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Alumni who Inspire

By Meg Cullar, News Editor, the Baylor Line

One of the things I’ve learned from working at the Baylor Alumni Association (BAA) is that the graduates of Baylor University tend to be amazing people. And during the past few years, as part of the BAA’s Sesquicentennial Celebration, I’ve learned about even more of them. That’s because in every issue of the Baylor Line, we profile ten of the “Alumni 150.” These are individuals, either living or not, who are truly remarkable graduates of Baylor. Each issue, I have the task of writing, in four hundred words or less, a story about three of them.

The hardest part, of course, is keeping the story to four hundred words, because these are extraordinary people, some of whose lives have spawned full-length books. But the best part, without question, is the inspiration that I find in each individual. The three profiles I wrote for the winter 2009 issue are good examples. I wrote about a well-known Baptist statesman, a young up-and-coming scholar, and an outstanding leader in health care. Two of them are now deceased, and one is living. Two of them are people I know or knew, and one is someone I wish I had known.

Baker James Cauthen ’30, who died in 1985, is the graduate I didn’t know. He is credited with building the Southern Baptist Convention’s robust missions program, which he took over in 1953. In the 1960s, when I was growing up in a Baptist church, learning about missionaries in Mission Friends and saving money for Lottie Moon in a little cardboard bank, I had no idea who he was. But he was the person who made that good work possible for all those missionaries.

Melissa Rogers ’88 is someone I have met only a few times, but I have watched her career in church-state affairs, because it’s an important issue to me. I first became aware of her work when she was general counsel at the Baptist Joint Committee and was honored as an Outstanding Young Alumna of Baylor. It’s inspiring to see someone so young out there making such a big difference on an issue of great importance on the national scene.

But the profile I enjoyed writing the most this issue was the story of Frank S. Groner. I knew Dr. Groner from when I was a little girl until his death in 1994. I was there at the banquet in 1983 when he was named a Distinguished Alumnus of Baylor. He and his wife, Daisy, were at my wedding that year. Groner was a leader in health care and made his name as the president of Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. That’s the hospital where I was born, and my father, Joseph Powell, worked there as an administrator, eventually succeeding Groner as president.

I have fond memories of visiting Dr. Groner in his office when I was young, and, as I perused the extensive file of his accomplishments, they came rushing back. Of course, I had no idea back then that he was such a giant in the industry. To me, he was a kind gentleman and, most importantly, a supplier of fancy cigar boxes in which I stored my doll clothes. Dr. Groner was a connoisseur of fine cigars, and when a box was empty, he would give it to me and my sisters. The most famous cigar-box story is about my little sister, Lea Powell Jacobson ’87. She had seen the boxes at our house. One day, when she was visiting Dr. Groner, she eyed one on his desk, and it seems her desire for it was written all over her face. The fact that it was still full of cigars was not a problem. Dr. Groner dumped them out all over his desk and gallantly presented the box to her.

My mother still has a few of Dr. Groner’s cigar boxes, where she keeps spools of thread. I’m fresh out of doll clothes, and mine have been appropriated by my sons, who have kept boyish things like Matchbox cars, baseball cards, and money in them. You have to be impressed with the quality of a plastic cigar box that can last so long! Those must have been some cigars.

The interesting thing about Dr. Groner’s generosity is that these stories–especially the one about my little sister–were included in the press coverage about him when he passed away. He was known not just for his accomplishments–charter inductee into the Health Care Hall of Fame, winner of the top three national awards in the industry, leader of the world’s largest private hospital, innovator who pioneered the use of private hospital rooms. He was also known for the kind of person that he was–kind, gentle, respectful of all people (including little children), and a leader in every way.

And this is the kind of person that often represents Baylor University. This is the kind of person out there showing what Baylor is all about. What a witness! And what a tribute to our great university.

When you get your Baylor Line, don’t miss the “Alumni 150” section. Perhaps you will find inspiration there. If you haven’t received the winter 2009 issue of the Line, you can view much of it, including “Alumni 150,” at the website for the Baylor Line.

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