Distinguished Alumni Martinelli and Bodenhamer to Receive Honorary Degrees

Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli and Lee Bodenhamer
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Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli and Lee Bodenhamer

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Two University of Arkansas alumni — Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli and Arkansas businessman and philanthropist Lee Bodenhamer — will receive honorary degrees from the University of Arkansas in recognition of their achievements in politics and business, and for their strong support for education.

The degrees will be bestowed during the spring 2013 All University Commencement ceremony at 8:45 a.m. Saturday, May 11, in Bud Walton Arena.

President Martinelli will receive a Doctor of Humane Letters degree. Bodenhamer will be given a Doctor of Arts and Humane Letters. Martinelli and Bodenhamer will both address the graduating class of 2013.

“I’m very pleased that we are able to recognize two such distinguished University of Arkansas alumni in this way,” said Chancellor G. David Gearhart. “President Martinelli took a small Panamanian company and built it into a giant before he ever entered politics; he is now using his skills to transform his country in a similar way.

“Lee Bodenhamer created and led two successful businesses in Arkansas, bringing financial security to countless people; he has gone much further, sharing his own wealth to improve the lives of people for generations to come. His Bodenhamer Fellowships are just one shining example.

“Both men can serve as inspirations to our students: not just because they took their talents and what they learned at the U of A and went to work, achieving remarkable success in their lives. Beyond that: these are two men who never forgot where they came from; they’ve made it their mission to share their success, to generously give back to their communities, to make life better for the people of Panama and the people of Arkansas.”

President Ricardo Martinelli

Ricardo Martinelli, president of the Republic of Panama, is the first University of Arkansas alumnus to become a head of state. He was successful in both business and in politics in Panama, but none of his success came without setbacks. He credits the business skills and business ethics he learned as a student at the U of A as the best preparation he received to become both a business leader and the leader of his country.

Martinelli graduated from the university in 1973 with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and earned his Master of Business Administration from the Central American Institute of Business Administration in Costa Rica. He returned to Panama and eventually joined Super 99, a small company that sold housewares. He added food to the business and built the company into Panama’s leading supermarket chain. He ultimately bought the company, and his business achievements were recognized when he was named director of the Chamber of Commerce of Panama, a position he held from 1985-87.

In December 1989 U.S. troops invaded Panama to arrest and remove military strongman Manuel Noriega. The invasion was successful, but it led to weeks of rioting throughout the country. Many Super 99 stores were looted and heavily damaged, pushing the company to the brink of bankruptcy. Martinelli spent the next five years rebuilding Super 99 to its dominant place in Panama business.

Martinelli was appointed to his first government position in 1994, when he became Panama’s director of social security, a post he filled for two years. In 1999, when control of the Panama Canal was transferred from the United States to Panama, Martinelli was named to serve as chairman of the board of directors of the Panama Canal Authority and minister of canal affairs. He oversaw the transition, one of the most significant events in modern Panamanian history, and held the position until 2003.

In 2002 Martinelli received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the Arkansas Alumni Association. But his biggest accomplishments were still ahead of him.

Martinelli had been disturbed by corruption in the Panamanian government for years, and in 1998 he took a major step into the political arena, forming the Democratic Change Party. He ran for president in 2004, after leaving his position with the canal. He finished last among four candidates, receiving only 5.3 percent of the vote. Undeterred he put together a coalition of business leaders and conservative politicians and ran again in 2009, in a campaign promising change that also appealed to low income voters. He was elected with 60 percent of the vote.

As president, Martinelli has worked to improve trade and public transportation, raise wages, crack down on the illegal drug trade and streamline the tax code. His biggest emphasis, however, has been on education, and his government has worked to increase the quality of the schools at every level in Panama.

This emphasis on education is nothing new to Martinelli. He and his wife set up a charitable foundation that has given millions of dollars to poor students for scholarships. More recently he established the Ricardo Martinelli Scholarship at the University of Arkansas.

That is only one example of his close ties to the U of A. His brother and his best friend are both alumni, and the president is working with the university to create more opportunities for Panamanian students to come to Fayetteville, as well as to develop on-site University of Arkansas programs in Panama. There are currently so many Panamanians who graduated from the U of A and returned home that in 2010 the first international chapter of the Arkansas Alumni Association was established in Panama.

President Ricardo Martinelli has often joked that he considers himself as “Arkansas’s Ambassador to the World,” but it is obvious that he deeply values his ties to the state, and to the University of Arkansas.

Lee Bodenhamer

Lee Bodenhamer has improved the lives of thousands of people in Arkansas and beyond, both as an innovative businessman and a generous philanthropist. His financial acumen has created wealth for retirees as well as for college endowment funds; the foundation he established has supported many public health and education organizations; in addition he has strongly supported the educational goals of some of the top students in Arkansas.

Bodenhamer was born in El Dorado, Ark., in 1934. He attended the University of Arkansas, where he studied under and later worked for Harold Dulan, the renowned professor credited with inventing the variable annuity investment tool. Bodenhamer earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (accounting) in 1957 and a Master of Business Administration (finance) in 1961. While a student he worked for Dulan’s Fayetteville company, the Participating Annuity Life Insurance Co., ultimately serving as comptroller, secretary-treasurer and vice president of investments before leaving to attend the Harvard Business School.

Bodenhamer received his doctorate in business administration in 1968, and joined the Harvard Business School faculty. During his summer break in 1968, however, he returned to Arkansas to establish the First Variable Life Insurance Co. in Little Rock, a pioneering firm in the commercial use of the variable annuity in life insurance. He taught at Harvard until 1970, then left to focus on his company. He served as president and chief investment officer for First Variable until selling the company in 1985.

Bodenhamer created an investment subsidiary of First Variable, Meridian Management, in 1977. Meridian became an independent organization in 1983, and Bodenhamer continued to work with investment clients until 2001.

The Bodenhamer Foundation, established by Bodenhamer in 1986 as a charitable foundation, has provided financial support for various community service groups and public health organizations, including the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, the Washington Regional Foundation, the Baptist Health Foundation and the St. Vincent Medical Center Foundation.

The Foundation has also been a friend to higher education in Arkansas, with generous support for the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, the University of the Ozarks, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and Bodenhamer’s alma mater, the University of Arkansas, where Bodenhamer Fellowships are perhaps his most enduring legacy.

The fellowships, which Bodenhamer established through his foundation in 1998, are open to all Arkansas students and are worth up to $50,000 for four years of study or $62,500 for an accredited, five-year degree program at the University of Arkansas. The fellowships are intended to keep Arkansas’ best and brightest high school students in the state and strengthen the U of A’s academic environment. Competition for the fellowships is intense. Top grades are not enough: students must show they are intellectually curious, active in their community, passionate about a particular subject or social concern and must have demonstrated leadership abilities.

Thanks to matching gifts from the Bodenhamer Foundation and Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation in 2005 an endowment was established to enable the university to award six Bodenhamer Fellowships each year. So far 103 incoming freshmen have received Bodenhamer Fellowships.

In addition to the fellowships, the Bodenhamer Foundation helped to endow two chairs at the university, the Robert E. Kennedy Chair in Finance and the Harold Dulan Chair in Capital Formation. Lee Bodenhamer has also served the university as a board member of the University of Arkansas Technology Development Foundation, as a member of the Dean’s Executive Advisory Board of the Sam M. Walton College of Business, as a member of the Campaign for the Twenty-First Century Steering Committee, and as a member of the University of Arkansas Board of Advisors. He has been recognized as a charter member in both the Towers of Old Main and the Chancellor’s Society.

He and his wife, Beverly serve as co-treasurers of the current Campaign Arkansas.

Bodenhamer has also served on the boards of the Arkansas Educational Television Network and the Little Rock-based Centers for Youth and Families, on the Advisory Board of the Harvey and Bernice Jones Eye Institute and the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, and as a member of the Rotary Club of Little Rock.

In 2008, he was inducted into the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame and was named one of “25 Living Legends” in 2009 by Arkansas Business.


Steve Voorhies, manager of media relations
University Relations
479-575-3583, voorhies@uark.edu


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