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Endowment Honors Health Science Center 'First Lady' Nancy Willerson
Organizers anticipate fund will grow to support Distinguished Professorship
Nancy B. Willerson has dedicated much of her life to nursing and to support of the profession. Friends and admirers, through the establishment of the Nancy B. Willerson Professorship in Nursing at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Nursing (SON), are recognizing that lifelong devotion.
A registered nurse whose professional career has focused on diabetes, renal transplantation and end-stage renal disease, Nancy Willerson also is the wife of University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston President James T. Willerson, M.D.
Dubbed "our first lady extraordinaire," by University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Nursing Dean Patricia L. Starck, D.S.N., Nancy Willerson has been a proactive supporter of the nursing school since she and her husband moved to Houston in 1989. She is an active member of PARTNERS (Providing Advancement Resources to Nursing Education, Research and Students) and served on the art committee for the school's new building.
Nancy Willerson's longtime friend and fellow SON supporter, Peggy Barnett readily accepted the invitation from Starck to help raise funds for the endowment. The project came together quickly, according to Barnett, as community members jumped at the chance to honor her for her steadfast devotion to the school.
While word of the endowment fund traveled quickly among Nancy Willerson's friends, one individual was purposely kept out of the loop - Nancy Willerson. On Feb. 11, she and her husband attended what Nancy believed to be a small dinner party at the home of former Houston Mayor Bob Lanier and his wife, Port Authority Commissioner Elyse Lanier. In reality, the evening was designed to announce the endowment in Nancy's honor.
"Last spring, several of us were singing your praises," Mrs. Barnett told Nancy Willerson at the Feb. 11 event. "We wanted to honor you through an endowed professorship at the School of Nursing in your name. We also decided that we would like to make it a surprise for you. Some said it would be impossible, but from the look on your face, we succeeded."
Reflecting upon her surprise at the announcement, Nancy Willerson said, "I was overjoyed and amazed that friends of mine had made such a commitment to something that means so much to me."
The enduring legacy created by the endowment is humbling, Willerson said, but also rewarding in the knowledge that the gift will touch many people over time.
"When people come forward and make this type of gift, it's multilayered," Nancy Willerson said. "There is the sense of gratitude from the person who is honored, the professorship that draws publicity to the school and, of course, the students who benefit as a result."
Mrs. Barnett, current member and former UT Houston Development Board chairman, said creating an endowed professorship that will help a nursing educator is a most appropriate way to honor Nancy Willerson.
"Nancy is everything that you could ever want in a nurse - very capable, but also very caring and compassionate," Barnett said. "We all know that if you are in the hospital and ring the bell, it is the nurse who answers the call - not the doctor. Would that they could all be Nurse Nancy's."
A number of Development Board members, including former Development Board Chair Rodney Margolis, were eager to support the endowment.
"Nancy Willerson is a perfect role model for all desiring to enter the noble profession of nursing. She is a woman of valor for all of us to admire," said Margolis.
Development Board member and Willerson friend, Melinda Perrin said, "Nancy Willerson is the quintessential example of a community servant whose support of the nursing profession has been as passionate as the love and support she has given to her family. I am honored to recognize Nancy's friendship with my gift to the School of Nursing in her honor."
Starck said she expects to announce an appointment to the endowment later this spring. An endowed professorship recognizes rising stars and supports outstanding mid-career faculty. Funds from this type of endowment are typically used to help further research and teaching in areas of critical importance in the school. Endowed professorships help The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston recruit, encourage and retain faculty.
"Only by being able to attract and retain top nursing faculty through these special endeavors, will we be able to address the nursing shortage that exists in this country," Starck said.
Thus far, the project has $175,500 in contributions, exceeding the $100,000 threshold to create an endowed professorship. Starck said as more of Willerson's friends and admirers support the project, she hopes the endowment can grow into a Distinguished Professorship at the $250,000 level.
"Obviously, others felt just as I did about this well-deserved distinction for our ‘first lady extraordinaire,'" Starck said. "This is a legacy gift that will have a huge impact on our ability to train the next generation of University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston nursing students."
For more information on the Nancy B. Willerson Professorship in Nursing endowment fund, contact Gail.M.Singer@uth.tmc.edu, 713-500-2006, 6901 Bertner Avenue, Room 869, Houston, TX 77030.
By Wendy K. Mohon, Institutional Advancement