Finding Home at WUSTL

B.A. "Dolph" Bridgewater Jr. and his wife, Barbara. Photo by Joe Angeles.

Dolph and Barbara Bridgewater work tirelessly on behalf of the community

Posted by Mary Lee for Washington magazine June 24, 2014

This story originally appeared in the June 2014 issue of Washington magazine.

When B.A. "Dolph" Bridgewater Jr. and his wife, Barbara, moved to St. Louis in 1979, it was the seventh time the couple had relocated since they were married. The move, which came after Dolph was named president of Brown Shoe Co., was their last one, making it lucky No. 7 for the Bridgewater family—and for Washington University.

Over the past 35 years, the Bridgewaters have put down strong roots in St. Louis. In the process, they have left an indelible mark on the community and the university.

Dolph Bridgewater was introduced to Washington University by his predecessor at Brown Shoe, W.L. Hadley Griffin, JD47, who was chair of the university's Board of Trustees. "I was impressed by the university," Bridgewater says. "I thought it would be a privilege to be associated with the institution if the opportunity came up."

His chance came in 1983, when he was asked to join the Board of Trustees. He later served as a member of the board's executive committee for 14 years and became an emeritus trustee in 2006. In addition, he has served on the National Council of the Brown School since 2004, including five years as chair.

Barbara Bridgewater's record of service at Washington University is nearly as long as her husband's. She joined the National Council of the College of Art in 1988 and continues to serve on the National Council of the Sam Fox School.

Winning Team

The Bridgewaters met when they were both students at the University of Oklahoma. Barbara, a communications major and yearbook beauty, and one of her sorority sisters were enlisted to appear in a law school skit. Dolph, a law student with an undergraduate degree from Westminster College in Fulton, Mo., was in the audience. "I saw her in the skit and tried to arrange an introduction," he says.

Barbara adds, "Dolph turned to a friend and said, 'Can you get me a date with that girl?' I think he actually picked the other girl, but he ended up calling me."

They graduated in 1958 and married two years later. The couple spent their first year together in Europe, where Dolph was serving as an ­officer at a naval station in southern Spain. Several quick moves followed: to Washington, D.C., where Dolph joined the staff of the Navy Judge ­Advocate General; to Dolph's hometown of Tulsa, Okla., for a brief stint as prosecuting attorney; and then to ­Boston, where Dolph earned an MBA at Harvard Business School, graduating with ­distinction as a Baker Scholar.

Teamwork is a defining feature of the ­Bridgewaters’ relationship. "When I entered ­Harvard, we didn't have any money," Dolph Bridgewater says. "In order for me to receive financial aid, we were told that Barbara had to contribute to the cost of tuition. She became a fashion model to pay the bills and did very well at it for many years."

Later in their marriage, they shared other ­duties, he says. "As an operating principal, we agreed I would take care of business and, to the extent it was something I would enjoy, serve on boards of directors. Barbara would be involved with charities and other community institutions."

Dividing those responsibilities became necessary as Dolph's career flourished. After graduating from Harvard, he was hired by management consulting firm McKinsey & Company in Chicago and eight years later became a senior partner. He took a leave of absence from that firm in 1973 to serve as associate director for national security and international affairs with the Office of Management and Budget under President Richard Nixon. Before joining Brown Shoe, he also served five years as executive vice president of Baxter Travenol Laboratories, a pharmaceutical and medical supplies manufacturer. He retired as chairman of Brown Shoe in 1999.

Leaving a legacy

Education paved the way for Dolph Bridgewater's success. And hard work paid for his education. He worked throughout his undergraduate years at Westminster College, both as a dishwasher and a golf course attendant. While at law school, he worked as a campus correspondent for a Tulsa newspaper. Scholarships and financial aid made up the difference. That experience played a ­critical role in his and Barbara's decision to provide generous support for scholarships at Washington University.

"Getting an education was a little harder for me, given my financial situation," Dolph ­Bridgewater says. "As a result, we believe very strongly in helping with the process of educating capable and talented people."

As a surprise gift to his wife, Dolph established a scholarship in her name at the Sam Fox School in 2001. Since then, they have provided gift annuities for future support of endowed scholarships at the Sam Fox School and the Brown School.

Dolph's legacy at the Brown School also includes the school's strategic plan, Impact 2020. Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton recruited him as chair of the school's National Council to develop the plan with Edward Lawlor, who had just arrived as Brown School dean.

"Dolph's leadership of the Brown School's strategic planning process was ­rigorous and inclusive and set us up for long-term ­innovation and success," Lawlor says. "He was thoughtful, analytic, and tireless. As a bonus, he and Barbara have become great personal friends."

In recognition of Dolph's exceptional service, he was awarded the Dean's Medal by the Brown School in 2008.

Barbara also has been honored for her efforts as a community volunteer. In 1990, she was named Variety Club Woman of the Year and a Woman of Achievement for her tireless work with such organizations as the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, the Saint Louis Zoo, the Saint Louis Art Museum, and ­Forest Park Forever.

The Bridgewaters are proud of their family's association with Washington University, which has become stronger through their children. The eldest of their three daughters, Barrie Somers, BA84, met her husband, Nicholas Somers, BA84, who currently serves on the Arts & Sciences National ­Council, while the two were undergraduates at the university. The Somerses' daughters—Payton, BA13, and Caroline, who will graduate in 2016—followed in their parents' footsteps. The Bridgewaters' daughter, Beth, also is married to a Washington University graduate, Andrew Condie, MBA91.

In addition to sons-in-law, the ­Bridgewaters gained lifelong friends at Washington University. "As newcomers to St. Louis, getting involved at the university was one of the best things we could have done," ­Barbara says. Adds Dolph, "I got to know some great people, and I treasure those relationships."