By John Pierce
Virginia Boyd Connally, M.D., is my 98-year-old friend in Abilene, Texas. She is simply remarkable.
I got to know Dr. Connally while touring England together in 2005. Then in 2009, I visited in her home to conduct an interview for a feature story. We had a delightful conversation there and then went out for lunch together.
With nearly a century of remarkable living already behind her, it was not hard to fill a few pages in a news journal with wonderful stories about Virginia.
She was the first female physician in that part of West Texas — opening her eye, ear, nose and throat practice in Abilene in 1940. Timing was good, she said, in that some of the male doctors were heading off to war.
Someone once asked if there were patients who would not come to her because she was female. Dr. Connally quipped: “I don’t know; I didn’t see them.”
A native of Temple, Texas, she attended Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene and lived with an aunt and uncle there. Her uncle, a surgeon, influenced her to become a physician.
So, after graduation, she attended LSU Medical School and then did her internship and residency in New Orleans. The Catholic nuns there impressed her with their concern for the poor and suffering.
She also heeded a warning from her aunt: “Don’t ever let me catch you without a book.”
Reading deep and wide, Virginia became interested in a variety of topics outside her vocation. Her medical practice was just one place for serving others.
Dr. Connally has given much of her life (time, resources and influence) to the cause of Christian missions from service in her nearby church and college alma mater in Abilene to the many corners of the world where she has traveled.
The larger story of her life is now told in the book, Virginia Connally, M.D.: Trailblazing Physician, Woman of Faith by Loretta Fulton. I am pleased that the book makes references to my article “Medicine & Missions: Groundbreaking physician’s full life marked by service to others” (Baptists Today, October 2009).
And she really hasn’t slowed much as she approaches the century mark.
In the book’s introduction, my friend and fellow journalist Marv Knox of Texas tells how Virginia — at age 94 — was determined to attend the historic Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant that President Carter called together in Atlanta in early 2008. She knew getting around the expansive convention center would require stamina — or wheels.
So she moved her bedroom upstairs for this well-reasoned observation: “I figured climbing the stairs several times a day would build up my legs, and then getting around in Atlanta would be no problem.”
It worked. Several of us were witnesses. And I don’t recall us waiting around on Virginia when we traipsed across England in 2005. It is an example of the determination that has fueled her long and productive life.
Dr. Connally is gracious person with a quick mind and wit. She attracts people like bugs to a light — whether a down-and-out stranger or those in positions of power.
Her late husband Ed Connally was deeply involved in Texas politics (serving as chairman of the state Democratic party in 1960) that led to a personal relationship with LBJ and a longtime friendship with First Lady “Lady Bird” Johnson who died in 2007.
The Connallys owned interest in an airline company that enabled her to travel the world to encourage and assist missionaries. Among the close relationships she established was one with Bertha Smith, the legendary missionary to China from South Carolina who lived to be nearly 100.
Often the Connallys would bring missionaries from around the world to Abilene to visit Hardin-Simmons and the First Baptist Church. And Virginia has established a mission center on the university campus and purchased the home next to hers to house visiting missionaries.
This kind and generous woman is a true pioneer. As I wrote in the article a couple of years ago, she has broken more West Texas ground than a dozen plowshares.
Being true to her aunt’s warning and to her own generous spirit, Dr. Connally told me keeps buying up books — so they can be passed out at her funeral.
Fortunately, there is now a book that tells us more about the life of this remarkable woman herself — who passed along this advice to me once: “Never tell people how old you are. I did, and they started treating me that way.”
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.