The Palestine Herald, Palestine, Texas

Local Scene

August 10, 2011

Mathis remembered for love of community

PALESTINE — Longtime Palestine physician, philanthropist and proponent of higher education Dr. Lee Roy Mathis died Sunday, leaving behind what many deem a legacy that will affect the community for generations to come.

Mathis, 84, practiced medicine for more than 40 years in his hometown of Palestine before his retirement in 1998. A board certified surgeon, he shared the role of physician with his late wife, Lucy, a certified pathologist.

“When I came here, I was told that Dr. Mathis was ‘the’ doctor,” family friend and local minister Dan Manuel said. “Many associates and members of my church went to him.

“Years ago he and Leon Presley (owner of a local drugstore) did a lot for a lot of people — things they did not want anyone to know about, charitable things for people in the community,” Manuel said. “He was very financially charitable — he wrote off bills for his patients. He was just a good, good man.”

Mathis’ generosity and concern for his community continued outside the hospital, particularly in the area of meeting the educational needs of residents.

He joined with community leaders in an effort to bring the UT Tyler nursing program to Palestine. After multiple meetings with UT Tyler administrators and state officials, their efforts finally paid off in 1995.

“Dr. Mathis was so passionate about education,” said Susan Harris, the administrative services officer for UT Tyler Palestine who worked with Mathis on bringing the campus to Palestine. “If you spent any time working with him, you had no doubt about it. Education was just so important to he and his wife.

“He put everything into it — his ideas, his finances and his hard work,” she said. “He really walked the road with us from the beginning of the process.”

The culmination of his efforts in education came with the dedication of the completed expansion of the UT Tyler Palestine campus in May 2009. The 17,484-square-foot building was named Mathis Hall in honor of he and his wife.

“It was his passion to make higher education available to the people of Palestine,” Harris said. “It was a mission for him.”

Phil Jenkins — along with fellow community leaders Cad Williams and David Bernard — worked with Mathis on the UT Tyler Palestine expansion project, backed by a fundraising effort called “Paving the Way.”

“Myself, Williams and Barnard helped lead the charge, but Dr. Mathis guided us with his counsel and helpful ideas,” Jenkins said. “His ideas were great and practical, he just wanted the expanded campus to be something Palestine could be proud of — a place where students, regardless of ability to pay, could come and be educated.”

Mathis’ work with the UT Tyler system continued beyond Palestine — from his philanthropic efforts to his service on various boards and councils.

He served on 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. Until his recent death, he served on the UT Tyler College of Nursing and Health Sciences Advisory Council.

The Mathis’ financial gifts to the university exceeded $1.3 million. Because of their generosity and support, they were named the 2005 Patriots of the Year.

“The entire UT Tyler community is saddened by the passing of Dr. Lee Roy Mathis,” UT Tyler President Dr. Rodney H. Mabry said Tuesday. “He was a dedicated community leader who worked tirelessly on behalf of his fellow East Texans.

“Dr. Mathis leaves a great legacy at the UT Tyler Palestine Campus, including our primary classroom building, Mathis Hall,” Mabry added.

“Because of his determination and support, students from Palestine and Anderson County have the opportunity to pursue higher education opportunities in or near their hometown.”

Dr. Mathis’ community involvement did not end with higher education. He was active in many civic organizations, including board positions with Regions Bank, Palestine Regional Rehabilitation Hospital, Memorial Hospital and the City of Palestine Board of Health.

Mathis was a lifelong Rotarian, and served on the Palestine Independent School District’s Board of Trustees for nine years — six as president. He also was a member of the Trinity Valley Forest Landowners’ Association.

PRRH Administrator and Palestine Rotary Club President Ron Safford had the unique opportunity to serve with Mathis in two aspects of service.

“I have known him for 15 years, while he was still practicing at the hospital. We had lunch together many times,” Safford recalled. “And we served on the PRRH board together for about 10 years.

“Dr. Mathis cared so much for the community and the health of the community,” Safford said. “He lived for that. He had a genuine caring for people and he cared about the people of Palestine.”

As a longtime member of Palestine Rotary Club, Dr. Mathis was named a Paul Harris Fellow — one of the organization’s highest honors.

“Dr. Mathis attended almost every meeting until his health prevented it,” Safford continued. “He was very active — always giving to causes, such as Polio Plus, or to building a well in Africa and he would bring in interesting speakers. He was always there to contribute.”

Mathis also served the community as chairman of the Memorial Hospital Foundation – Palestine Inc., and was instrumental in the establishment of a $1.2 million endowment to provide scholarships to students at the UT Tyler Palestine Campus. He retired from long-standing memberships in the Anderson-Leon County Medical Society, Texas Medical Association and the American Medical Association.

Funeral services for Mathis will be at 10 a.m. Friday at Herrington/Land of Memory Funeral Home with the Rev. Jay Abernathy and Dan Manuel officiating. Condolence calls will be received from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the funeral home.

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Mary Rainwater may be reached via e-mail at mrainwater@palestineherald.com

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