At 105, Virginia Connally’s still got it–wit, intellect, grace, elegance.

Connally, Abilene’s first female physician, added another first to her lengthy list of firsts Sept. 6. when she was honored as the inaugural recipient of the James B. Simmons Award given by Hardin-Simmons University. The dinner was all class–starting with Connally and family members arriving at the Abilene Convention Center in a stretch limo. The convention center was decked out in elegance, too, with black tablecloths and subdued lighting. The lobster and prime rib dinner added a special touch.

“I’m overwhelmed,” Connally said, as a throng of friends and admirers encircled her.

The dinner honored two people, James B. Simmons and Connally. Simmons, a Baptist minister, saved a struggling new school in West Texas in its infancy. Simmons wanted to name the new school Christlieb or “College of Christ’s Love” but others wanted to name it for the man who saved it before it opened.

Both Simmons and Connally were honored for being barrier-breakers, as will future honorees. Simmons was an abolitionist whose First Baptist Church in Indianapolis was burned to the ground in 1861. Connally broke gender barriers when she earned a medical degree from LSU School of Medicine in 1937, a fete few women accomplished.

Each was honored with a video produced by Hardin-Simmons. Various people at the university created a 125-pound medallion with wording from Simmons’ letters, and image of him, his wife, and son and other significant wording. Simmons was an abolitionist who faced threats against himself and his family for preaching against slavery during the Civil War. Click here to see Connally video.

Guests received an updated copy of Loretta Fulton’s biography of Connally, “Virginia Connally, M.D.: Trailblazing Physician, Woman of Faith.” Fulton updated the book and HSU President Eric Bruntmyer added a preface. The book which was re-published with a new cover by Hardin-Simmons’ Four-0 Publishing. Copies are available at Texas Star Trading Company, 174 Cypress St. Order online at www.texasstartrading.com

Another gift to Connally was a song written and performed by Carolyn Newman, to the tune of “Thanks for the Memories.” Read more

Connally, a native of Temple, graduated from Hardin-Simmons University in 1933. She has been a member of First Baptist Church since 1930. Connally has been honored many times by numerous organizations and institutions, including HSU. She received the Distinguished Alumna Award in 1973, the Keeter Alumni Service Award in 1981, and an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree in 1989.

Connally opened her medical practice in Abilene in 1940 and retired in 1982. But she continued to served the community and Hardin-Simmons for years. Today, the Connally Missions Center on the HSU campus honors her and her late husband, Ed Connally.

To top off the honors, City Councilman Kyle McAlister read a proclamation on behalf of Mayor Anthony Williams designating Sept. 6 as Dr. Virginia Connally Day in Abilene.

Connally joked during the dinner that if she had known so many people would be making such a fuss over her, she would have stayed home. But apparently she changed her mind on the way out.

“Let’s do it again!” she said, obviouly delighted by the evening.

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