“I want to save lives,” said Ron Guilliams when asked why he chose to support the veterinary college, “that’s what matters.”
Virginia Tech alumni Ron and Tami Guilliams of Stanley, N.C, were inspired this year to fund a full-tuition scholarship for a DVM student, recognizing the importance of veterinarians in the community.
To honor the sacrifices Ron’s mother made to push him to be successful, they decided to name the scholarship in honor of his mother, Berty Mae.
The recipient of the Berty Mae Scholarship, Gianna Novak (DVM candidate ‘26), aims to make her donors proud and hopes to be able to pay it forward to another vet student in need one day. “With the financial support of this scholarship, I am able to worry about one less thing and focus more on my school work and less about my financial needs.”
Berty Mae was the driving force behind Ron Guilliams eventually securing a Virginia Tech bachelor’s degree in construction management after a childhood that included stints in a boys’ home and military school plus dropping out of Virginia Military Institute. A successful stint in the U.S. Air Force led to an associate degree at Virginia Western Community College in Roanoke before attending Tech.
“My mother was single and she managed to raise a very troubled boy like myself,” Guilliams siad. “She stressed education so much. I had to finish.”
Berty Mae declined to buy a bottle of champagne immediately to celebrate Ron and Tami’s marriage. “There will be time enough for that when you finish college,” Ron recalls her saying.
Scholarship recipient Gianna Novak grew up on her father’s farm helping raise cows. One heifer she was raising broke her humerus as a calf and the family took it to college veterinary hospital for X-rays.
“I watched the veterinarian work on her and explain to me all the possibilities as well as listen to the detailed instructions for continued care,” Gianna recalled. “I listened with awe as the veterinarians showed my calf compassion and applied all of their knowledge to try and heal her broken bone. … It was then that I knew I wanted to possess all the same skills that I watched these veterinarians perform, which solidified my career path.”
Gianna said she is “humbled and honored” to receive the scholarship funded by the Guilliams.
“My family is not in agriculture for the money,” Gianna said. “We are in it because we love what we do. This scholarship helps immensely. It helps me take out less in loans that I would have to pay back later, and lessens the contribution from my family. My entire life, all my family has wanted was to see me succeed and follow my passion.”