Bill Flatt keeps several manila folders, all jammed full of letters and photos, within arm’s reach of his desk on the second floor of Dawson Hall.
They are thank-you notes, some typed, some handwritten on colorful stationery, all addressed to “Dr. Flatt.”
It’s hard to imagine the ebullient Flatt, who answers every “How ya’ doing?” with a robust “Better n’ ever!” as anything but cheery, but if he ever did have a down moment, a glance through the folders will cure it.
Flatt’s lifetime of philanthropy, including two endowed professorships within FACS along with numerous student scholarships, is chronicled inside the manila folders, cursive statements of gratitude for a man whose joy is giving to others.
“I get thank you letters every year from the students that get scholarships and they’re always very touching,” Flatt said. “They’re impressive. I could name practically all of them.”
Flatt joined the FACS department of foods and nutrition in 1994 after stepping down as dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. It marked the beginning of a relationship that would change both Flatt and the college forever.
“When I came here, I realized there were so few scholarships available to students,” he said.
So Flatt set out to change it, establishing the Nesbitt-Flatt Scholarship Fund in honor of his late mother-in-law.
Not long after, Flatt said he realized FACS had very few endowed professorships. So Flatt, who was the D.W. Brooks Distinguished Professor during his time at the College of Ag, set up the Bill and June Flatt Professorship in Foods and Nutrition in honor of his wife, who died in 2009.
When Flatt set about his well-known journey to lose weight, he enlisted the help of veteran FACS faculty members Rick Lewis, Barbara Grossman and former FDN department head Roy Martin.
Flatt’s guest lectures about his weight loss, complete with unflattering images of himself contrasted with shots of him sweating on a leg press machine or working out to a Richard Simmons video, are legend among FACS undergrads.
Partly out of gratitude to his colleagues and partly out of his own desire to see a dent made in the obesity epidemic, Flatt endowed another professorship within FACS last year.
To date, Flatt’s contributions have exceeded $1 million – earning him membership in the 1785 Society at UGA – the first and only individual donor in the history of FACS to reach this milestone.
“Bill Flatt is someone deeply admired and beloved by our campus community,” UGA President Jere W. Morehead said. “He has been a vital part of the University of Georgia for more than 40 years, constantly giving of himself as a faculty member, administrator and philanthropist. He embodies commitment to UGA, and we are deeply grateful for all that he has done.”
Flatt was raised by his paternal grandparents in Depression-era west Tennessee.
His grandfather lost the general store he owned following the Depression and turned to farming, and by the time he was a young boy, Flatt earned his keep as a sharecropper on his uncle’s land.
It was there, picking cotton and strawberries and plowing a mule in the Tennessee heat, that Flatt learned about time and money management: pick more cotton, make more money.
“It gave me an appreciation for the value of money, right from the very beginning,” he said.
Even then, Flatt was taught to set aside money for others, a lesson passed down by his grandmother, Cattie Flatt.
“She stressed from the very beginning that the first 10 percent is not yours. You have to tithe,” Flatt said. “The first 10 percent, you give it to Sunday school. The other you can keep and save it for college, because there would not be any money from the family. The money just wasn’t there.”
Flatt would go on to become valedictorian of his high school, thus earning a $50 scholarship to Bethel College. Even then, he recognized the sacrifice others had made for his benefit, thus inspiring him to give to others.
“I found it very easy to do,” Flatt said of setting aside money not just for his future, but for anonymous others who might need it. “I realized how important it was to save for the future, to save for that rainy day that I kept being told about the whole time I was growing up.”
Today, Flatt is just as enthusiastic about his job – and life in general – as he was when he was a young scientist running the UGA Experiment Station more than 40 years ago.
He talks fluently and excitedly about the work of the UGA Obesity Initiative and of helping address “food deserts” and the success of the Expanded Foods and Nutrition Education Program.
“I think it’s within our reach to solve a lot of these problems,” he said, “but just solving the problem is not enough. You’ve got to get that information to the people who are going to use it.”
As state and federal funds for research continue to decline, Flatt said now it’s even more critical to support college programs with private dollars.
And that’s what most motivates Flatt and why, even at age 83, he’s still known as one of FACS’ greatest cheerleaders.
“It is difficult to put into words the impact Bill Flatt has had on FACS,” dean Linda Kirk Fox said. “He is a tireless advocate for FACS faculty, students and staff, and serves as an inspiration to all who encounter him. We are fortunate to have him as a member of the FACS family and are so grateful for his countless contributions to our college.”
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