The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
A Good and Generous Friend:
The Perfect Gift Honors Nancy Willerson
Prepared by Cynthia Johnson
James T. Willerson, M.D., then president of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, presented yellow roses to wife Nancy at a February 2008 dinner in the home of former Houston Mayor Bob Lanier and his wife Elyse (on the right). This followed the announcement of the creation of the Nancy B. Willerson Professorship in Nursing at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Nursing, created through donations from friends of the Willersons.
Last winter, Nancy Willerson, wife of then-president of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHSC-H) Dr. James T. Willerson, accompanied her husband to a dinner with friends hosted by former Houston Mayor The Honorable and Mrs. Robert C Lanier. The evening had barely begun when UTHSC-H Development Board chairman emerita Margaret (Peggy) Barnett noted that this event "was not about Jim." She then announced the creation of the Nancy B. Willerson Professorship in Nursing to honor a "good and generous friend of nursing education."
"I was overjoyed and amazed that friends of mine had made such a commitment to something that means so much to me," Mrs. Willerson said. Although Mrs. Willerson was surprised, the professorship was a "natural," with all the components of the perfect gift: the right person, the right cause, the right time.
No one knows better than Nancy Willerson the importance of an endowment to support nursing education. As a nurse and as the wife of a leader in health care and education, she is well aware that the U.S. faces a shortage of nurses that threatens the future quality of health care. The reason for the shortfall is dwindling faculty numbers in schools of nursing. Every year 8,000 applicants are turned away from nursing schools in Texas because there is no one to teach them. Universities compete for the small pool of nursing faculty.
The University of Texas School of Nursing at Houston (SON) has been a leader in seeking innovative solutions to the crisis through innovative programs tailored to fit student needs. The SON also does its utmost to keep its faculty from being recruited away to other institutions. Endowed professorships such as the Willerson Distinguished Professorship have a huge impact on faculty retention and career support.
If beloved first lady and nurse Nancy Willerson was the ideal honoree, Peggy Barnett was the ideal fundraiser. As founding chairman of the School of Nursing volunteer support organization PARTNERS ("Providing Advancement Resources to Nursing Educators, Researchers and Students"), she has worked closely with the School's Dean, Patricia L. Starck, DSN, RN, FAAN. It was Peggy that Dean Starck talked with initially about her desire to create a professorship to honor Nancy Willerson and to support nursing faculty. Peggy directed the effort, and within eight weeks, she had met the $100,000 goal. When a story on the professorship appeared in the University's Distinctions, a monthly newspaper focusing on philanthropy and faculty achievements, additional contributions from Nancy Willerson's own generous friends began to pour in. By mid-summer, giving had exceeded the $250,000 level needed for a Distinguished Professorship.
On September 2, 2008, Dean Starck announced the appointment of Dr. Lorraine Frazier to the Nancy B. Willerson Distinguished Professorship in Nursing, securing Dr. Frazier's talents for The University of Texas School of Nursing at Houston. This distinguished professorship will make it possible for more students to fulfill their dream of becoming nurses and will support better healthcare for Texans.