September 22, 2000

Endowment of chair a natural for Nancy Travis

Featured Image

Nancy Travis, right, with Dean Colleen Conway-Welch of the School of Nursing at a celebration of the Nancy and Hilliard Travis Endowed Chair of Nursing. Travis and her late husband Hilliard have provided educational support to more than 140 nursing students. (photo by Tommy Lawson)

Endowment of chair a natural for Nancy Travis

When Nancy Travis was growing up, there were few career opportunities in her hometown of Taylors, S.C., for women—teaching, secretarial work and working in the textile plant.

None of these choices appealed to her.

What she wanted most was to become a nurse. But her father did not want his only daughter to enter the nursing profession.

“My daddy knew that nurses worked very, very hard,” Travis says. “He did not want that for me. He wanted to protect me in every way.

“His ultimate goal was for me to earn a degree. Back then, there were few options for me to achieve that in the nursing field. So, I did what my daddy wanted.”

In 1941 Travis enrolled as a freshman at Winthrop University. It was a year that changed her life. A few months after beginning school, her father died. Then, on Dec. 7, the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred, and the U.S. entered the war.

“At that time, they began recruiting people for nursing,” Travis recalls. “Vanderbilt’s faculty came to our campus. It was then that I realized I could go to Vanderbilt and fulfill my daddy’s wishes too.”

Vanderbilt was one of 10 baccalaureate nursing programs in the country with a new model for nursing education. With only 10 in the nation, graduates did not have to apply for positions—the positions found them.

In 1944, Travis became a member of the first class of U.S. Army Cadet Nursing Corps at Vanderbilt. She focused on public health, a program offered at few nursing schools at that time.

“For as long as I can remember I was interested in nursing,” she says. “The very first thing I can remember, my first childhood memory, was of my daddy getting sick. I was probably 3 or 4 years old. After his illness, daddy was partially paralyzed from a stroke. That following year, my mama got sick. The doctor told my daddy she was going to die. But she recovered and never had a problem after that.

“But for my daddy, things were never the same for him. I grew up with that—with his illness. I knew at a young age what my ambitions were. I was going to help sick people because my mama and daddy both had been sick.

“And if I could teach people how to prevent their illnesses and how to take care of themselves, I knew it would have a positive effect on lives. I always wanted people to have a good quality of life—I always believed that would end all your troubles.”

Travis graduated from VUSN with a BSN in 1947. She worked in the health department in Nashville soon after graduating. She made home visits as well as worked in the clinic. She later became the director of the Florence Crittendon Home and then became the director for the School of Nursing at Baptist Hospital.

She married Hilliard Travis in 1956.

“I’m still not sure how we decided to marry,” she laughs. “He was a confirmed bachelor and I was a confirmed career woman. But I guess our hearts spoke up.”

Travis’ last position was with the Methodist Publishing House where she served as the occupational health nurse for seven years from 1956 to 1963. She did not return to work after she and her husband, founder of Travis Electric Company, began commuting between their home in Nashville and Knoxville in an effort to develop Shoney’s restaurants in the eastern part of the state.

“It was just too much. But I had to occupy my mind somehow. I went through golf and bridge. I did the clubs, the teas and the coffees. I tell you, it just began to get boring. I was used to working and nursing.

“I began doing volunteer work at Vanderbilt. Travis (she called her husband by his last name) was very interested in Children’s Hospital through his work as a Shriner. I, too, became very involved and decided to spend my time trying to improve the lives of the children and families hospitalized there.”

In experimenting with various ways to bring joy and comfort to the children, Sweetpea the clown was born. Just thinking about her 10 years at Children’s Hospital brings a smile to Travis’ face, especially recalling the funny looks she received while driving from her home to the hospital several times a week dressed in full clown costume.

“When I was in the first grade I had the chicken pox. I remember my aunt brought me flowers— Sweetpeas—and they smelled so good. It was a pleasant fragrance that I have fond memories of. You also can’t say Sweetpea without smiling. My goal was to make people smile and to feel good, hence the name.”

Travis credits her parents with her desire to help others. It has always been paramount in her life and a characteristic that has taken a life of its own.

Since graduating from Vanderbilt, volunteering at the hospital and serving on various boards of the Medical Center and the School of Nursing, she has grown fond of the work done at the institution. She also acknowledges the wonderful gift the school bestowed on her her education (degree) and chance to give back to the community through her ability to nurse.

She and her husband, who died in 1996, have provided funding for nursing scholarships since 1987, allowing more than 140 students to fulfill their dream of nursing. The pair recently endowed a chair, the Nancy and Hilliard Travis Professor of Nursing.

“I decided that Colleen and VUSN needed some recognition,” Travis says. “If it was not for Colleen, the Bridge Program would not be available. Its success has been tremendous. Other schools have modeled their programs after it.

“I know that endowed chairs bring recognition and resources to a school. Schools with endowed chairs have a higher level of sophistication and accomplishment; they attract top faculty and students. They send a strong message of commitment to other members of the University, the public and the alumni.

“I thought it was time for our dean to occupy one.”

Travis says she is fortunate to be able to give back to VUSN. But says many alumnae may feel they do not have the resources to make gifts to the school.

“I really want to encourage our alumni to give to the school. What Travis and I have done has helped provide a good financial foundation, but our gifts alone are not enough. It will take all of us.”

Travis applauds Conway-Welch’s efforts to improve VUSN, placing it among the top nursing schools in the country.

She recalls that when Conway-Welch came to Vanderbilt the school was no longer a model for nursing education as it was 1940s and 1950s. This was a result of the creation of more than 550 baccalaureate nursing programs in the country by 1984.

Under Conway-Welch’s and the faculty’s efforts, the Bridge program was created as well as the clinical nurse specialist majors and the masters program became specialty care nurse practitioner programs. Also, the primary care nurse practitioner program grew and the Ph.D. program was begun, she says.

With these changes, VUSN once again became a model for change in nursing education in this country and abroad, Travis says.

“Vanderbilt has been wonderful to Travis and me. I can live anywhere. I can find a new church and a new home, but I could never find another medical center and a school of nursing like this one.”