CSU awards honorary degree to business leader, philanthropist James Kennedy

James Kennedy
James Kennedy, who along with his mother has made a huge impact with his philanthropy, will be awarded an honorary degree at spring commencement.

The remarkable impact of James Kennedy and his family on Colorado State University will be acknowledged May 11 during the University’s 2018 commencement ceremonies, when he is awarded an honorary doctorate degree.

Kennedy, chairman of Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises for the past 30 years, is widely known for his remarkable business acumen. He has helped transform Cox Enterprises from $2.1 billion in annual sales to $20 billion during his tenure.

Kennedy’s impact outside the boardroom is what truly sets him apart. He is an avid and accomplished cyclist and outdoorsman, but it is his philanthropic work in education, health care and sustainability that puts him in a separate class from other corporate leaders.

Great honor

“An honorary degree is the greatest honor a university can bestow and is reserved for only the most deserving individuals. James Kennedy certainly fits that description,” said CSU President and System Chancellor Tony Frank. “His influence and leadership at Cox Enterprises has transformed the company founded by his grandfather, and he has continued and expanded a family legacy of philanthropy that is improving our world in immeasurable ways. He is a champion of education at all levels, but particularly higher education, where his generosity supports programs in conservation, sustainability and human health at nearly a dozen universities across the country.

“His contributions to our own Warner College of Natural Resources and College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences will impact generations of future students and the communities they serve,” Frank added. “Mr. Kennedy embodies every positive attribute we strive for at Colorado State University, and it is with humble admiration that we present him with this honorary degree.”

Impact across campus, around the globe

Kennedy’s most recent gift to Colorado State created the Warner College’s James C. Kennedy Chair in Wetlands and Waterfowl Conservation, which is held by David Koons, a renowned North American and European waterfowl expert. Kennedy also established the Barbara Anthony Cox Chair in Wildlife Conservation in the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology in honor of his mother. The chair is held by world-renowned conservation biologist Joel Berger, whose research has taken him around the globe to study and help preserve such species as muskoxen, black rhinos and wild horses.

“The results of Jim Kennedy’s generosity to Warner College are nothing short of transformational,” said John Hayes, dean of the college. “The impacts of the programs funded through his support are being felt not only here in Colorado, but throughout the West and around the world. His contributions are creating a legacy of impact that will endure for generations to come. Because of the tremendous impact he is making on conservation and CSU, he is deeply deserving of this honor.”

Family legacy

The positive impact of Kennedy’s family began with his mother, Barbara Cox Anthony, who in 2002 became a major supporter of the Orthopaedic Research Center and Flint Animal Cancer Center in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. The Barbara Cox Anthony University Chair in Orthopaedic Research, awarded to world-renowned equine orthopaedic surgeon C. Wayne McIlwraith, and the Barbara Cox Anthony University Chair in Oncology, awarded to noted oncologist Douglas H. Thamm, were the first awarded at CSU.

The family has also provided funding for world-class facilities, research and faculty support in the college.

“In addition to the gifts of the Barbara Cox Anthony Endowed Chair and the discretionary research funding, Barbie’s and Jim’s philanthropy enabled us to complete the initial Orthopaedic Research Center building (the Gail Holmes Equine Orthopaedic Research Center) and saved the Orthopaedic Research Laboratories facility by enabling its reroofing and entrance upgrade,” McIlwraith said. “The importance of their support cannot be measured.”

Passion for conservation

Kennedy’s passion for conservation has extended well beyond Colorado State. He has made significant contributions to the University of Colorado, the University of Denver, Clemson University, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, University of Montana, Emory University, Mississippi State University, University of Georgia, and Georgia State University. His philanthropy is incredibly diverse, supporting not only conservation and sustainability but human health care, including Alzheimer’s and autism research. He has helped establish four university endowed programs in wetlands and waterfowl conservation, including the one at CSU.

He’s also passionate about providing educational opportunities, creating the Jim Kennedy Scholarship Fund, a $10 million endowment that supports the educational goals of children of Cox employees. He has provided more than $9 million in foundation grants to Atlanta Speech School, Reach Out and Read, and the Bayou District Foundation.

Kennedy has long shown a willingness to dig in and serve to support his favorite causes. He has served on the boards of The Nature Conservancy and Ducks Unlimited, and formerly served as chair of the Colorado Wildlife Commission. His commitment to sustainability manifested itself in the creation of Cox Conserves, a program that seeks to make Cox Enterprises carbon- and water-neutral by 2044 while sending zero waste to the landfill by 2024.

Kennedy will receive his honorary degree at 3 p.m. Friday, May 11, at Moby Arena as part of the Graduate School commencement ceremony.