Jim and Mary Sharp Rayner: Committed to Millsaps, Committed to Mississippi

Jim and Mary Sharp Rayner are no strangers to hard work.

Jim (’62) sold everything from books to cookware to put himself through medical school. Mary Sharp earned her degree in education from the University of Mississippi and taught in both the Mississippi and Tennessee school systems.

Both native Mississippians, Jim and Mary Sharp understood at an early age that hard work —with a generous helping of grit and determination — was the prerequisite to success.

The hard work paid off. After earning a degree in chemistry from Millsaps in only three years, Jim attended medical school at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. He and Mary Sharp married and Jim completed his residency in ophthalmology followed by a fellowship at Johns Hopkins. In 1971, Jim established an ophthalmology clinic in Oxford which eventually grew into the Rayner Eye Clinic, a physicians group specializing in cataract implant surgeries as well as laser and LASIK procedures. Mary Sharp served as office manager of the clinic. Jim was considered one of the pioneers in cataract and implant surgery. In the 1970s, Jim taught courses to practicing ophthalmologists from Baltimore to San Diego on techniques of this “new surgery.”

After enjoying a successful career while raising three children, Jim and Mary transitioned to retirement, but their hard work has continued. Central to that work is a mutual commitment to service and philanthropy, especially in the areas of education and health care.

“We believe in giving back,” said Jim in a 2017 interview with the University of Mississippi Medical Center. And that’s an understatement. With significant gifts made over many decades along with board service to various non-profits and ministries intersecting with health care, the Rayner’s commitment to giving is significant. And their newest gift at Millsaps College, one that will positively impact the lives and successful futures of Mississippi students in perpetuity, is unparalleled.

Totaling $2 million, the Jim and Mary Sharp Rayner Endowment is the single-largest scholarship of its kind in the history of Millsaps, with a financial award at or near tuition for each of its annual recipients. Rayner Scholars will exemplify the ideals and principles of Jim and Mary Sharp — hard work, sacrifice, discipline and initiative — along with the Rayner’s quintessential grit and determination. Rayner Scholars must be from the state of Mississippi and will be selected on the basis of academic achievement, leadership and community service, with financial need also considered. As the years go by, successful Rayner Scholars will form a fellowship of friendship and mutual support.

“The Jim and Mary Sharp Rayner Endowment is a gift not only to Millsaps College and to our students, but it’s a gift to Mississippi,” says Millsaps President Rob Pearigen. “A higher education impacts not only the scholarship recipient, but its many positive outcomes transform lives and communities. With this substantial and generous endowment, the Rayners will make an indelible imprint on our college and our state for years to come.”

“We feel giving back is our way to pay it forward, and we encourage others to do the same,” says Jim. “Mississippi needs Millsaps, and our state needs graduates who are prepared to make a difference. It is our hope that Rayner Scholars will benefit from the endowment by receiving a top-notch liberal arts education that may have been out of reach on their own; and then, years after graduation, they ultimately give back to someone else equally as promising and as deserving.”

Pearigen agrees. “This incremental positive change is what our state needs, and this is how the Jim and Mary Sharp Rayner Endowment at Millsaps College will create a legacy that will last in perpetuity.”



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