Fitzgerald S. Hudson

January 1, 1988

Fitzgerald S. HudsonGraduation Year: 1946

Major/Program: Civil Engineering

Career Highlights:

  • Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Duke School of Engineering

Both the faculty and students were very receptive; they made you feel as though your potential was unlimited.

Minutes after calling his secretary to say he is on his way, an impressive Jerry Hudson arrives and extends a firm hand and a warm welcome to his guest. There is no time to be intimidated by this man whose resume indicates one would have good reason to be; instead one instantly feels at ease. Fitzgerald S. Hudson, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Duke University, stands out as a man who has succeeded not only because of his intelligence and personality, but also because he is approachable, responsive, and sincerely interested in all groups of people.

A native of Montgomery, Alabama, Hudson came to Duke in 1943 as a Marine in the World War II Wartime Officer training program. Originally a student in chemical engineering at Auburn University, Hudson studied civil engineering at Duke because, he jokes, “they didn’t have chemical engineering here and ‘civil’ started with the same letter." He earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 1946 and began his career on the production line at the American Rolling Mill Construction Company. From that humble beginning, he would go on to become chairman of a construction corporation and eventually preside over his alma mater.

Hudson’s recollections of his undergraduate years at Duke are part of the reason he serves the university with such vigor. Of the 1940s, Hudson remembers that “both the faculty and students were very receptive; they made you feel as though your potential was unlimited.” Since he believes this still holds true today, he has dedicated his talents to the school which gave him the opportunity to realize that potential.

When he was appointed Chairman of the Board of Trustees in July, 1988, Hudson began his most recent period of service to the university. In the past, he has served Duke as a hard working and conscientious supporter. He is a past president of the Engineering Alumni Association and a past chairman of the Dean’s Council for the School of Engineering. In addition, he acted as Chairman of the Medical Affairs Committee and Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees before his promotion this past summer.

Hudson’s responsibilities as Chairman of the Board of Trustees are to lead the board in its deliberations and to act as a liaison between the Board, the administration, and the faculty. Hudson’s goals as chairman include improving academics and expanding Duke’s physical plant resources. Previously, as Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Hudson played a major role in the construction of the new Duke Hotel and the new dormitory in Edens Quad, the addition to the Fuqua School of Business, and the plans to renovate and expand the Duke Law School. The Trustees are also encouraging Duke to endow more professorships and attract more graduate students.

Hudson comes back to Duke with the experience and resources he has developed during his remarkable professional career. He is Chairman of Collier, Cobb & Associates, Inc., a Charlotte-based insurance company which specializes in construction, and one of the top firms of its type in the nation. He is also Director of the National Bank of Washington and a former executive director of the Anthony Lumsden Company, an insurance brokerage in London. Hudson has a mind for business and has been able to use his ties to the university to promote the Capital Campaign for the Arts and Sciences.

Clearly, Hudson’s commitment to the School of Engineering is strong; for example, Hudson gave $1 million to endow a professorship in biomedical engineering in 1986. However, as the first graduate of the School of Engineering to be appointed as Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Hudson must not appear too biased towards the school. Already, the Board of Trustees approved $1.1 million to construct the Engineering Research Center for Cardiovascular Technology in the Teer Engineering Building. Other projects for the School of Engineering are planned for the future, but Hudson believes that these goals can be achieved without appearing “to favor the school." Earl Dowell, Dean of the School of Engineering, confirmed his own faith in Hudson’s commitment to the whole university. “Jerry Hudson is a vital force for Duke University. His leadership has had a major impact in bringing engineering at Duke to national prominence, and I am sure the university will benefit an equal measure from his extraordinary presence."

In addition to his own association with the university, Hudson has also sent his children to Duke. His stepdaughter Gray Bridgers is a Trinity senior, and his daughter Meriwether and his son Will graduated from Duke in 1984 and 1988, respectively. Hudson believes his children have benefitted from Duke’s “academic excellence,” which is shown by the quality of the student body. Reflecting on the School of Engineering in particular, Hudson notes, “the quality of the students is certainly one of the school’s biggest assets. Duke engineering is gaining a reputation as one of the top engineering schools in the country; and I’m very proud of it.”

After reviewing all that Hudson has accomplished, one may wonder what factors contributed to his success. “I think I’ve been very lucky; sometimes I ride on that luck a lot, and of course one hopes that it never runs out. But my engineering degree has given me a sort of problem solving philosophy that has helped me approach real-life problems in an advantageous way:’ Hard work obviously cannot be disregarded, and the old adage, “If you have something to be done, ask a busy man to do it” seems to describe Hudson.

In his duties as Chairman of the Board of Trustees and his work for Collier, Cobb & Associates, Hudson can combine business and hobby by flying one of his three company planes, which university officials have also been able to use. He pursues his interest in aviation as a trustee of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, a 270,000 member non-profit organization representing the interests of general aviation in the U.S. and throughout the world. Hudson’s interest in aviation stems partly from his belief in its importance. “Flying is important economically—the world is smaller [because of flight] so it’s important to look beyond the immediate horizon."

With the numerous positions he has held has come the opportunity to travel extensively. Hudson notes that, “I’ve seen many places, but I’m a true American. My roots are in Montgomery, but North Carolina is where I feel most at home, then Maine." Hudson spends time in his home in Charlotte, as well as at his farm in Alabama and home in Maine. He finds time to relax by playing tennis and fox hunting. One of the benefits as a member of the Board of Trustees is getting tickets to the NCAA basketball championships; he went to Kansas last year to cheer for the Blue Devils, and will be on board cheering for victory in 1989.

It is clear that Jerry Hudson has enjoyed a successful career as both a businessman and a volunteer. His leadership and openness to others have made him ideal for such positions. As a graduate of Duke’s School of Engineering, he has used his degree to approach problems analytically and has lent a new diversity to the Board as its chairman. Hudson is yet another example of a successful, hard working Duke engineer who has utilized his problem solving abilities and personality to their maximum, and illustrates the potential of all engineers.

Jerry Hudson’s last request upon escorting his guest out of his office is that she tell him how her engineering studies are progressing when she sees him next. And he means it.

Originally published in DukEngineer magazine, Fall 1988. Written by Eileen Bryn, a junior in Electrical Engineering.