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Geraldine Hill Styles was the type of person who wins the final round on TV quiz shows, not that her modesty would ever have allowed such an appearance. The encyclopedic knowledge she amassed during her long life was the result of a true love for the learning process - a process that, for her, never stopped.

Styles, a fifth-generation Texan, grew up on the outskirts of Mt.

Geraldine Hill Styles
Geraldine Hill Styles

Vernon, in rural East Texas, in the early years of the 20th century. She had no siblings or children of her own, but was very close to her extended family.

"She and I are first cousins, once removed," says Mary Brady, the unofficial family historian. "One time, Geraldine said, 'I say that because I like you.' I said, 'Well Geraldine, if you didn't like me what would you say?' She said, 'I'd say this is Mary Brady, my distant cousin.' She was very funny!"

Coming to The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) as World War I raged overseas, Styles was eager to experience all that UT Austin had to offer. "She led a fun life in Mt. Vernon," Mary says, "but I'm sure that Austin was a lot more fun for her, as it is for just about everyone who's ever come to Austin to study. She had her sorority. She wasn't just in the library studying all the time, but she really came to learn."

After graduating, she took a job in Fort Worth teaching high school students the same subjects she had excelled in at UT Austin: English, speech, and drama. In 1927 she took advantage of her summer break to take some graduate courses at Columbia University. Her future travels would follow this pattern as well; whereas most people might collect knick-knacks on their vacations, Styles would collect experiences.

"She liked to learn just for the sake of learning," says Brady. "When she went on a trip, it was to acquire more knowledge."

In 1930 she married Samuel Farrow Styles, the brother of a friend. The newlyweds moved to Houston, where Samuel was an executive with Temple Lumber Company, the forerunner of today's Temple-Inland Corporation. After he died of a sudden illness in the 1940s, Mrs. Styles never remarried, living the rest of her life in the same River Oaks home the two had built in 1939.

Styles continued to follow her love of learning throughout her later years. "She could talk about the Crusades, or different styles of American furniture, or if my son came over she could talk about the latest Astros line-up and what they were doing wrong," Mary says. "There was no topic she couldn't discuss."

When Geraldine Hill Styles passed away in 1996, she expressed her passion for learning and education one last time, leaving the majority of her estate, about $2.6 million, to The University of Texas at Austin. Her will, the culmination of her careful and thoughtful estate planning, directed the funds to scholarships for undergraduate students in UT Austin's College of Liberal Arts and those pursuing graduate studies in the humanities. The Geraldine Hill Styles Scholarship Fund is invested in the Long Term Fund and is currently worth $3.2 million. The Fund provided approximately $164,000 in student support for the year ended August 31, 2003.