Lori Lewis-Conerly Presented With 2015 Jack Harbin Top Hand Award


On a rainy Friday afternoon, Texas Exes Council members gathered for their bi-annual meeting at the Alumni Center. Lori Lewis-Conerly, MSW ’06, Life Member, was on the agenda to give a presentation, but was running late. Shortly after Texas Exes president Antonio Garza, BBA ’80, Life Member, Distinguished Alumnus, opened the meeting, she walked in the door, slightly frayed and out of breath.

“Fridays aren’t what they used to be,” she said apologetically, as she approached the podium to begin her presentation.

But unbeknownst to her, Lewis-Conerly was walking into an award presentation in her honor for the 2015 Jack Harbin Top Hand Award. The accolade, a surprise for recipients, recognizes excellence in service of the Texas Exes and the University of Texas.

From the look on Lewis-Conerly’s face, it’s clear she wasn’t just surprised; she was speechless. After Garza rattled off an impressive list of accomplishments, she cautiously made her way onstage, shaking her head in disbelief. “But I had the Powerpoint [prepared],” she said, as Garza handed her the award, prompting laughter from attendees.

A few days later, Lewis-Conerly is still overjoyed. “I was and am still overwhelmed and appreciative of such extreme thoughtfulness,” she says.

The Top Hand award serves as a way to give a little back to a woman who has given the association and university so much. Perhaps most indicative of that is when asked to name an achievement she’s most proud of, she can’t choose just one.

As the first chair of the chartered Texas Exes Black Alumni Network, Lewis-Conerly helped write the initial bylaws that acted as the first complete set for a chartered Texas Exes affinity network, which were later used as a model for all affinity networks.

As such, she spearheaded the initiative to honor former Texas Exes president and distinguished alumnus John S. Chase by establishing a legacy scholarship awarded to outstanding African-American freshmen. She further connected the Black Alumni Base with Texas Athletics by organizing the welcome reception for the first African-American football and basketball coaches—Charlie Strong and Shaka Smart.

During her tenure, which ended on June 3o, Lewis-Conerly created partnerships with student organizations on campus and supported student success initiatives such as Black Graduation. In three short years, the Black Alumni Network’s signature annual fundraising event saw incredible growth under her tenacious leadership in attendance, contributions and scholarships. Garza said Lewis-Conerly never accepted “no” for an answer when the good of the students or the network were at play.

“Giving back promotes a sense of satisfaction,” Lewis-Conerly says. In addition to meeting other alumni who share her excitement for the university, Lewis-Conerly relishes in being able to support the next generation of students through her service.

“Sharing my time and money with the institution that educated me has made my life better,” she says. “This is our university, and as alumni we should make a vow to stay informed and involved.”

Photo by Anna Donlan.


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