A personal remembrance by Dr. Jane Bertrand, the Neal A. and Mary Vanselow Endowed Chair
THE TULANE COMMUNITY was saddened to learn that Dr. Neal A. Vanselow passed away on April 5, 2016. I had the privilege of visiting his wife Mary in their Phoenix apartment just two weeks later. Although she admitted to “having her moments” in the wake of Neal’s passing, she was the picture of resilience. For instance, when I called
to ask if she’d be available for a visit on short notice, she responded, “Well, I have plans for dinner tonight and the symphony afterwards; and tomorrow I need to leave for church by 8:30 am.”
I had only been in the state of Arizona once before, in 2009, to “interview” with Neal and Mary before I was selected to hold the chair that bears their names. By coincidence I found myself back in Phoenix this past April to visit a high school friend, giving me the opportunity to reconnect with Mary.
Mary met me in the lobby of their stylish condo. Both her daughter and granddaughter have condos in the same building, an enviable set up for a grandmother. I had already met Katherine in 2010 at my investiture ceremony when she was an intern for Dr. Harrison Spencer, former dean of Tulane SPHTM and executive director of the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health.
Neal served as chancellor of the Tulane Medical Center for eight years. After leaving New Orleans in 1997, Mary and Neal moved to Rio Verde, Ariz., to a residence that others describe as beyond magnificent, nestled into the surrounding Tonto National Forest
and Mazatzal Mountains. However, by 2014, they decided they had more house than they needed, not to mention a pool and grass to maintain, and moved closer to the city and family.
“Once we made the decision to move into Phoenix, we bought tickets to the symphony and the theater” said Mary. “If we were going to be city dwellers, we were going to take full advantage of it.” She added, “We can walk everywhere; we’re close to theaters, museums, and restaurants.” Mary gave me a tour of their 25th-floor condominium. The eastern side of their apartment with windows from ceiling to floor offers a breathtaking view of downtown Phoenix with the backdrop of the Mummy Mountain. Their favorite spot: the balcony outside the master bedroom where they would sit to watch the reflection of spectacular sunsets on the glass-sided building in front of them.
Although I was initially sorry that my long-planned visit to Phoenix fell on the weekend before Neal’s memorial service and not on the very weekend of it, I soon realized my good fortune of visiting with Mary when she had an hour of uninterrupted time. I learned a great deal from her in that short time. “I’d been a product of the 1950s. I graduated in June and was married a week later,” a union that lasted 57 years.
Mary recounted the various places they had lived through the years: Ann Arbor, Mich., Minneapolis, Minn., Tucson, Ariz., Omaha, Neb., and, of course, New Orleans, La. “We enjoyed the years in New Orleans very much. Everyone was so welcoming and friendly. There wasn’t the rivalry and political infighting that occurs in so many places. And people in New Orleans know how to entertain.” She thoroughly enjoyed living and hosting events at their home on Palmer Avenue. Neal also enjoyed the house because of its proximity to Audubon Park where he would walk regularly. Long before becoming the Vanselow chair, I would frequently pass Neal in the park, admiring his determination to stay in shape.
At the end of the hour, Mary was headed toward Scottsdale, to St. Anthony on the Desert, the church where the memorial service would take place a week later. “Many people will be there to express their condolences,” she shared. I was so fortunate to have been the first in line to do so on that Sunday.