Willie Grové first met his wife, Katie, at a party in South Africa in 1976. She was the first American he’d ever encountered.
“I told her some stupid elephant joke,” he laughed of the historic meeting.
A native of South Africa, Willie didn’t have much money growing up, and he recalled his life revolving around music. It was a love that started early and has continued to play an important role throughout his life. Katie, who grew up in Hilliard and then attended Northwestern University, was working in South Africa for Xerox when they met. The couple married the following year and moved back to the United States when Katie was pregnant with their son, Thomas.
When Willie took a job in Troy, Michigan in January 1979, the couple bought a car with the little savings they had and rolled into town with just $20 in their pockets. It wasn’t enough for a hotel room, and it was too cold to stay in their car, so his new boss took them in until they found a housesitting job and could rent an apartment.
Willie went on to have a very successful business career, most recently as Managing Director for UBS. While he excelled in financial matters, he also carried a deep love for the stage. A past president of the board and life trustee of Opera Columbus, Willie has performed as an operatic tenor with Opera Columbus, Columbus Light Opera (where he also served as board chair), and other performing arts organizations for more than 30 years. Their daughter, Jessica, inherited her father’s passion, and is a Broadway actress in New York City and across the U.S.
“If I lived 10 lifetimes, I could never give back what this country has given us.”
— Willie Grové
As he and Katie begin to consider the next chapter in their lives, they believe that philanthropy will play a big part. As the founding chairman of The Columbus Foundation’s Professional Advisory Committee (now Professional Council), Willie has advised countless clients on how to make a difference with their wealth.
“I realized very early on in my career that if we, as financial planners, don’t talk to our clients about their philanthropic intent, we’re only doing half the job,” he said. “There are only two things that we can pass to our children, our wealth and our values. How we plan our estate will be a testimony to the world about our values.”
Willie and Katie established the Kathleen Tharp Grové and William T. Grové Family Fund, a Donor Advised Fund, in 2016 to help facilitate their charitable giving, which will focus on the family’s interest in supporting the arts, conservation efforts, and education.
Their goal is to grow the fund so their children will be able to use it moving forward to support their own charitable interests as well.
“We feel it’s a responsibility of parents to pass the philosophy of giving down to their children,” Katie said.
Willie agrees, and is excited about making a difference not just locally, but globally as well.
“We owe so much for having been given so much. It’s just been a marvelous journey for the both of us to have really started with nothing in 1979 and to have come to the point where we actually could be supportive of others, not just in this country but in other parts of the world, particularly Africa,” he said.