Alum Tom Lawrence

Carrying forth a vision

February 15, 2024


Before Tom Lawrence was 30, he was overseeing the personal finances, tax compliance, and investment portfolio management for the Levine family and its foundation.

Lawrence said it was a stretch position, but one he was prepared for because of his University of Richmond education. After graduating in 1996 with an accounting degree, he worked with the general services group of McGladrey & Pullen in Richmond, and then moved to Charlotte with Arthur Andersen, working in the Family Wealth Planning division.

He connected with Leon Levine in 2002. Levine opened the first Family Dollar store in 1959 in Charlotte when he was 22, and grew it to more than 4,500 locations. When he retired in 2003 he began his second career — building The Leon Levine Foundation into one of the country’s largest and most impactful philanthropic organizations.

The Leon Levine Foundation supports programs and organizations that align with its four core mission areas: education, healthcare, human services, and Jewish values. Based in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Foundation invests in nonprofits across North Carolina and South Carolina. Levine passed away in April 2023.

“I was brought on to help. I was in the right place at the right time,” Lawrence said. “He was establishing a family office and needed infrastructure. I was fortunate to have him as a mentor, leader, and teacher. He was generous with his time in helping me to develop.”

Today, Lawrence is the president and CEO and a member of the board of directors of The Leon Levine Foundation, as well as chief financial officer of the Levine family office.

“It’s important to me to carry forth his vision,” Lawrence said.

The business classes Lawrence took while at the University of Richmond provided him with a strong base of technical and accounting expertise as well as a host of important life skills. “What leads someone to success is resiliency, adaptability, working as part of a team, and life experiences. Richmond had a big influence on me.”

Lawrence grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, and in his junior year, his high school took students on a trip to visit colleges, including the University of Richmond.

“I was looking at colleges that were smaller and close to home, and had a good business program,” he said. “Richmond was a clear fit.”

While he knew he wanted to study business, he wasn’t sure what aspect. His professors not only helped guide him to a specialty but also provided a foundation of characteristics he works toward every day, including persistence and teamwork.

“I learned the value of having someone there to spot you as you work through something and to be on the other side as you get through the challenge,” he said. “I also had the opportunity to be curious and exposed to different pathways, while learning what was the right fit for me.”

Lawrence said he experienced firsthand the ways UR provides students with opportunities and learning experiences that enable Spiders to make a difference. “At graduation, I knew I could go into the real world and create impact. Richmond created that foundation,” Lawrence said.

It’s that foundation that’s allowed Lawrence to continue to build on Levine’s legacy of philanthropy.