The college years provide young SigEps with the moral compass and critical experiences that inform life decisions and expand personal abilities. As brothers set out after graduation, each day brings new opportunities and challenges. Priorities are established, daily decisions add up and the narrative of a life is written.
With more than 300,000 alumni, there are countless stories of SigEp men who have devoted their entire adult lives to ideals cemented during the formative years of college. We celebrate their triumphs and extraordinary contributions in chapter newsletters and on homecoming weekends, in the pages of this Journal and at national gatherings. Above all accolades, two awards stand out. At the biennial Grand Chapter Conclave, the Sigma Phi Epsilon Citation and the Order of the Golden Heart are presented on the Fraternity’s largest stage.
THE CITATION is bestowed upon alumni who have achieved extraordinary success and stature in their chosen professions. Since the award was first presented in 1965, only 244 have received the honor. Among them are global leaders, titans of industry and commerce, renowned authors and artists, civil servants, military heroes, award-winning actors, and all-star athletes.
The article below shares the stories of four men honored with these awards at the 54th Grand Chapter Conclave. Their life journeys and commitment to SigEp virtues serve as inspiration for us all.
Charles E. Amato
Chairman and Co-founder, Southwest Business Corporation
Popularly known as “Mr. Greek” during his days at Sam Houston State, Charlie Amato, ’70, demonstrated a level of versatility that extended well beyond his participation in Greek activities. In addition to receiving high marks academically, he excelled on the sports field and in student government.
Amato harnessed the skills that helped him succeed in college to launch his own business with close friend and chapter brother Gary Dudley, ’69. Six years after graduating, the two formed Southwest Business Corporation (SWBC), a financial services firm in San Antonio, Texas.
Amato earned respect statewide for his business skills, and in 1992, was named South Texas Entrepreneur of the Year. He was called upon to chair organizations such as the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and the Texas Business Hall of Fame. Amato’s commitment to his community and his fellow business leaders contributed to the success of SWBC, which offers insurance and mortgages, as well as investments for individuals, businesses and financial institutions. What began six years after graduation with just Amato, Dudley and $1,500 in savings is today a billion-dollar firm with over 3,000 employees.
Amato has also pursued business interests outside of SWBC. In 1993, he found the ideal way to combine his talents in the boardroom with his love of sports when he and Dudley became part-owners of the San Antonio Spurs. This venture has proven successful, too, with five NBA championships as evidence.
In addition to using his talent to build successful businesses, Amato invests time with several nonprofits. In 2003, he became chairman of the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. Under his leadership, the organization raised $239 million to support local hospitals, fund medical research and increase awareness surrounding various children’s health issues. SWBC is also a major supporter of numerous organizations, including the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio, the United Way, the American Heart Association, Junior Achievement and Amato’s alma mater.
Higher education is a driving passion for Amato. He served as chairman of Sam Houston State’s College of Business Advisory Council, and he dedicates time to universities across the state. Former Governor Rick Perry appointed Amato to the Texas State University System Board of Regents. In 2012, he was named chairman, while also serving as chairman of the board of trustees at the University of the Incarnate World in San Antonio.
Brother Amato shared that, like most college freshmen, he had been “a little rough on the edges” when he arrived at Sam Houston State. He told a Conclave crowd he was fortunate to find SigEp, because it was through the Fraternity that he learned how to present himself professionally. Accepting his Citation, Amato added, “I believe the brotherhood has been just as responsible for my business success as my college degree.”
Patrick W. Lawler
Founder and CEO, Youth Villages
From his earliest days, Pat Lawler, Memphis ’77, displayed an innate ability to connect with others. His natural desire to help those in need led him to become a counselor at Tall Trees Guidance School at just 18. There, he honed an ability to mentor and advise young men experiencing difficulties in their lives.
In college, Lawler found SigEp. A people person by nature, he loved spending time with his brothers. They learned they could count on each other for support, whether the struggle was academic or personal.
After graduating with a criminal justice degree, Lawler went to work at the Juvenile Courts of Memphis and Shelby County. His colleagues were quickly impressed by his hard-working, selfless nature. At age 24, Lawler was asked to lead a small residential treatment facility outside of Memphis for troubled youth. The facility had been so plagued with problems the state was about to shut it down.
Accepting the challenge, Lawler began working with the small, but hopeful staff. Under his leadership, they revived the failing institution. By 1996, the original facility had merged with a second to form Youth Villages, with Lawler as founder and CEO. In the nearly 20 years since, Youth Villages has gone from treating a handful of children in two locations to serving more than 23,000 families annually in 70 locations in 13 states and Washington, D.C.
Children come to Youth Villages for a variety of reasons, but frequently they have experienced emotional and behavioral problems, have been abused, or have been placed in foster care. Through Lawler’s organization, these children receive individual counseling and, when possible, family counseling so they can return to a stable home environment. Lawler’s approach has been heralded as a model by the American Youth Policy Forum, and state agencies seeking to reform their systems have looked to Youth Villages as providing the standard of care.
Lawler’s passion for service has also led him to make regular trips to Central America, where he helps provide housing, water, electricity, education and medical care to under-served populations. He serves his own community as chairman of the Diocesan Review Board for his Catholic diocese, and as a board member of the Society of Entrepreneurs and the Bank of Bartlett.
As he addressed brothers and friends gathered at the Citation award ceremony, Lawler said his SigEp experience, especially his year as chapter president, helped him build the skill set needed to lead Youth Villages. “This role taught me how to manage a budget, lead a meeting, take care of the fraternity house,” he explained. “Being a SigEp gave me a head-start and served as a laboratory of sorts as I embarked on my career.”
John R. Lawson
President and CEO, W.M. Jordan Company, Inc.
As a charter member of Virginia Kappa, John Lawson, Virginia Tech ’75, blazed a new trail for Greek life. Not only was the chapter the origin of SigEp at Virginia Tech, it was the origin of national fraternities on the Blacksburg, Va., campus. Building something new had a profound effect on Lawson. The friendships he formed and leadership skills he developed have stuck with him for life.
Lawson’s first job was cleaning up trash on job sites for his father’s construction company, W.M. Jordan. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in geophysics, he returned to the family business as a field engineer and worked his way up to supervising sites.
At the age of 33, Lawson made a gutsy move. He convinced his father to exercise a buy-sell agreement with his partner and make the younger Lawson president and CEO of the company. Though it was a risk, he was confident in his vision for the future.
At the helm of W.M. Jordan, Lawson drove the family business to become the largest construction company in Virginia. His success was due in large measure to his understanding of how employees throughout the organization contribute to the success of individual building projects and the success of the company overall. As president and CEO, he has emphasized making the company more efficient and leveraging technology and capital, rather than focusing solely on profits.
Lawson is known for a unique management style that empowers employees at all levels. Under his leadership, W.M. Jordan created its Learning and Development Center to provide employees with industry training and personal development opportunities. He also founded an internship program that has produced 30 of the company’s current managers.
A builder by trade, Lawson is as equally engaged in the development of communities as he is in real estate. He serves on the board of more than a dozen organizations, including the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, where he built both the hospital and regional offices.
Lawson also helped establish the Myers-Lawson School of Construction at Virginia Tech, which is named for him and fellow chapter brother A. Ross Myers, ’72. He served two terms on Virginia Tech’s board of visitors, including two years as a rector. And as co-chair of the university’s $1 billion fundraising campaign, Lawson helped ensure the financial health of the university.
A passionate SigEp alumnus, Lawson devoted his skills as a leader, builder and fundraiser to the construction of the Virginia Tech Chapter’s new $5 million home. As he accepted his Citation, Lawson spoke of how the Fraternity shaped his life. Describing SigEp as the “ultimate team sport,” Lawson shared with the audience that he had been shy and introverted upon entering college. In the first weeks of school, he met some of the students working to establish the Fraternity on campus and “became part of the team.” He added, “The things that I very quickly learned and experienced … structure, values, looking out for one another … were things that built my character and allowed me to be successful after college.”
Alan D. Wilson
Chairman, President and CEO, McCormick & Co.
When Alan Wilson, Tennessee ’76, joined SigEp at Tennessee Alpha, he played a key role in revitalizing what was then a struggling chapter. Brothers could always count on Wilson to pitch in. Whether it was preparing the house for fall recruitment or building floats for the homecoming parade, he found passion in the task at hand. That was typical of Wilson; a relentless devotion to his work, regardless of its status or perceived importance, helped him rise through the ranks throughout his career.
After completing college on an ROTC scholarship, Wilson served as a U.S. Army captain, with tours in the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom. When he completed his military service, he went to work for Procter & Gamble. The retired Army captain’s new rank was tape-buyer for the company’s disposable diaper line.
Throwing himself into what some would consider a less-than-exciting job, Wilson frequented stores to examine displays and took diapers home to study their construction. He stood out for his commitment to finding ways to make products better and was promoted to management positions in product supply, procurement and manufacturing.
After nine years at P&G, a new challenge beckoned, and Wilson moved on to McCormick & Company, the world’s largest spice provider. He spent the next several years leading various operating units—including Tube Products, McCormick Canada and U.S. Consumer Foods—before being tapped to run McCormick North America. Each role prepared Wilson for his current job as chairman, president and CEO. Under his leadership, the company’s market value has more than doubled.
While his career has taken him around the world, Wilson has maintained a strong connection to his alma mater, where he served as the alumni board’s inaugural chairman. He has made significant investments in the student experience, funding scholarships and supporting the university’s business and communications programs. Interested in helping students successfully transition to college life, Wilson has also invested in Tennessee’s new student orientation program. And of course, his ongoing support of Tennessee Alpha is one of the reasons the chapter continues to excel.
In his Citation acceptance speech, Wilson was jovial, sharing a mix of stories about his college days and what he’s learned about life since graduating. He opened his remarks by describing himself as “just a humble pepper salesman” and elicited laughs by asking those in attendance to use the pepper on their tables to drive up McCormick’s market share. As he explained what SigEp meant to him, he shared that he’d come to college from a small town in South Carolina and didn’t know anyone on campus. “As I was looking around, to try to find my way, the brothers of SigEp reached out to me and created a family and a base for me to build on,” said Wilson. “The friendships that I’ve made, and I’ve kept, are so important to me.”