Virginia (Boyd) Connally
Born Ada Virginia Hawkins in Temple, Texas on December 4, 1912, Dr. Virginia Connally has spent a lifetime turning obstacles into opportunities; opportunities into successes; and in turn, sharing her blessings with those around her.
Upon graduation from Temple High School in 1929, amidst the turmoil of the Great Depression, Virginia enrolled in Temple Junior College and studied there one year. Through the influence of her uncle and aunt, the late Dr. and Mrs. W.R. Snow of Abilene, she transferred to Simmons University in 1930 and graduated in 1933 with a bachelor of arts degree. During these years, she was active in student affairs, was a member of the Cowgirls and was their president her senior year. She also served as Secretary of the Student Association.
At a time when pursuing a career in the medical profession for women was almost unheard of, Virginia courageously, and with a heart determined to serve people with the gifts God had given her, set out to pursue a career in medicine. Despite discouragement from all fronts – from professors, deans, and even one family member – she entered Louisiana State University Medical School in 1933 and graduated in 1937 with the M.D. degree. She was awarded an internship and residency in the field of eye, ear, nose, and throat at Charity Hospital in New Orleans from 1937 to 1940. Upon completing this residency, she returned to Abilene as its first woman physician and began her medical practice as an Eye, Ear, Nose, and Throat Specialist. Here, through her ability, professional skill and training, her understanding heart, and a healing touch, she was soon recognized in West Texas as one of the leading physicians in her field.
Dr. Connally served as chief of staff at both St. Ann’s Hospital and Hendrick Medical Center in Abilene, and upon the death of her husband Ed Connally in 1975, she became president of Connally Oil Company. She was also the physician for Hendrick Home for Children for many years, touching the live of countless numbers of children.
In 1982, she closed her medical practice after 42 years but did not retire. In 1984, she became the Medical Director and Senior Vice President of HSU’s Fairleigh Dickenson Science Research Center until its closing in 1989.
With her husband Ed, who was an oilman and former state Democratic Executive Committee Chairman, she traveled widely, using the trips abroad to visit missionaries and study their work. Despite the glamour and glitz of international oil and political travel, Virginia said the highlights of those trips were the visits with missionaries, getting to know them and their exciting and challenging work. She traveled to such places as Russia, China, and Israel, and spent time as a medical missionary in Venezuela.
In 1973 she received HSU’s Distinguished Alumna Award, in 1981 received the Keeter Alumni Service Award, and in 1989 received an Honorary Doctor of Humanities Degree. Also in 1989, she humbly declined the nomination for Philanthropist of the Year in Abilene, saying that there were others more deserving who had not been recognized. Although not recognized formally, she remains eternally philanthropist of the year in the hearts of those at HSU, not only because she gives of her financial resources, but because she also gives of her love and understanding, compassion and friendship. These are worth much more than dollars.
She has been loyal in support of HSU over the years, establishing in 1981 the Connally Endowed Professorship of Missions and upgrading the program to a Chair in 1988. Virginia provided the lead gift in the establishment of the Connally Missions Center, which was dedicated in 2000. She also has contributed to the growth of Hardin-Simmons by actively recruiting students to the university.
Her late husband was a longtime trustee of HSU until his death in 1975. She became an HSU trustee in 1977, serving until 1987, and then became a member of the Board of Development in 1988. She is also a charter member of the Presidents Club.
She has been active in Abilene Woman’s Club, Hospice of Abilene, Pastoral Care and Counseling, Hendrick Foundation Board, the YWCA, Junior League of Abilene, Abilene Preservation League, Abilene Philharmonic, and Big Country Audubon. She also served as a member of the National Board of the Medical School of Pennsylvania, originally established as the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1850, as the first school in the nation for women physicians. She has been an active member of Abilene’s First Baptist Church since 1933, and is one of its first female deacons.
She has been described as a soft-spoken woman who draws people to her, making their interests her own and inspiring confidence in others. She has been noted for her unquenchable thirst for knowledge and her love of reading. Everyone who knows her has received copies of magazine, journal, and newspaper articles from her. She not only reads, she makes sure other people have the opportunity.
Forever young at heart, at her 90th birthday celebration in 2002, Virginia quipped, “I thought when I got to be 90, I would be old. Now I guess I will have to wait until I’m 100.” Dr. Connally has one daughter, Genna Davis. Her late husband’s children are Edwina Roberts and Aubrey Connally.
She has repeatedly demonstrated, beyond measure, the true servant heart. She has given not only to this institution, but to many other worthy causes in Abilene and in missions. Her focus is always outward; never on herself. When informed in 1989 that she had been selected to receive an honorary doctorate from HSU, she replied, “I hope that you have not made a mistake…I cannot possibly see how I qualify for this great honor. Hardin-Simmons has been so generous to me, so encouraging, so nourishing. It is I who should be giving this school, its president, and former presidents, the dedicated professors, and staff a very special honor.” Virginia, you have truly honored us by your presence here today.
It is written that to whom much is given, much is expected. When Dr. Virginia Connally meets her Lord in Heaven, she will, undoubtedly, hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”