Friday, October 6, 2017

The Shining Light, Wise Mind, and Loving Heart of Nelda S. Green

Nelda Smith Green

August 12, 1929 –October 6, 2017

When a dear friend called me tonight to tell me the news that Nelda Green had passed from this life today, my first thought was “Oh, how many people loved her, yet she was so modest, few people truly knew all that she did to make Bryan-College Station, and especially Texas A&M University, a far better place than when she had found it.” I ran to my scrapbook and knew what I was looking for, photos of Nelda when I first met her. Nelda was the one usually taking pictures, so it was a rare joy to capture a few images.

We were introduced through a mutual friend in 1991, as we were going to be on a committee together. The Memorial Student Center Opera and Performing Arts Society was in full prep mode to celebrate 20 years as an organization on campus. Her spirit of peace and calm was the first thing I noticed about her. “Unflappable” is the first word that comes to mind as I want to share with you that her grace and beauty overrode any kind of emotion she might be feeling at the time.

Nelda had this uncanny ability to make “you” the focus of her attention and it was disarming and charming simultaneously. It’s clearly the primary characteristic that found her in the know of every leading-edge decision and move that Texas A&M College made as its transition to University in every essence of world class was truly appropriate and real. Today, "world class" is a throwaway phrase, overused and trite, and entirely unapplicable, compared to the day and time where Nelda Green made an unforgettable, irreplaceable impact when there were no guidebooks, paved roads, or paths to follow. It was the true wild west of academe as the unprecedented growth in enrollment in the early 1970s would have cratered any other school, save ours, because of the true caliber of excellence in leadership that A&M enjoyed. Those in charge blazed the path and Nelda was right there to document it all, with precision, completeness, and irrefutable facts that were preserved for the future. Nelda always had her facts right...always.

Nelda had worked for General James Earl Rudder in the days when the all-male military college was gently transitioning into a university with female students, side-by-side in classes with ROTC cadets and non-regs, too. As a freshman undergraduate in those days, I have to say that if it weren’t for Gen. Rudder at the helm of the school, and Sen. W.T. Moore, Sr. running the Texas Senate, it never would have worked. That, and they could both count on Nelda Green taking care of so many things behind the scenes that she was valued for, but few of her friends would even know she did, as she was the height of discretion, the epitome of modesty and the embodiment of humble.

Let me explain. Nelda was the queen of organization…her files were thorough, brilliant, and the only way the CEOs can do what they do is when their first-in-commands have their backs, with no apologies for the military references because that’s what A&M’s greatness was built on.

Nelda was kind, compassionate, and she had a brilliant sense of humor. What it would take others five minutes to explain, she could say in one sentence. Her “cut to the chase” skills were invaluable in work and in life. She could make you feel better quickly when you felt clueless. She was generous in her giving of information you needed it so you’d be prepared when you entered a new situation. Nelda was also just so witty.

She restrained herself from being an entertainer, although surely she knew enough and saw more, to have filled books with all that she’d seen and heard in working for all the CEOs of Texas A&M back when we just called them Presidents and treated them with respect because their mental acumen was such that they needed no other accolades. That’s taking nothing away from recent and current leaders, because the point is, all the heavy lifting was already done by the time President Ray Bowen took the helm in the 1990s. We’re talking about the hard, almost impossible, times of restricted state funds, one third of the PUF and making do on only the generosity of philanthropic donors, all of whom Nelda knew on a first-name basis.

Back in the, excuse me, “Good Old Days” of Texas A&M, no one had to launch a campaign to meet needs. Gen. Rudder picked up a phone, called an Aggie, and one of them would send a corporate jet to pick him up and transport him wherever he needed to go to discuss what Texas A&M needed and he’d come home with a check, or a gentleman’s or lady’s word, and presto, funding secured.

It didn’t matter who was President of Texas A&M—General Rudder, President Jack K. Williams, Acting President Clyde Freeman, President Jarvis Miller, Acting President Chuck Sampson, or President Frank Vandiver, Nelda was the institutional memory for anything of any importance inside the inner sanctum, and not once in her lifetime did she ever reveal anything confidential or compromising or anything.

She was the consummate professional and thus had the respect of everyone for whom she worked. To that end, she always addressed them by full title, “General Rudder,” “Dr. Williams,” “Dr. Miller, “Dr. Vandiver” etc., when speaking of them to others during the workday. I noticed that in the time I was in various campus offices to hear others, not of the “old school” addressing those who would address their bosses by their first names. Point being, Nelda represented all that was the grand and glorious of the heyday of Texas A&M’s growth and true transfiguration into the school now constantly touted as “ours.”

Nelda worked impossible hours and made it look easy. But it was then and how and why she would ultimately meet her true soulmate and kindred spirit, Harry J. Green, Jr. ’52. Anyone who knew Nelda knew of Harry, long before they’d meet him. If ever you could pick two people at random and put them together as a “perfect couple,” that was Nelda with her “Harry J.” Ask either one of them and independently they’d both say, “I married my best friend.” That was the secret to their enduring, endearing love of live together and endless devotion to each other.

Now, the community of the Brazos Valley was equally fortunate to have Nelda contributing her time and talents, in her “spare” moments not in her 8-to-5 or 8-to-8 world at A&M. When it came time to write the history of the MSC OPAS organization, Anne Black wisely asked Nelda to write it as she was well acquainted with and friends of Wayne Stark, whose foresight and inspiration made possible what we all continue to reap, in an organization now in its (gasp) 45th season. In 1992, Nelda’s history was part of the program booklet for the 20th anniversary year, and other MSC OPAS events were strengthened by her contributions.

Nelda was equally devoted to their church, First Presbyterian, where she and Harry were greeters during the days when her health permitted. Faithful in their attendance, faithful in their beliefs, neither Nelda nor Harry was ever overtly known for talking about where they went to church but whenever a new person came to town, they were invited to join the Greens for a Sunday morning worship service. That’s not all.

Through Harry’s work founding, operating, running and managing the Aggie Club from an office with no help to the effusively staffed multimillion dollar organization today called the 12th Man Foundation, Nelda knew and was hostess for every single coach in the history of Aggie sports, all because Harry was bringing someone over, or they were going to host this or that person. When new coaches were hired for sports such as TAMU men’s or women’s golf, Nelda made sure that the new coaches and their spouses met everyone in the community in addition to on campus, so they could become acclimated. It went without saying that she was a First Lady of A&M, without the title ever officially affixed.

Time passed and retirement was something that neither Nelda nor Harry embraced, and Harry even went to work fulltime again for his dear friend, and Nelda dove into a lot of volunteer work in her new spare time. They were both, as a couple, sweet, devoted friends to some of Texas A&M’s former first ladies, particularly Mrs. Margaret Rudder and Mrs. Ruth Harrington.

There was a special sister-like kinship between Nelda and Margaret Rudder. They were twin sisters of different mothers (with credit to Dan Fogelberg for the analogy) and together they were absolutely brilliant, witty, and frankly hilarious. Never was the humor at the expense of anyone else. It was just how they saw life, and the truth is always stranger than fiction.

One trip that comes to mind was ca. 1991. Margaret, Nelda, Ann Wiatt and I traveled to see the childhood home of President Lyndon B. Johnson near Stonewall, Texas. I was the appointed driver for the outing, allowed to drive Margaret’s car, and all I can tell you is the poignancy of seeing the beautiful handwriting that President Johnson had, in the letters displayed therein, and how much of an impact a discussion we had about the true art of handwriting our communications and how important they are to preserving history. All the way back we talked of how much various letters we’d received in the mail had moved us to saving them to keep them.

As I reflect today, all three ladies in the car were primo for writing thank-you notes for things done for their efforts, and I recall how I’d vowed then to follow in their footsteps in keeping up with that time-honored tradition. I remember how beautiful, and eloquent Nelda’s handwriting was—precise, exact, and perfect. In fact, a friend asked Nelda to hand-address some key envelopes of outgoing correspondence for a fund-raiser.

Nelda was happy to be on any committee you’d ask her to, but the spotlight was not where she wanted to be, and she’d always find a reason to put someone else in it, because that’s just how she was. Gracious, a true southern gentlewoman and one about whom never an unkind word was ever said. Ask yourself this very minute, how many other people can you say you know who fit that description? Yes, Nelda was a one-of-a-kind and she was never one to accept that.

Her heart truly was as big as Texas. In 2014, the local American Heart Association “Heart Ball” committee most deservedly honored Nelda as their “Honorary Chair” for the “2014 Heart Ball: A Night Under the Stars” Gala.

As you can see from the photo of the committee members (courtesy of Tina Gandy), everyone in the Brazos Valley had known for a long time of Nelda’s support of the fight against heart disease and stroke, having helped secure attendance, funding, and awareness of the event from almost the very beginning of the event. Anyone who worked with or just knew Nelda respected her immensely and loved her dearly because of her unique talent at being kind under all circumstances.

Nelda wouldn’t like that this is so long, because she never wanted a fuss made over her. It wasn’t her nature. However, in the days, weeks and months to come many accolades will be shared about her. Each person whose life she touched will have something special to say and to add. Final arrangements are handled through Callaway-Jones Funeral Center in Bryan. Her online tribute is at:

Family and friends are invited to a time of visitation from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday, October 9, at Callaway-Jones Funeral Center, 3001 S College Ave in Bryan. A memorial service is set for 1 p.m. Tuesday, at First Presbyterian Church in Bryan, with Pastor Ted Foote officiating. A private burial will be in the College Station City Cemetery.
The photos I am sharing here are my own, taken at the home of mutual dear friends in 1991 and in 1992. The beauty in her face, the light shining in her eyes, and her serene countenance are all the way I will always remember Nelda. Her thoughtful remembrance of days that were important to all whom she knew, the unconditional friendship she offered those fortunate enough to call her friend, and the everlasting forgiveness she showed to all who sought it for any reason…these and so many other reasons remain inadequate to explain how dear she was.

Special prayers for comfort are sent on wings of eagles to her beloved Harry J. It’s not easy for him right now, but Harry knows where she is. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love never fails. If you had to have a photo to go with 1 Corinthians 13:4–8, the appropriate photo would be one of Harry and his Nelda, who embodied every aspect of the verse.

We’ve lost an angel among us today but, per her faith as she’d allow me to say, she’s busy greeting Margaret and Gen. Earl Rudder, Dr. Williams, Wayne Stark and a ton of traveling Aggies with whom she and Harry saw the world. That’s what I perceive the afterlife to be, one great big giant reunion of all the people in the world whom you’ve loved in this lifetime. And they’re so happy to see her again. Well done, thou good and faithful servant.

To Nelda, with love, Dawn Lee

No comments:

Post a Comment