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.
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
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
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
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
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 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
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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