Each year, more than 4,000 Clemson undergraduate students enjoy exercising their imaginations through a unique, faculty-led research program because of Phil and Mary Bradley’s generosity. Over multiple semesters, students develop problem-solving skills, presentation tactics and exceptional critical thinking skills, and gain beneficial experience applicable to their interests.

Phil Bradley’s father, William F. Bradley, was a veteran student at Clemson College in the late 1930s and finished his degree in 1952 after a long leave of absence. Throughout his childhood, Phil had his heart set on Clemson and much to his satisfaction, enrolled here after high school. After his sophomore year, Phil married his high school sweetheart, Mary, and before he graduated in 1965, they had begun their own family with daughter, Renee.

Clemson University’s hills are full of memories for the Charleston, South Carolina, natives, and today they enjoy giving back to the place that gave so much to them.

It began in 2005 when Phil and Mary met with former provost, Doris R. “Dori” Helms, to learn more about her vision for a new undergraduate research program called Creative Inquiry. The Bradleys were also introduced to a few of Helms’ students and took note of what they were accomplishing in their studies. To say they were impressed would be an understatement.

“Some students were starting businesses and even had patents and copyrights. It was a real eye-opener for me,” Phil said.

Students participate in faculty-led research projects.

Students participate in faculty-led research projects.

Because of Helms’ appreciation for Creative Inquiry and the students’ drive for learning, the Bradleys proudly stepped up and assisted with funding the program through annual support for five years. “I really wanted to help a program that needed financial support, and there’s been unbelievable growth,” he said.

The program’s growth as well as the Bradley’s continued appreciation for the students led them to provide the first major gift for the Creative Inquiry Enhancement Fund.

However, it wasn’t just the students who made an impact on the Bradleys. They also took note of how passionate the faculty members were about the students’ success and felt these mentors deserved recognition. This inspired the Bradleys to establish the Phil and Mary Bradley Award for Mentoring in Creative Inquiry — a generous award presented to a faculty member in recognition of outstanding work with undergraduate students.

Phil and Mary have witnessed the success of the program and believe it is an outstanding opportunity for Clemson students. As chairman of Clemson’s Board of Visitors, Phil often attends Tigertown Bound events and acquaints himself with incoming students and their families. “I tell the parents, ‘Get your kids involved in Creative Inquiry! It makes a big difference in their student-life,’” Phil said.

The Bradley’s investments have not only made a difference at Clemson. They have impacted their entire family.

“Our whole family sees the good that has come into our lives from being involved in Clemson. We have benefitted greatly,” said Mary.

Many students present their findings at conferences.

Many students present their findings at conferences.

The Clemson traditions were engrained in the Bradley’s children, Philip and Renee, at a very young age. They are now proud alumni and have passed on their love for Clemson to their very own families. Phil and Mary are happy to say that their grandchildren, Gibson and Sydney, have adopted a love for the University at the young ages of 9 and 13.

The family’s shared love for Clemson encouraged Phil and Mary to become more involved on campus. Phil was elected to the Board of Visitors in 2006 and is also a proud member of the Clemson Foundation. “This gave me the opportunity to see the needs of Clemson University and how we go about meeting those needs. It’s gotten me more involved in not just the support of athletics but what’s going on on-campus and how we can further those goals,” he said.

Mary Bradley has also made an impact on the Clemson Family. In April 2015, Mary was named an Honorary Alumna for her lifelong devotion and demonstrated loyalty to her adopted school.

Clemson President Emeritus James F. Barker states in his nomination letter, “Mary Bradley has earned her way into the Clemson Family with a smile on her face each step of the way.”

“I am honored beyond words for becoming an Honorary Alumna and I hope that I will always represent Clemson the way that I should. As far as Phil and I are concerned, our whole life revolves around Clemson University,” said Mary.

The Bradleys are a “One Clemson” family, supporting both athletics and academics, and believe that seeing the outcomes has made a big difference in their lives. Phil and Mary often talk to one another about their relationship with Clemson and always agree that it is money well spent. “There is nothing like the satisfaction of knowing that you have made a difference in the life of a Clemson student,” Phil said.

When Phil is presented with the opportunity to talk to someone about investing in Clemson, he always says, “Do not hesitate. Do not wait. It doesn’t matter how small. I use the philosophy that if you’re a Clemson alum, you learned, you earned and now you need to return. You need to return and give something back to Clemson. I think Creative Inquiry is a great program you can start with.”

Clemson’s Creative Inquiry program lets students take risks in order to seek answers to challenging questions. This opportunity would not be possible without the Bradley’s support and generosity. The University is grateful for this couple’s involvement and contributions to Clemson.


Contribute to the Dori R. Helms Endowment for Creative Inquiry and Innovation today and support student and faculty teams as they generate ideas and solve real-world problems through engaged learning and research.

Make your online gift now or call the Clemson Fund at 864-656-5896.