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School remembers generous supporter William "Billy" Armfield

UNC Chapel Hill and the UNC School of Social Work community are mourning the loss of William “Billy” Johnston Armfield, IV, a long-time supporter of the school and university, who died on July 11, after a brief illness.

“Billy Armfield was a force for good that we will dearly miss,” said Dean Jack M. Richman. “He and his wife Janie have given so much to our school and have shown so much support to our faculty and students. So we all have heavy heart at this time.”

Armfield, 81, a native North Carolinian and a resident of Virginia, was a 1956 UNC Chapel Hill graduate. After serving two years in the U.S. Army, Armfield earned a master of business administration degree from Harvard Business School and then started his career in the textile industry at Madison Throwing Company in Madison, N.C. There, he co-founded the textile company Macfield Inc. in 1970 and for more than two decades served as its president and director until the company merged with Unifi Inc., where he also served in corporate leadership positions. In 1995, he founded Spotswood Capital LLC, a private investment company in Greensboro; he served as its president until his death.

Over the years, Billy and Janie Armfield have given generously to numerous educational and charitable organizations, including to UNC and the School of Social Work. In 2008, the Armfields, along with philanthropists Sam and Betsy Reeves of Palm Beach, Fla., launched the School’s Armfield-Reeves Innovation Fund to encourage social work faculty and student researchers to become involved in innovative, community-based, engaged research. The $600,000 fund was created to support pilot-scale, novel projects focused on effective and efficient social interventions aimed at solving some of society’s most pressing needs.

Since the first grants were announced, nearly $367,000 has been awarded to support 30 faculty projects. Much of the seed funding has enabled school researchers to collect valuable pilot data that is then used to develop more comprehensive studies. Over the years, the fund has sustained a wide range of projects designed to improve the lives of children, families, and communities. Among these studies have included:

  • Interventions aimed to keep more middle-school aged students in school
  • A pilot test of a program designed to decrease substance abuse among former prisoners and to reduce prison recidivism
  • A study to evaluate university support services for LD and ADHD students
  • A project aimed at addressing the gap in mental health services to black youth

Since its launch, the Armfield-Reeves Innovation Fund has also provided valuable support to projects that have rarely, if ever, been explored. For example, Associate Professor Gina Chowa was awarded a grant several years ago to support her exploratory study on how food insecurity in Zambia impacts the ability of people living with HIV and AIDS to take needed antiretroviral drugs and manage their health.

“Although our study received additional outside funding, support from the Armfield-Reeves Innovation Fund enabled us to establish the evidence we needed to apply for a bigger NIH grant,” Chowa said. “So having this financial resource within the School of Social Work truly benefitted our research.”

The family’s generosity has also helped many School of Social Work students. The Armfield Scholarship Fund was established 22 years ago to promote racial and cultural diversity within the student body and to financially support primarily first-year students in need. Since the fund was created, over $335,000 has been awarded to more than 140 student scholars.

Over the years, Billy Armfield also strengthened his commitment to higher education and the university by serving in various leadership roles, including on UNC’s board of trustees, the Kenan-Flagler Business School, and the UNC Chapel Hill Foundation. He also served as national co-chair of the university’s Bicentennial Campaign from 1990 to 1995, then the largest fundraising effort of its time.

In lieu of flowers, the family has suggested that contributions be made to Woodberry Forest School, Woodberry Forest, Va., 22989 or to The Educational Foundation Inc., UNC Chapel Hill, ATTN: Director of Donor Service, P.O. Box 2446, Chapel Hill, NC 27515.