Community of Support: Bob McNeilly Jr.

From the Winter 2016 edition of Vanderbilt Medicine Magazine

Photo by Joel Howell
Photo by Joel Howell

The time that Bob McNeilly Jr. spent as a student at Vanderbilt University was the foundation for a longstanding tradition of dedication to the University and Medical Center and their missions. And through the past six decades, these relationships have translated into valuable financial contributions and countless hours of volunteer service in support of the institution.

McNeilly spent decades in the commercial printing industry after earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Vanderbilt. A turning point in his relationship with the University came in the 1970s when his daughter was seriously injured in a sledding accident.

“She was really on the point of death,” McNeilly said. “We took her to the Vanderbilt emergency room.”

After a team of doctors, including a neurosurgeon, an orthopaedic surgeon and a cardiologist, treated McNeilly’s daughter, she recovered from the incident.

“They saved her life,” McNeilly said.

Years later he got a chance to start giving back to the institution that he felt had given so much to him and the community. McNeilly reconnected with classmates from his years studying at Vanderbilt and became active with the alumni association.

“That was a real revelation because a couple times a year we had a presentation by Ike Robinson or Harry Jacobson (former vice chancellors for Health Affairs) about the state of Medical Center,” McNeilly said. “I was so impressed that I wanted to be more active in supporting the Medical Center.”

He joined the Canby Robinson Society, eventually serving as its president, and took part in efforts to raise money to establish one of its first scholarships.

“I had a network that I tried to cultivate on behalf of Vanderbilt,” McNeilly said.

That network also led to securing one of the largest private gifts that the School of Medicine had ever received for the purposes of establishing a fully endowed scholarship. McNeilly led the way in making the case for Vanderbilt and how important and impactful such a gift could be in his discussions with the donor.

The gift was also remarkable in that the donor’s only connection to the University was through the care provided by the Medical Center.

But his work to raise money for Vanderbilt wasn’t the only way that McNeilly has given back. For several years after he retired from his role with First American National Bank, he volunteered at the Medical Center.

At Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, McNeilly spent time talking to patients at the Infusion Center, bringing around snack carts and refilling coffee pots throughout the center.

“There were 14 coffee pots, so that took a while,” McNeilly joked. “I was there really just to talk to the patients, try to be positive, try to see if I could lift their spirits.”

While his time volunteering and raising money for Vanderbilt has meant a great deal to McNeilly, he called his efforts a small gesture among many.

“I’m just a guy,” he said. “There are a lot of people who have also been active and contributed to Vanderbilt, and I’m just one of them.”