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The University of Texas at Tyler Magazine, Fall 2009

Focus on Benefactors
In Loving Memory of...
Dowdy Family Establishes Nursing Professorship to Honor Mother

Ellen Peirce,  Jim Dowdy and Sara Clute

As little girls, Ellen Peirce and Sara Clute remember watching their mother carefully starch and press her spotless, white nursing uniform. And when their mother donned the familiar dress along with matching white hat, stockings and shoes, she looked every bit the professional nurse.

But what Mary Coulter Dowdy’s daughters remember most about their mother was her nurturing way – whether she was in uniform or not.  

“She was a natural nurse,” said Mrs. Peirce. “She gave everybody in the family and in the neighborhood their flu shots. All the family members would come to her with any question or problem. They would call her or come by, and she always had the answer.  She was a family practitioner before there was such a thing. Even when she stopped getting paid for it, she was a nurse for the rest of her life.”

“Nursing continued to be important to her,” Mrs. Clute agreed.

To honor their mother, who passed away in 1996, and the profession that meant so much to her, Mrs. Peirce and Mrs. Clute gave a $500,000 gift to The University of Texas at Tyler to establish the Mary Coulter Dowdy Distinguished University Professorship.

“We are very grateful to the Dowdy family, Mr. Jim Dowdy and his daughters, Ellen Peirce and Sara Clute, for creating an endowed faculty position in the College of Nursing and Health Sciences,’’ UT Tyler President Rodney Mabry said.  “This position is a permanent monument to a loving wife and mother, Mrs. Mary Coulter Dowdy.”

Mrs. Peirce of Tyler, Mrs. Clute of Laramie, Wyo., and Mr. Dowdy of Tyler recently sat down to talk about the professorship.

“We wanted to honor her memory because she was such a wonderful nurse. And we have a lot of confidence in the university,” Mrs. Peirce said.  “We want to help get more people into nursing faster and out into the workforce where there is a big need for good nurses.”

Mrs. Clute said, “With a professorship, they can train more nurses and get more people into the program.”

Meeting a Critical Need

According to the American Health Care Association, there are more than 135,000 registered nurse vacancies across the United States – a number that could reach as high as 500,000 by 2025.  One of the causes is that nursing colleges and universities are struggling to expand enrollment due to lack of faculty.

The American Association of Colleges of Nurses reports that almost two-thirds of surveyed nursing schools point to faculty shortages as a reason for not accepting all qualified applicants into their programs. 

The Dowdy Professorship will help UT Tyler tackle this obstacle.

“The Dowdy Professorship will be invaluable in attracting high-quality nursing faculty with national credentials in practice, education and scholarship to this area,’’ Dr. Linda Klotz, dean of UT Tyler’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences, said.

“Endowed professorships are prestigious and a recognition of excellence in the field.  Faculty eligible for receiving this award will bring a depth of professional experience to both the university and the nursing programs. Their expertise will be instrumental in increasing external funding and expanding our global partnerships in health care.”

The position is crucial for several reasons, Dr. Mabry said.

“Our nursing program is expanding again and we need such endowments to help attract the strongest faculty members from around the nation and the world.  These ‘star’ faculty members are leaders and move departments and programs forward in terms of quality teaching, service to the community and research,’’ he said.

“Further, once here, the Mary Coulter Dowdy Professor will help lead our new nursing doctoral program, which will help address the critical shortage of nurses in Texas.  The holder of the Mary Coulter Dowdy Professorship will truly make a difference for the university and all of Texas. We cannot thank this family enough.”

About Mary Coulter Dowdy

Mrs. Dowdy grew up in the rural community of Sand Flat and graduated from Winona High School. Mr. Dowdy said his wife “was very family oriented. Her relatives meant everything to her.”

Mrs. Clute said, “She never went away from home until she went to college.”

When Mrs. Dowdy attended Texas State College for Women, her sister Doris Pierce of Lindale paid for her first year of college. She graduated from St. Paul’s School of Nursing in Dallas and served in the U.S. Army Nurses Cadet Corps in World War II.

After that, Mrs. Dowdy worked briefly as a nurse in Beaumont before she returned to East Texas and began working at a health clinic near downtown Tyler. 

While living in Tyler, she met her future husband at Tyler State Park. They married in 1947 in Reno, Nev., and moved to Norman, Okla., where Mr. Dowdy earned his degree in geological engineering from the University of Oklahoma. 

“She worked as a nurse while I got my education. I owe a good bit of my career success to her,” Mr. Dowdy said.

Once Mr. Dowdy joined a seismographic crew, the couple moved around.  Mrs. Dowdy worked as a nurse in places like the Methodist Hospital in Houston and the New Orleans Veteran’s Administration. 

Mr. Dowdy said, “We moved quite a bit after I got out of school and she did a lot of private duty.  She would go into the home or the hospital to personally care for someone who was severely ill.”

By 1958, the Dowdys had a family and moved to Tyler. “She didn’t work for a while.  She stayed home when the girls were very young. But sometime during the 1960s she went to work for what is now Trinity Mother Frances Hospital. And when she resigned in 1966, she was director of nursing service,” Mr. Dowdy said.

Mrs. Peirce and Mrs. Clute remember the years their mother spent at the hospital.  “As director of nurses, she worked very early in the morning to very late at night.  We would call her and ask when she was coming home,”  Mrs. Peirce remembers.

Mrs. Clute recalls one time when they paid a visit to her mother at work – in the emergency room. “I had to get stitches in my chin and mother met us there.  I was about 7 years old and one of the nuns sat with me.”

While their mother didn’t talk much about what happened on the job, she often told them nursing was a good career choice, the sisters said.

Mrs. Peirce and Mrs. Clute decided to help others pursue a career in nursing with the inheritance they received after their mother’s death. The professorship was funded by money from a trust fund their father established for them.

“She would have loved that they used the money for the professorship,” Mr. Dowdy said of his wife.

Through the Mary Coulter Dowdy Distinguished University Professorship, the Dowdy family is partnering with UT Tyler to put more quality nurses like their mother in uniforms.


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