Straight from the Heart: PVAMU Alumna Viola Bess Hebert, RN, BSN, MA ’74 Commits to Advancing Nursing Education in Perpetuity through Estate Planning

When faced with her own death, Viola Bess Hebert, RN, BSN, MA ’74 focused first on the lives of others.

“I was undergoing major surgery and wanted to update my will,” states Viola. “I prayed and reflected on what is important to me—nursing and the lives of patients served by our profession. Nursing is my heart and my passion. It has always been.”

Raised in Victoria, TX, Viola knew from an early age that she wanted to become a nurse. “My mother passed away when I was young, and I took care of her,” shares Viola. “As I watched over her in the hospital, I was awed by the compassion, confidence, and excellence that distinguished the nurses. The black stripe across their white hats signified that they were registered nurses (RNs)—that’s what I wanted to be. They stood apart.”

And throughout her life, Viola stood apart, too.

The middle child of seven, Viola always fought to make her own way. She opted to attend a primarily black elementary school after desegregation. “I wanted to go to the ‘black school,’” explains Viola. “The teachers knew me. We shared the same community. We attended the same church. They knew where I came from and I valued that. After all, that was what I knew; it was familiar and just felt good.”

Viola also stood out in the classroom, excelling in science and advanced classes. “When it was time to go to college everyone said that I should go to Texas Woman’s University—even my dad. However, I was determined to graduate from an HBCU, as they are known today, and had only one in mind: Prairie View A&M University. My experience in the black community was always so positive—and I wanted more of that, as I grew into adulthood and prepared to go out into the world. A positive sense of ‘self’ was important to me.”

When her father dropped her off at Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU) in 1970, he left her with a “cadre of great faculty.” Viola, who received a scholarship and pledged Delta Sigma Theta and Chi Eta Phi while at PVAMU, can still name many of them, “Dean Mangaroo, Mrs. Billie Bell, Dr.Collins, Ms. Richardson, Dr. Humphrey, and others contributed to my academic success, growth, and development into a responsible citizen and professional nurse.”

She continues, “The faculty made sure we were ‘presentable’ and represented the university and ourselves in the best light. We had to be our best—they drilled into us to do better and be better at all times—utmost professionalism was the only way.

From our outward appearance−crisp, starched and ironed uniforms, clean caps, and white polished shoes−to our mental preparation, faculty taught us to be our best in a challenging and competitive world. We would have to bring our ‘a game’ to a diverse workplace in which most BSN RNs were from predominantly white institutions.”

Viola kept those enduring lessons with her after graduation as she entered an illustrious career in health care, first as a charge nurse in critical patient care units, and then as an administrator overseeing organizational culture change, process design, and other healthcare initiatives. “I love caring for people, places, and processes that can be optimized,” says Viola, who was part of the team that helped Harris Health receive its first national nursing designation of excellence.

“God has given me a good life—” reflects Viola, “a good life, in large part, afforded to me by Prairie View. For this, I am grateful and very blessed. Saint Luke reminds me: ‘For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.’”

So as Viola considered life after her own death, she did not hesitate to designate a portion of her estate to support an endowed scholarship fund benefiting PVAMU’s College of Nursing.

“Prairie View invested in me—a country girl from Victoria. I am giving back so that all nursing students, regardless of their race or ethnicity, have an opportunity to improve life in their communities through excellent patient care,” says Viola, a member of the PVAMU Nursing Alumni Association.

“We are sincerely grateful to be able to celebrate Viola’s selfless generosity as we also mark the 100th anniversary of the College of Nursing,” says Carme Williams, vice president of development at PVAMU. “The college’s legacy of producing top-notch nurses is mirrored in Viola’s pledge and will be forever reflected in the students who will benefit from her bequest.”

After resolving to leave PVAMU in her will, Viola visited the main campus with a friend. “We walked around campus. Looked through yearbooks. The students were so wonderful. It’s amazing how far the university has come,” shares Viola. “It brought tears to my eyes and validated my commitment to give while I am still living.”

To learn more about ways to give, please visit www.pvamu.edu/development or call 936-261-1550.