Bill and Pat Carlton

Alumni of the Year: Awarded to graduates who have demonstrated remarkable achievement in the previous year

January 5, 2024
Bill and Pat Carlton

A family tradition to believe the power of education can change a person’s future. That is what drives Bill and Pat Carlton to generously support Baylor University decade after decade. Over and again, the Little Rock, Arkansas, couple has supported Baylor on campus, in their hometown and in many other ways.

The Carlton family’s commitment to Baylor spans more than a century. Their roots stretch back to before the days when Bill’s grandfather, Claude S. Carlton, studied business at Baylor and earned a degree in 1917. Claude later became a preacher.

“My grandfather always believed that if you got an education, then everything else would come along with it,” Bill Carlton, BBA ’71, says. “His (Claude’s) father died when he was a teenager. As the oldest of the family’s eight children, he used the family’s resources to send all of his brothers and sisters to Baylor or Mary Hardin-Baylor before he went to college himself. He truly believed that education was necessary to succeed in life.”

One of Claude’s siblings established a business that was passed down from one brother to the next when each went to college.

“Their business delivered bags to the Baylor dormitories from the train station,” Bill says. “I know they appreciated what my grandfather had done for them, and they all turned out to be teachers, businessmen and preachers.”

Bill inherited his grandfather’s belief in the importance of education.

“I was very taken with the unselfish acts of my grandfather: maintaining the family and supplying them with resources for the long-term good of each of them. So as a child, I wanted to know more about this Baylor, and when I started my career, I wanted to give back,” he says.

“My grandfather always believed that if you got an education, then everything else would come along with it.”

During his student days, Bill was vice president of Tryon Coterie fraternity, where he enjoyed the responsibility of planning parties.

In the middle of her junior year at the University of Arkansas, Patricia Rose Carlton, BA ’71, married Bill and transferred to Baylor. She graduated with a degree in English and elementary education.

Pat and Bill met in the fifth grade but did not date until their senior year in high school. They went their separate ways to begin college, only to reunite during the summer after freshman year.

To make ends meet while they were in school, Pat was a reader for the blind, and Bill worked for the Greenstein, Hawkins and Logan accounting firm.

“In my senior year, I was lucky to become an assistant in the computer lab, where Dr. Helen Ligon, my statistics teacher, was in charge,” Bill says. “I got my first exposure to the world of data. Also, professors like Dr. James Parsons were wonderful in helping me get through my accounting classes.”

Pat, who was as an elementary school teacher until the couple’s first child was born, was involved in community life—from volunteering with Junior League of North Little Rock to sewing costumes for school plays to serving as president of the PTA. Her latest interest is working with international students and their families in Little Rock.

“For the majority of my adult life I have taught Sunday School with Bill and facilitated women’s Bible studies,” Pat says. “Teaching 10th Grade Sunday School for eight years taught Bill and me more than any other age group.”

The Carltons passed down the Baylor tradition to their two children, both of whom earned degrees from the University: Joanna (Jodi) Rose Carlton, BBA ’98, and the late John William Carlton, BA ’02.

Two memories rise above the others from the Carltons’ experience as Baylor parents. Jodi, who earned a degree in entrepreneurship, co-founded a company with two other women called Three Smoking Blondes.

“The business, which sold cigars to fraternity men, was concerning to many at Baylor,” Bill says with a laugh. “Their story made the local papers. Scandalous!”

Pat remembers when their son John, who had some learning disabilities, received the help he needed from Dr. Sheila Graham, then director of Baylor’s Office of Access and Learning Accommodation. John improved from a 1.0 his first semester to a 4.0 in his final two semesters before earning a master’s degree from the University of Arkansas.

“Dr. Graham was very impactful on our son’s life and helped him organize himself,” Pat says. “John was in Dr. Graham’s office regularly through the years and ended up mentoring other people from that office.”

Before founding the Carlton Group in 2006, Bill was chairman and CEO of the Carlton-Bates Co. of Little Rock, an electronic components supplier his father co-founded in 1957. The company was sold to Fortune 500 company Wesco International Inc. in 2005. Bill worked in the family business for 40 years, serving as CEO for the last 21 years. During Bill’s tenure as CEO, the company’s annual revenue grew 650 percent to $300 million in sales with over 20 locations in the U.S. and Mexico.

Bill made sure his company conducted hiring interviews on Baylor’s campus largely because Baylor was one of the few universities that offered a degree in professional selling. His company also served on the judging panel for contests sponsored by the Hankamer School of Business (HSB).

In addition to creating The Claude S. Carlton Endowed Scholarship Fund at Baylor, the Carltons have extended their philanthropy to other causes on campus through The Carlton Family Foundation, including support for construction of the Paul L. Foster Campus for Business and Innovation and the University’s Office of Access and Learning Accommodation in Paul L. Foster Success Center.

Pat has served on the Baylor Alumni Network’s Board of Advocates since its inception and was also heavily involved in the Baylor Women’s Network. Bill served on the HSB Advisory Board. The Carltons, who for many years have hosted numerous student send-off parties and Network events in Little Rock and Dallas, both serve on the Baylor Leadership Council.

In Little Rock, Bill and Pat serve their community through many roles. He was president of the Baptist Health Foundation, a fundraising arm of the Baptist Hospital. Bill serves on the board of the Easter Seals Arkansas, and Pat was honored as 2017 Champion of the Year for Alzheimer’s Arkansas.

As their oldest grandchild enters her teenage years, the Carltons have their eyes on carrying on their Baylor family tradition. They hope some of their grandchildren choose to go to Baylor.

“Baylor has such a great reputation as a Christian university that Pat and I are very proud to be alumni,” Bill says. “But the biggest compliment to the school for us was that our children decided to make Baylor their college, too. They could have gone anywhere they wanted to, and they chose Baylor.”