Even as a child, Kelvin Westbrook rarely took no for an answer. When, at age 10, he was told he was too young for a newspaper route, he talked the manager into a tryout and ended up with routes in Tacoma and later Spanaway.
When his high school counselor tried to steer him into a trade, he enrolled in community college and set his sights on attending the University of Washington. When he discovered that he was more than 20 credits short to be a business major, he found Virginia Morrison, ’52, the UW administrator who would become his friend and ally.
“I can’t say enough about her care, concern and mentorship,” says Westbrook, the sixth of 11 children and the first in his family to graduate from college. Morrison, who started working on campus as a chemistry secretary, had become director of undergraduate programs in the business school. She wasted no time contacting faculty and getting Westbrook into the necessary classes, confident he could shoulder a demanding schedule and—with extra classes every quarter—meet his goal of graduating in two years.
She was impressed by his drive and enjoyed his regular visits to her office. “Sometimes he would just stop by to say hello,” she recalls. He also opened her eyes to the experience of an African American student at the UW. And their friendship, forged that day in 1974 when Westbrook first stepped into Morrison’s office, has lasted more than 40 years.
Once Westbrook earned his business degree in 1977, he set his sights on law school. Morrison had introduced him to the dean of the UW law school, so he thought he might have a chance at getting in. Then he took his LSATs. “I had to break the news to Virginia that I wouldn’t be coming to the UW,” he says. His scores were so high that he had his choice of schools. He landed on Harvard.
Early in his career as a corporate lawyer, Westbrook became a partner in a national law firm based in New York City. He later co-founded one of the largest minority-owned broadband services companies in the country. Today, he sits on the boards of several Fortune 500 companies, including Archer Daniels Midland and T-Mobile. He is also board chairman for BJC HealthCare, one of the largest employers in Missouri.
He married Valerie Bell, a Harvard law classmate, and made their home with their three children in St. Louis. While he and his wife are fixtures in Missouri philanthropy and business circles, Westbrook often returns to the Northwest for board meetings and to see family. He always makes time to check in with Morrison. She always delights to see him at her door. “I’m so proud of what he has accomplished,” she says. “He was as much a mentor to me as I was to him.”