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A friend the University could count on

Giving News

Maebess Matthews

By Angela Curtis

Sometimes a modest life can make a big difference.

Maebess Matthews (front row, second from left) grew up in Austin living above a shop on the Drag and spent her career as a public servant. But she made some smart investments along the way, and when she died she left almost $2 million to The University of Texas at Austin.

Matthews’ bequest created scholarships in the School of Nursing, College of Pharmacy, and McCombs School of Business in honor of her mother, father, and best friend — Lillie Matthews, B. Berard Matthews, and Dorothy Ayres.

“The University was her life,” says Jo Anderson, a family friend.

Matthews’ $1.8 million gift to the University wasn’t her only charitable bequest. She also gave to St. Stephen’s Episcopal School in Austin.

Matthews’ tradition of giving to the University began long before her estate gift. For more than 30 years she gave modest annual gifts — $10 here, $25 or $100 there — to her favorite UT causes: the McCombs School, the Center for American History in Winedale, the Office of the President, Women’s Athletics. With her bequest she created endowments that will forever continue her tradition of annual giving.

Matthews never married and never had children, but she had a family nonetheless. Anderson’s late husband, Ayres Anderson, was Dorothy Ayres’ nephew, and “Aunt Dorothy” lived with the Andersons and their three children. That made them Matthews’ family, too.

“My children thought they were related to her,” Anderson recalls.

Matthews earned her bachelor’s in business administration from UT in 1931 before going on to work in the UT System’s procurement office. She and Dorothy Ayres — who earned an MBA from the University in 1930 — were regulars at Longhorn football games.

A diehard orange blood, Matthews nudged the Anderson children toward UT before they ended up following their father’s footsteps to Texas A&M.

“She and Aunt Dorothy worked on them. They’d send them T-shirts,” says Anderson, herself a UT graduate. “Maebess was disappointed when my children went to A&M.”

Born in 1912, Matthews was the only child of B. Berard and Lillie Matthews. Maebess’ father owned and operated an independent drugstore on the Drag, and the family lived upstairs.

Maebess Matthews learned she was dying of ovarian cancer in 2003. By then, Dorothy Ayres and Ayres Anderson had been gone for decades, and the closest thing she had to family was Jo Anderson. In the time leading up to her death — Matthews told Anderson of her condition just two weeks before she died — Matthews clung to her fierce independence. She wrote her own obituary, chose her casket, and prepaid for her funeral. She also issued an edict — no photos with her obituary in the newspaper.

Matthews didn’t want her friends to worry, and she waited as long as she could to tell them she was dying. On Feb. 18, 2003, she called her bridge buddies from the hospital to tell them not to count on her for their next game. She died a few hours later.

“That says so much about her, that she was thinking about them,” Anderson says.

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