Patrick Henry Community College alumnus and staff member Matthew Ratliff has established the Iris Whitlow Memorial Scholarship in honor of his long-time friend and fellow church member.
Ratliff, a college success coach at PHCC, has worked with PHCC since 2012. When Ratliff met Whitlow in 2000, he was 16 years old and she was in her 60s. He says they instantly hit it off.
“We had many things in common, including our love of Mustangs,” said Ratliff. In fact, when Ratliff was going to prom, Whitlow let him borrow her Mustang to pick up his date. Ratliff recalls they already had such a strong friendship by that time that, although she implored him to be careful because the Mustang was “her baby,” she knew she could trust the 17-year-old Ratliff with her car.
For a few years, when Ratliff was still a teenager, they would go walking together around Philpott Lake every morning. Until Whitlow passed away this past November, Ratliff still saw her almost every Wednesday and Sunday at church.
During the years that Ratliff was pursuing his education, Whitlow was a source of encouragement for him.
“Sometimes I would get discouraged. Sometimes it felt like I had been in school forever, but she would always remind me what I had to gain by persevering and what was at stake if I quit,” said Ratliff.
According to Ratliff, Whitlow had a passion for education even though she had never received more than a high school degree herself.
With the help of a scholarship from PHCC and with Whitlow’s encouragement, Ratliff was able to pursue his education and is now working on his second master’s degree.
Ratliff says that without the scholarship he received and without Whitlow’s support he might not be where he is today.
“I understand the struggles of not being able to afford an education,” said Ratliff. “Without the scholarship I wouldn’t have been able to finish my associate’s. Now I want to help others experience the same sort of help that I experienced.”
Although Ratliff could have named this scholarship anything, he chose to name it after Iris Whitlow because of her passion for education, her encouragement and her friendship.
“She made such a difference in my life so I wanted her legacy—the legacy she had of impacting lives—to live on.”
Students can apply for this scholarship through the Foundation department at PHCC with an online application that is open April through May at www.patrickhenryfoundation.com. To be eligible, a student must be a Patrick County resident pursuing a degree within the business field and must have at least a 2.5 grade point average.