includes Forrest, Lamar, Marion and Perry.

“This donation and the Endowment Fund are great examples of the kind and generous man Mr. Bob James was. He and his family have dedicated years of their lives to serving our community through United Way, and we are so thankful to have been impacted in such a positive way, both then and now, by their dedication and generosity,” said Fowler.

Mrs. James said serving the community through organizations like United Way and Pinebelt Foundation is the legacy that her husband has left for their family. 

“I feel like he would be pleased. He would probably be embarrassed, frankly–but he would be pleased to be remembered in that manner.”

Bob James Donation

Gwen James of Hattiesburg, in conjunction with the Pinebelt Foundation, presents a donation check to United Way of Southeast Mississippi CEO Tracie Fowler on behalf of the Bob James United Way Endowment Fund. Also pictured are Pinebelt Foundation Executive Director Mike Dixon and Pinebelt Foundation Director of Operations Caroline Nurkin.