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The Legacy

The Legacy of Ruth Neely

By Diane L. Oswald

Director of Communications
College of Architecture
In memory of his late wife Ruth, Bill Neely ’52 established three endowed undergraduate scholarships and a graduate fellowship to support students pursuing nursing degrees. 

As a seamstress, Ruth Neely would effortlessly glide the fabric over the needle plate on her sewing machine. Her hands gently guided the transformation of a bolt of cloth into useful creations

that could be worn, snuggled under or pulled tight to keep out the light. With the same sense of purpose, dedication and skill, Ruth stitched together a remarkable career in nursing, which will be remembered through her husband’s generosity to the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Nursing.

To honor his wife’s life and work, Bill Neely ’52 established three endowed undergraduate scholarships and a graduate fellowship to support students pursuing nursing degrees. He funded his gift to the Texas A&M Foundation through a charitable remainder unitrust.

“These scholarships are a wonderful way to honor Ruth and her nursing career,” said Dr. Sharon Wilkerson, dean of the College of Nursing. “They will have an impact on the lives of students, their communities and on the nursing profession for generations to come.”

The Early Days in Aggieland

A Texas native, Ruth graduated from Sunset High School in Dallas, where she met Bill, the love of her life, and her husband of 61 years.

Ruth and Bill were married at the beginning of his junior year as a chemical engineering student at Texas A&M University. During that time, Ruth worked part-time as an administrative assistant for J. Wayne Stark, the legendary Texas A&M administrator who oversaw the construction of the Memorial Student Center (MSC) and was instrumental in developing the Opera and Performing Arts Society (OPAS).

When Bill graduated, the couple followed his career with DOW Chemical Co., living in various locations in Texas, Louisiana, Utah, Michigan and Switzerland. Ruth enjoyed traveling, and loved being a wife and homemaker, but her wish was to become a registered nurse (RN).

Ruth Neely was not only a loving wife and mother of four, but also a dedicated nurse who brought creativity and passion to her job. 

A Career Dream Fulfilled

At the age of 42, after raising their four children, Ruth graduated as an RN from Brazosport Community College in Lake Jackson, Texas, and began her career.

After clinical rotations at the University of Texas at Galveston Medical Branch, she was recruited to work in the operating room at Brazosport Hospital in Lake Jackson. Later, she joined an ophthalmology surgical team at the same hospital headed by a physician who trained with world-renowned Russian surgeons who pioneered radial keratotomy in the 1970s as a way to correct nearsightedness. “At the time, radial keratotomy was state-of-the art,” he said, “and Ruth brought the creativity and attention to detail that was critical for patients.”

After Bill was transferred to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Ruth worked as the circulating nurse for a cardiac surgical team at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center. “Heart surgery was still in its infancy back then,” said Neely. “She was part of a team that helped to blaze the trail for the successes that we see today.”

The couple retired near New Braunfels, Texas, and Ruth enjoyed spending time with family and friends, playing tennis, sewing and traveling with Bill. Sadly, she was diagnosed with cancer in 2010, and passed away in 2011.

Deep Connections

With 16 Aggie rings and counting in the family, it is easy to understand why the university means so much to the Neely family. Over the years, Bill and Ruth funded many Texas A&M programs and scholarships for faculty and students in the Corps of Cadets and in the Dwight Look College of Engineering. Their gifts to Texas A&M reflect the intersection of their passions and astute financial planning.

But Bill’s deepest connection may be to scholarships and the impact that they can have on a student’s life.

“I received an Opportunity Award that supported my education,” said Neely. “I owe my career to the education I received at Texas A&M, and I wouldn’t have been able to attend A&M without a scholarship. Likewise, I know Ruth would be pleased with the opportunity to help Aggie students become nurses.”