Sep 25 2014


For the first time since 2002, the University of Montana Foundation will award the Order of the Grizzly, its highest honor. Tom Cotter, who gave millions to support student scholarships at the University of Montana, is the 2014 recipient and will be honored posthumously at the Foundation’s President’s Club and Heritage Society Dinner on Thursday, Sept. 25.

Cotter passed away July 16. His daughter, Mary Ann Cotter, will accept the award on his behalf.

“It is a great honor and privilege to bestow this award on so deserving an individual,” said Shane Giese, president and CEO of the UM Foundation. “Tom showed a keen understanding of the ways in which education can change a life, and his generosity will impact Montana students for generations to come. We are thankful for his life and saddened by his loss.”

In March 2014, Cotter committed a substantial figure from his estate to fund scholarships for students who graduate from Montana high schools.

In a recent UM Foundation newsletter article, Cotter explained why philanthropy was so important to him: “I never could have made it without my education, and I want to see if I can help upgrade the situations of students who want the chance to learn. I have such a love for Montana and the University and have always felt that students could be very good recipients of my money.”

As a boy, Cotter helped his parents raise livestock on their ranch in Townsend. He said this experience gave him a work ethic that stayed with him throughout his life.

At age 16, he dropped out of school and joined the Merchant Marines. After a tour in the Pacific during World War II, he returned home to earn his high school diploma before enrolling at the University of Montana in 1948. He was a Sigma Chi (his uncle had been a charter member) and received his bachelor’s degree in 1953 and his master’s in 1955, both in sociology. After two years in the Army Counterintelligence Corps and nearly a decade at Boeing, Cotter joined Merrill Lynch in 1965. Eventually, he joined the investment firm that became Franklin Templeton, and later retired after 20 years of service.

His family settled in Palo Alto, Calif., where his wife, Neva, resides today. Their daughter, Mary Ann, graduated from Palo Alto High School and then followed in her father’s footsteps by attending UM.

The UM Foundation established the Order of the Grizzly in 1965 to honor individuals who sustained an active interest in Montana and whose accomplishments contribute to the welfare of the state, nation and world. Past recipients include Sen. Mike Mansfield, actress Myra Loy and Llewellyn Callaway, who was the publisher of Newsweek in the 1960s.

The award is now conferred on those who have made a significant impact on the University through their leadership and philanthropy. Recipients are awarded a bronze miniature statue of a grizzly bear, the mascot of the University, sculpted by former Professor Rudy Autio.