Estes Express Lines’ $2 million donation to the Wonder Tower: A conversation with Carrie Estes Johnstone
The family behind Estes Express Lines is trying something new this year. For 90 years, the Richmond-based powerhouse freight company has kept a low profile as they forge ahead as the largest privately-owned freight shipping company in the country—all right here in Richmond!
And as if that’s not newsworthy enough, the family is making headlines today for their generous donation to the Wonder Tower at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, the new home for pediatric inpatient, emergency and trauma services.
In addition to a $150,000 donation from Estes Express Lines, the Estes family is personally donating $1.85 million toward the world-class facility. That gift has been matched by the Children’s Hospital Foundation’s current dollar-for-dollar matching campaign, totaling their impact to $4 million.
We sat down (virtually, of course) with Carrie Estes Johnstone to learn more about her and her family, life at Estes, and why this cause is important to her family and the company.
Tell us a little bit about yourself, your family and Estes Express Lines? I’m Carrie Johnstone, a lifelong Richmonder, mom of three, wife to Tommy Johnstone (aka “Goose”, 2020 M4K Richmond largest grower) and director of customer engagement at Estes Express Lines.
When you grow up in the Estes family, you learn to talk trucks, freight, logistics and numbers pretty early on. I grew up seeing how my father cared for the company and employees, and I knew I wanted to help maintain that culture one day.
How long has Estes been a part of the Richmond community? We’re celebrating our 90th anniversary in business in 2021. In 1946, my great-grandfather moved the home office from Chase City to Richmond. As they say, the rest is history. Most of my family grew up here and went to Richmond area schools (Go Monacan!). Richmond is a big part of who we are—it’s what brings us all together and why we’ve felt so called to give back over the years.
How does being a family-owned company impact how you operate as a company, internally and externally? No matter how much we grow, our culture and values will always be that of a small business because, at the core, we’re a true family-owned company.
Can you speak a bit to Estes’ history of community involvement? Supporting the Richmond community is a priority for Estes. My dad (Rob Estes, CEO) instituted a charitable giving program many years ago that continued to grow with the company. In the last couple of years, we started an employee-directed giving program where employees vote for causes, and the company donates on their behalf. When it comes to our family, we have always been mindful of the community’s needs and supported causes that were aligned with our values.
Why is giving back to the Richmond community important to Estes? Richmond has been very good not only to our company but to our family. Looking back, we have employed thousands of Richmonders who have contributed to our success. It’s only right that we show our gratitude by supporting CHoR, a place that cares for so many Richmond families.
Can you share with us the commitment you recently made to Children’s Hospital Foundation? Estes Express Lines and the Estes Family committed $2 million to CHoR to support the new Wonder Tower. The Children’s Hospital Foundation matched our gift, which will double the impact of the donation to make a truly amazing hospital for kids to heal, thrive and grow.
Why is investing/supporting CHoR specifically important to Estes? Would you suggest to the greater Richmond community to support its local children’s hospital? Our family has relied on CHoR over the years to get us through hard times and that experience shed light on the importance that a children’s hospital has on the community. Having a world-class hospital that is made with hurting and healing families in mind can make all the difference in their experience. Children are special and their care needs to reflect that.
We feel that supporting the new Wonder Tower is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a long-term impact on the children in our community. We hope others will join us in supporting this effort to ensure kids can get the care they need and deserve.
Given everything that’s happened in 2020, why did the time feel right to donate to Children’s Hospital of Richmond? 2020 has been a very hard year for so many people. It is especially important for people who can donate to step up and support a cause that protects our most vulnerable neighbors – children.
What do you think the employees’ reaction will be to this donation and partnership? I hope they are excited and proud to be part of Estes. We often think about not only how many employees we’ve had in 90 years, but how many children and families have been part of our history. When you look at it that way, it makes so much sense for us to support CHoR.
What else is included in this donation? Will we see Estes’ name anywhere on the facility? The donation will be used to support patient rooms, the hospital's garden and the loading dock – which we thought was a fun idea given our industry.
What do you hope to see from the new Wonder Tower? CHoR already does a great job taking care of children, but I am most looking forward to the Wonder Tower helping more children with varying needs get the care they need so they can enjoy their childhood and have a chance to thrive.
Learn more about the Wonder Tower, set to open in 2023.