‘A Remarkable, Special Human Being’

August 12, 2021

Dan Neely of Asheville created the Margaret "Molly" Grant Neely '71 Endowed Scholarship in honor of his late wife (pictured above). The award provides tuition and academic support for one or more MBU students, undergraduate or graduate. (Picture at left from the 1971 Mary Baldwin Bluestocking yearbook.)

When the late Margaret “Molly” Neely ’71 was growing up in the coastal town of Hampton, Virginia, she fell in love with sailing. 

A natural on the water, she was often spotted catching the wind solo on her Sailfish, a 12-foot wooden flat-top reminiscent of a surfboard with a sail. 

“I remember a good story that people always saw Molly going by ‘with the tiller in her toes and the sheet [main line] in her teeth,’” said her sister Martha Rideout ’63, who now lives in Williamsburg.

The youngest of three sisters, Molly Neely first learned how to sail from her father and then started competing in the Hampton Yacht Club’s summer program during junior high. There she was named the first girl racing skipper in their history. 

Proud of his daughter for holding her own among the boys, their father created a little trophy for her that said “here come the ladies,” Rideout recalled.

Continuing to blaze a trail, Molly Neely earned her mathematics degree from Mary Baldwin in 1971 and joined Citizens and Southern National Bank in Atlanta where she achieved the title of vice president for commercial lending.

“She was on the cutting edge of women becoming more involved in activities previously reserved for men,” said her sister Pat Gooding of Atlanta.

Dan Neely of Asheville created the Margaret "Molly" Grant Neely '71 Endowed Scholarship in honor of his late wife (pictured above). The award provides tuition and academic support for one or more MBU students, undergraduate or graduate. (Picture at left from the 1971 Mary Baldwin Bluestocking yearbook.)

Molly Neely passed away after a short illness on September 8, 2020, in Asheville, North Carolina

To honor her memory, her husband of 40 years, Dan Neely, endowed a new scholarship fund at MBU with a generous blended gift. Founded last November, the Margaret “Molly” Grant Neely ’71 Endowed Scholarship will be awarded for the first time this academic year.  

“Her life was abbreviated as she had not even reached 71, and I thought that creating a scholarship fund at her alma mater was a meaningful way to extend her name after she passed away,” said Dan Neely.

While levels of student debt continue to rise nationally, the Neely scholarship will help ensure the affordability of a college education for its recipients. Molly Neely Scholars will receive significant support for each year of their education at MBU, with funds available for tuition, fees, materials, or other academic expenses. 

“I thought that creating a scholarship fund at her alma mater was a meaningful way to extend her name after she passed away.”
Dan Neely

“Molly would be very pleased, and I think her husband did a wonderful job of deciding how to honor her,” said Gooding. “She believed in excellence and she believed in education. That was who Molly was.”

In keeping with Molly Neely’s story, her scholarship was established with a geographic preference going to a student from Tidewater Virginia and programmatic preference for a mathematics major. 

“The overarching parts of her personality were her eagerness to excel and her ambition in the very best way,” said Gooding remembering her sister. “She set goals for herself and she usually met them.”

If the first criteria cannot be fulfilled, the second preference for Neely scholarship support is for a student pursuing one of the STEM disciplines who demonstrates both academic excellence and financial need.

“Thinking about the future Molly Neely Scholars, I hope they make the most of college,” said Dan Neely. “I think about how my wife might have been only the second or third female vice president there at the bank, and I hope these students maximize their education in math and the sciences as she did.” 

A mathematics major at Mary Baldwin, Molly Neely’s career took her to Citizens and Southern National Bank in Atlanta where she achieved the title of vice president for commercial lending. She was also a skilled gardener and one of the founding members of the Atlanta Botanical Gardens.

In addition to sailing during her younger years, she was a devoted and skilled gardener and horticulturist both personally and through volunteer work with botanical gardens and clubs.

She was one of the founding members of the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, and a member of the Botanical Gardens at Asheville, which is dedicating a bridge in her memory, and the Garden Club of Matthews, Virginia.

She was well loved; she was good to people,” said Gooding. “I have three children who she helped me raise when they were babies, because we were all here in Atlanta. She had such a sense of fun and humor. We were all very fond of her and very sorry to lose her. She was a remarkable, special human being.” 

This generous gift reflects the spirit of the MBU Empowers Campaign, a comprehensive and multiyear effort that aims to ensure student success and make MBU affordable and accessible by minimizing student debt. 

To learn more about our amazing Mary Baldwin students and how to support them, please visit the MBU Empowers website.