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Major BYU donor Mary Lou Fulton dies at 82

PROVO — About a dozen years ago, Brigham Young University students affectionately dubbed the school's new supercomputer "Mary Lou."

On Thursday, the woman for whom it was named, Mary Lou Fulton, died at age 82, according to a tribute on the Arizona State University website.

Fulton and her husband, Ira, founder of Fulton Homes in Arizona, gave BYU more than $50 million, including the money for the supercomputer. A decade ago, they were celebrated as the biggest donors in school history. They were original members of the BYU President's Leadership Council, which requires a $1 million commitment over five years.

“Mary Lou Fulton profoundly and positively impacted education at BYU and at numerous other institutions of higher education throughout the nation,” BYU President Kevin Worthen said. “Just as impressive was her love and support for Ira, and his for her. Their example of both generosity and love will forever benefit students at BYU. We express our deepest condolences to Ira and their family.”

The Fultons have been listed among the biggest philanthropists in America. They have given away more than $250 million, much of it to Arizona State University and BYU.

She donated $5 million to BYU in 2004 to create the Mary Lou Fulton Chair in Theatre and Media Arts, what at least then the largest single endowment in school history.

The following year, the Fultons created three more $5 million chairs at BYU — the Mary Lou Fulton Chair in Health and Human Performance; the Mary Lou Fulton Chair of World Languages; and the Mary Lou Fulton Chair in Family, Home and Social Sciences.

"Mary Lou was a dear friend to BYU and an extraordinary individual," said Curt Swenson, director of BYU LDS Philanthropies. "She treated everyone as though they were her dearest friend and had an infectious enthusiasm for life. She especially loved being with our students and celebrating their successes. Side by side with her sweetheart, Ira, she has impacted literally thousands of lives through her generosity and caring."

Born in Phoenix on Aug. 10, 1933, Mary Lou Henson met football player Ira Fulton at ASU in 1953.

The Fulton’s spread their gifts across BYU's campus. A BYU release said their giving benefited the new Joseph F. Smith Building, the BYU Athletic Complex, the BYU Broadcasting Building, the Gordon B. Hinckley Alumni & Visitors Center and the yet-to-be-built engineering building.

They have been to be dutiful donors.

When Mary Lou the supercomputer arrived at BYU, students and faculty maxed it out almost immediately. The Fultons paid for multiple upgrades in short succession to get ahead of student and faculty demand.

By 2009, the machine in the Fulton Supercomputing Lab was known as Mary Lou IV and was listed as one of the 500 top supercomputers in the world.

Today, BYU sports "Mary Lou VIII," though many students now shorten the name to M8.

"You're beautiful," she told BYU students at a campus celebration for the couple in 2003. "You help us to do what we do. Because of your excellence, testimonies, hard work, deans and professors, you're probably the most prized students in the world. We'll be with you and help you as long as we can."

She also is the namesake of the teacher's college at ASU, an honor bestowed after the Fultons gave $100 million to the school, making them the largest donors in university history.