Business Leader and Philanthropist Jessie Frances Neal Receives Honorary Doctorate from Island University

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Iconic West Texas business woman and philanthropist Mrs. Jessie Frances Neal is now an Islander graduate.

The Texas A&M University System of Board of Regents approved the granting of an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters to Neal, who received her Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi diploma at the May 11 afternoon commencement ceremony.

“Mrs. Neal’s dedication to furthering the accessibility of higher education for young leaders, as well as her commitment to education as evidenced through her own determination and success in becoming a businesswoman, reflect the values that we hold at the Island University of cultivating lifelong learning and responsible citizenship,” Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi President and CEO Dr. Kelly M. Quintanilla told the Commencement audience shortly before presenting Neal with her honorary doctorate, the eighth such degree to be awarded in the history of the Island University.

Neal says she is pleased to have had a hand in helping Texas A&M-Corpus Christi as it works to reach its strategic academic objectives. She adds she is especially proud that she was awarded an honorary doctorate.

“I am speechless and just do not have the words to express my surprise and gratitude,” Neal said. “My feeling is that the students are the ones who are receiving this award. I am simply the vehicle in providing them the opportunity to be the best that they can be. This is such a special honor, and I feel humble in receiving it and my family is very proud!”   

Neal wrote her first oil lease in 1965, five years after oil was discovered on her family’s ranch. Neal Ranch was established by her father, Jess J. Neal, in Upton County, Texas, a sparsely populated county about 60 miles south of Odessa, Texas, in 1941.

A one-time student at Texas Christian University and at San Angelo Business College, Neal opted to manage her family’s resources herself and quickly learned how to conduct business in the predominantly male-dominated world of the oil and gas industry of the late ‘60s. More than 50 years later, Mrs. Neal continues to negotiate oil leases and as a result, she is an expert in the administration of detailed land agreements, pipeline agreements, and protection of surface rights, as well as emerging technologies that range from shale formations to horizontal drilling.

“The oil leasing business today is quite different from when I started – I had a typewriter and wrote letters and went to the Courthouse to see what was on file,” Neal said. “Today, there are many tools to use. Learn about them and use them.”   

Her desire for young people to learn the necessary skills to be successful in the business world led her to start the Jessie Frances Neal Foundation to provide scholarship opportunities for College of Business students at A&M-Corpus Christi in 2014. To date, she has helped a total of 23 students graduate from the Island University. Mrs. Neal is passionate about the value of business education and sought to increase access to that education.

“I want to provide opportunities to those who work hard and just did not have the finances for a full 15 hours every semester for four years of college education to gain more knowledge and understand how important a signature can be,” Mrs. Neal says.

Neal says she enjoys hearing from her scholarship recipients as they advance through their degree plans.

“I received Christmas thank you letters from the Neal Scholars, and I received a very thoughtful letter from the parents of one of the Neal Scholars,” she says. “I was touched that the parent had taken the time to write me to let me know how much it meant for her child to receive the scholarship because financially they could not afford a college education. That made me weepy and very happy that I had been able to provide a college education that would enable a good life ahead.”

In addition to annual scholarship support, Neal has created the Jessie Frances Neal Foundation and Clifton W. Coonrod Endowed Chair in Accounting and Business, which will allow the College of Business the opportunity to attract and retain the highest quality faculty in the discipline of accounting.   

Neal scholarship recipient Cassandra Pena earned a Bachelor of Business Administration at the Spring 2019 Commencement; she said was excited to see her benefactor receive an honorary doctorate on the same day.

“Mrs. Neal’s scholarship has helped me to accomplish my goal, which is to graduate with my undergraduate degree debt-free,” Pena said. “The fact that she’s receiving an honorary doctorate at my ceremony is a touching moment. It is a special connection – she followed me through my three years at university and now the University is able to give back to her and honor her. So it kind of comes full circle.” 

Fellow Neal Scholar Lailah Cobble also earned a Bachelor of Business Administration at Commencement. The San Antonio native said she’s had several opportunities to visit with Neal and added she always takes the time to thank her for the scholarship award.

“Every time I speak with Mrs. Neal, I always give her a great handshake and a big hug and tell her how grateful I am,” Cobble said.  “I was excited to hear that she was getting a doctorate because that also meant she would be here for my graduation. So I was grateful to have the opportunity to thank her again.”