Donor, recipient honor family backgrounds with Berty Mae Scholarship to veterinary college
July 7, 2023
Early life experiences shaped both the scholarship donor and scholarship recipient.
For Ron Guilliams '79, it was the sacrifices his mother, Berty Mae Maxfield, made so he could be successful. For Gianna Novak '23, it was raising cattle on her father’s farm, and a visit from a veterinarian to help heal a heifer she was raising.
“My mother was single and she managed to raise a very troubled boy like myself,” said Guilliams, co-owner of Waterproofing Specialties, Inc “She stressed education so much. I had to finish.”
To honor Guilliams’ mother, Virginia Tech graduates Ron and Tami Guilliams '79 of Stanley, North Carolina, funded a full-tuition scholarship to the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine and named it the Berty Mae Scholarship.
The scholarship is awarded to an excelling first-year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine student and follows that student through to graduation.
“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.”
The first recipient of the Berty Mae Scholarship, Gianna Novak of the Class of 2026, 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,” Novak said.
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 before 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.
Guilliams’ mother declined to buy a bottle of champagne to celebrate the Guilliams’ marriage. “There will be time enough for that when you finish college,” Guilliams recalls her saying.
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,” Novak 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.”
Novak said she is “humbled and honored” to receive the scholarship funded by the Guilliams.
“My family is not in agriculture for the money,” Novak 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.”
Guilliams, who has previously supported other scholarships at Virginia Western and Virginia Tech, had several choices on where to give his money, but the veterinary college – with its One Health focus on improving the health of animals, humans and the environment – won out.
“I want to save lives,” Guilliams said. “That’s what matters.”