Picking cotton and paying it forward
At age 12, Byron Chrisman left his Illinois home and quit school after eighth grade to milk cows and pick cotton. Few would have predicted he would go far—but he did, and Chrisman (’66) attributes his success as a tax attorney and real estate developer to his experience at Colorado Law.
Now he and his wife, Carlene, have committed a $10 million bequest to endow the Byron and Carlene Chrisman Chairs in Free Enterprise at Colorado Law. When realized upon their passing, this estate gift will be the largest cash gift in the history of Colorado Law.
“I think law school teaches people how to think better than anything else I know of,” Byron Chrisman said. “My goal is not to see just capitalism and free enterprise taught as the only way, but rather that all ideas will be fully taught: the good, the bad and the ugly.”
Success after failure
Perhaps one of the University of Colorado Boulder Law School’s most unlikely success stories, Chrisman went from the farm to the Army, where he earned a GED certificate, and then moved to Colorado. He tried and failed to gain admission to Colorado Law due to poor LSAT scores, and took a job with the Internal Revenue Service.
In his IRS role he met Edward King, then dean of Colorado Law, and made such a strong impression on the dean that he was soon offered admission as a special student, so long as he retook the LSATs and got an acceptable score (which he did).
“Byron Chrisman embodies the spirit of Dean Ed King,” explained Colorado Law Dean Phil Weiser. “He is committed to ‘paying it forward’ and sharing his entrepreneurial spirit with future Colorado Law students.”
The domino effect of education
The endowed Chrisman Chairs will fund, in perpetuity, two senior faculty positions to be held by national-caliber scholars with a deep appreciation for and commitment to capitalism and free enterprise. Endowed chairs, of which the University of Colorado has roughly 100, are a public bellwether of faculty accomplishment and help universities recruit and retain top talent.
“One of the big reasons for giving the money to Colorado Law is the value, and the domino effect, of education,” Carlene Chrisman said. “Students who learn at Colorado Law then go off into the world, and educate and influence many others.”
Leader in law practice
In 1975, Chrisman co-founded Chrisman and Bynum, which later (as Chrisman Bynum & Johnson) became Boulder’s largest law firm. His focus shifted later in his career toward the development of commercial real estate, eventually turning $15-plus million in outside capital into 10 times that amount for his investors. Though he retired from law practice in 1997, Chrisman-formed companies continue to hold more than 700,000 square feet of commercial space.
In addition to the establishment of the Chairs in Free Enterprise, the Chrismans’ estate gift also includes four $100,000 donations to scholarship funds established to honor four former Colorado Law faculty leaders: Harold Bruff, David Getches, Jim Carrigan and Edward King.
Published: April 2014