To recognize the “lifetime of contributions” of Alice Walton, the University of Arkansas is granting her an honorary Doctor of Arts and Humane Letters during the spring All-University commencement ceremony May 12.
“There are very few individuals who have the ability to make truly transformational changes in people’s lives or in the way institutions operate; far fewer individuals act on that ability. Alice Walton is a very special individual,” said university Chancellor G. David Gearhart. “We want to honor what she has done already for Northwest Arkansas, the state of Arkansas, and of course, this university.”
Walton, the daughter of Wal-Mart founders Helen and Sam Walton, was the money and vision behind the newly opened Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. She was also a driving force behind the federal approval and construction of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport.
“I am humbled to be selected for this honor,” Walton said. “The University of Arkansas has been a tremendous resource for our state both in educating its citizens and developing its economy. To be a part of this academic tradition is personally meaningful.”
Walton grew up in Bentonville, where her father operated the local five-and-ten store before starting his own company, Wal-Mart, in 1962. She attended Trinity University in San Antonio, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and finance. She began her business career with the First Commerce Corp. and later served as head of all investment-related activities at the Arvest Bank Group. In 1988, she founded the investment bank Llama Company, serving as president, chairman and chief executive officer.
Walton helped bring Northwest Arkansas business and political leaders together in 1990 to form the Northwest Arkansas Council, and was the first chair of this community development organization. The council played a major role in creating the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, which continues to play a pivotal economic role for the area, helping to spur more than a decade of unprecedented growth. Walton helped finance the project and provided the initial seed capital to fund construction of the airport. The Alice L. Walton Terminal Building was named after her to recognize her contribution and support.
Walton has also played a guiding role in the Walton Family Foundation, one of the nation’s foremost philanthropic organizations. The foundation has made significant donations to the University of Arkansas, transforming the Sam M. Walton College of Business, creating the Honors College and endowing the Graduate School, turning each into nationally prominent and competitive institutions. She has continued to take an active interest in the university, serving on the Board of Advisors for the Graduate School of Business.
The Walton Family Foundation also helped fulfill Walton’s vision for Camp War Eagle, which since 2006 has given summer camp experiences to thousands of children from different socio-economic backgrounds, most of them attending free of charge.