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Drs. Lee Roy, Lucy Mathis Helped Launch Palestine Campus

You don’t have to be around Dr. Lee Roy Mathis for long before you realize his passion for two things — the practice of medicine and Palestine, Texas.

Dr. Mathis was born and raised in Palestine. He graduated from The University of Texas in Austin and The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, setting his sights on a career in surgery.

He met his late wife (Dr. Lucy as he affectionately calls her) during postgraduate training in Philadelphia, Penn. She was a pathology specialist from Coalinga, Calif. “We discussed liberally where we wanted to go,” Dr. Mathis recalled. “We were living on hospital pay and hospital food, with a monthly salary of $20. By the time we graduated, we moved up to $50 a month. We ate at the hospital, did our laundry there and practically lived there, working seven days a week, day and night.”

But when they were ready to hang out their shingle, the couple chose Palestine, where they practiced medicine for 40 years before retiring – Dr. Lee Roy as a board certified surgeon and Dr. Lucy as one of the few certified pathologists in the region.

“Palestine has been good to us,” Dr. Mathis said. That’s why he determined several years ago to give something back to both the profession and the town he loved.

The opportunity came when community leaders like K.A. Anderson and Bob McKelvey saw a need in the Palestine area for on-site higher education, particularly in the field of nursing. Dr. Mathis and several others got squarely behind this effort as well to help bring The University of Texas at Tyler nursing program to Palestine.

“Well, we needed nurses,” Dr. Mathis said. “And I’ve known a lot of good students in Palestine who couldn’t afford higher education. They couldn’t even afford to travel to Tyler. There was a great need. So, there had to be a change in philosophy – instead of making the students go to the school, bring the university to the students.”

Dr. Mathis and the other community leaders met repeatedly with UT Tyler administrators and state officials to discuss the possibilities. Their efforts paid off when, in 1995, UT Tyler extended a nursing program to Palestine.

Dr. Rodney H. Mabry, UT Tyler president, said Drs. Lee Roy and Lucy Mathis represent the community’s dedication and determination in creating and nurturing the UT Tyler Palestine Campus. “They saw the dream. They believed. They gave their time and substantial treasure,’’ Dr. Mabry said.

The campus officially opened in 1995 with 20 students enrolled in the undergraduate nursing program, located in borrowed space in the Trinity Valley Medical Center and Trinity Valley Community College.

“Even before we announced the school, there were many applicants,” Dr. Mathis said. “The hospital here had some empty rooms, so we set up a school of nursing a year early in those rooms.”

He added, “Some citizens think the Palestine campus is the most significant thing since the railroad came through. It makes higher education available to a lot of people who wouldn’t go to school if it were not local.

Dr. Linda Klotz, dean of the UT Tyler College of Nursing and Health Sciences, said the nursing program continues to grow thanks to the efforts of Dr. Mathis. “Dr. Lee Roy Mathis is well known for his passion for quality health care and for nursing education. He was a moving force for the establishment of The University of Texas at Tyler Palestine Campus for the nursing program in 1995, and continues to support the program and the students,” she said.

Committed to Higher Education, Community

Over the years, the Mathises have personally supported UT Tyler with gifts totaling $1.349 million.

After the Palestine Campus was established, Dr. Mathis was among leaders who raised support for moving the expanding program to its present location in 1996. In 1999, they were among many who supported the purchase of the site. And through Dr. Mathis’ leadership and recruiting, the UT Tyler Palestine Development Council was established in 2004.

Dr. Mathis has been involved in the UT Tyler Development Board, UT Tyler’s Heritage Society, the College of Nursing on all three campuses, and has underwritten events such as the Nursing Jubilee and seminars for graduate students. He also has supported the President’s Associates, the UT Tyler R. Don Cowan Fine and Performing Arts Center and the Patriot Classic. He currently serves on the UT Tyler College of Nursing and Health Sciences Advisory Council.

In fact, because of their generosity and support, Dr. Mathis and his wife were named the 2005 Patriots of the Year. “Even after losing Lucy, Dr. Mathis continues to support the Palestine Campus,” Dr. Mabry said of the physician, whose wife passed away in 2006.

But Dr. Mathis’ community involvement doesn’t end with higher education. He has been active in many civic organizations. Dr. Mathis held board positions with Regions Bank, Palestine Regional Rehabilitation Hospital, Memorial Hospital and the city of Palestine Board of Health. He was a member of the Palestine Independent School District Board of Trustees for nine years, serving as president for six years. He has been a lifelong Rotarian and is a member of the Trinity Valley Forest Landowners Association. He is retired from long-standing memberships in the Anderson-Leon County Medical Society, Texas Medical Association and the American Medical Association.

And as chairman of the Memorial Hospital Foundation – Palestine Inc., Dr. Mathis was instrumental in the establishment of a $1.2 million endowment to provide scholarships to students at the UT Tyler Palestine Campus.

The Vision Continues to Grow
From its humble beginnings, the UT Tyler Palestine Campus has exploded in growth, thanks to several volunteer leaders in Palestine including Dr. Mathis, Cad Williams, David Barnard, Phil Jenkins and others.

By 1997, the College of Business Administration and the College of Liberal Arts joined the successful nursing program. Today, the UT Tyler Palestine Campus offers courses in nursing, business, education, health and kinesiology and history, with an enrollment average of about 175 students.

Students receive instruction from on-site professors and through interactive video technology, which allows them to see and communicate with faculty at UT Tyler, ask questions and participate in classroom discussions.

Dr. Mathis said, “The telecommunications system of today is quite superior to the way I received my education in Austin. Biology, chemistry and physics classes were held in auditoriums with 350 to 500 students. We were taught by students in the master’s program. I was hardly in the presence of professors until I became a junior. Now, thanks to telecommunications on the Palestine Campus, all the teachers are faculty members who contribute to the high academic level of the UT system.”

And opportunities for students at the Palestine Campus continue to grow. University officials have broken ground on a new Palestine facility, projected to open in May 2010. Susan Harris, administrative services officer for the campus, said the new 17,484-square-foot building will house five classrooms, a library, computer lab, offices, a student

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