ATLANTA – Georgia State today is a very different place from when Angela Giles earned her business degree there in 1971. There are a lot more buildings bearing the Georgia State logo, of course, and a lot more students — many more of whom are sticking around campus after their classes end, thanks to the residence halls on Piedmont Avenue.

But they’re also sticking around because of a greater sense of school spirit, of pride in the Georgia State identity — and Angela and her husband Alan are a big part of the reason why. Their generous annual gifts to a variety of activities, particularly athletics and cheerleading, have helped create programs the entire Georgia State community can proudly unite behind — and that are raising the university’s public profile throughout the state of Georgia and beyond.

And the legacy those gifts have created will last for generations to come, as Angela and Alan have also left their entire estate to Georgia State in their will.

“We wanted to make a meaningful gift that would actually do something. And being from Atlanta, I can see how Georgia State has really revitalized the city,” Alan said. “I think [President] Becker uses this term — the jewel of Atlanta has got to be Georgia State. Over a billion dollars are generated every year just from the school. It’s amazing, and we just wanted to be part of that.”

‘The People Just Rallied Around Us’

The Giles reconnected with Georgia State through Bill and Su Reeves, who, among other things, helped fund the construction of the stadium where the Panther baseball team plays. They’ve also been family friends for as long as Angela can remember. “Su has been my best friend of 50 years,” she said. “How many people can say they’ve had a best friend for 50 years?”

The two couples would always sit together for baseball games in Decatur and basketball games at the Sports Arena downtown. When the Panthers’ football program started, they went to those games too — sitting on the 50-yard line and even attending some of the away games.

Even before they became major donors, Alan says the Georgia State community reached out to them. “We were impressed at how nice everyone was to us,” he says. “They’re nice to Su and Bill, obviously, but they couldn’t have been any nicer to them than they were to us. It was as if we were equal.”

Based on that positive experience, the Giles decided to include Georgia State when they redid their wills a few years ago. Their plan: Set up a trust fund for their son, Tad, and then upon Tad’s death the money would go to Georgia State.

Unfortunately, that plan was put into action much sooner than anyone intended. Tad died last October at the age of just 35. At that point, Angela says, they got an even bigger show of support from Georgia State. “I ordered condolence letters because I was going to personally write everyone a note,” Angela says. “And I thought 50 would be plenty. But between the Georgia state people and the alumni and the foundation, I ended up sending out 152 acknowledgments. And that was just Georgia State and my alumni friends.

“They were there for us in a major way, all the way down to the spirit squad. Sarah Oliver, who is a basketball cheerleader, she pulled us on the court one night, and we said, ‘We can’t go on the court!’ She said, ‘You can go everywhere when you’re with me.’ She had our picture done with Pounce and everyone on the spirit squad — I had it blown up and matted and we put it on the wall at Mary Mac’s. Anytime we go there we’re recognized now as Panther Athletic Club members.”

That support is why, despite the untimely nature of their son’s death, the Giles never once considered redoing their will again. “The people just rallied around us,” Alan remembers. “It was amazing how caring everyone was.”

Cheering for the Hometown Team

Needless to say, Alan and Angela are now two of the biggest Panther fans around, and they show it every chance they get. Angela helped to organize the Women, Sports and Power Luncheon, in the hopes of raising $75,000 for women’s sports at Georgia State. When the spirit squads are headed to an out-of-town competition, the Giles will cut a check to help cover the costs. And, of course, they’re fixtures at Panther football and basketball games, to the point where some students have begun to recognize them.

“He has adopted several of the regular fans [students] on the sidelines,” Angela says of her husband. “I won’t call their names, but he will slip out and I’ll see him across the court, giving these kids $20, and he’ll say, ‘Go out to Burger King, go get lunch or something.’”

“Because I know they’re on a tight budget,” Alan says with a smile, then adds, “Now, these are not scholarship athletes, mind you. I don’t want to get anyone in trouble!”

The past year has seen ups and downs for Georgia State’s sports teams, but Alan is still confident they’re backing a winning program. “They never give up, they never give in, they are always making the effort,” he says. “Last season we didn’t win a single football game, but we’ve got a good coach, and we’ll win the right way. We’re not going to cheat or anything, but I think we’ll have a better season this year.”

A long time ago, he adds, “you never saw Georgia State in the Atlanta papers about anything — when [basketball coach] Lefty Driesell came on you did start to see a few articles. But now [Atlanta Journal-Constitution sportswriter] Doug Roberson is in there talking about Georgia State all the time. It’s just great to see — we know we’re not going to be joining the SEC anytime soon, but we know that when football takes off, we’re going to get the same coverage that Tech and Georgia get.”

The sports teams’ heart and determination has helped lift the Giles’ spirits as they’ve weathered tragedy, including Angela’s recent diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Together they’ve had to spend a lot of time facing mortality in the past few months, but that’s only made them more determined to give as much of themselves as they can before they go.

“We’ve had a good career, both of us,” Angela says. “My family, they don’t need it — they’re doing well. So everything goes — all the stocks, bonds, insurance, even this condo, it all goes to Georgia State.”

“We’ve got it right now to give,” Alan says. “You can’t take it with you — as my family used to say, you never saw a U-Haul behind a hearse. We got the chance to ‘come in on the ground floor,’ so to speak, with Georgia State athletics, and we’re just extremely grateful to be a part of all that.”