Humanitarians at Heart

Warners designate gifts for Alumni Association and undergraduate and medical scholarships

Dr. Bob and Mary Ellen Warner

Dr. Bob and Mary Ellen Warner

OXFORD, Miss. – Dr. Bob and Mary Ellen Warner always manage to find a way to serve others, even on vacation.

“Herb, Dixie, Mary Ellen and I had a little routine,” Bob Warner said, referring to Herb Dewees, former Ole Miss Alumni Association executive director, and his wife, Dixie. In the mid-1990s, the couples frequently traveled together to northern Europe on Alumni Association-sponsored trips.

“When we got to a new hotel, we’d help everyone with their luggage and some Ole Miss alumni, particularly the ladies, had several bags, to say the least. So we would unload the luggage and get everyone settled and then sneak away to get a pizza wherever we were in the world.”

The Warners say it’s the experiences they had and relationships they built through the Alumni Association that inspired them to create the University of Mississippi Life Member Endowment with a $1 million planned gift.

“Bob and Mary Ellen are two of the kindest, most genuine people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing,” said Sheila Dossett, interim executive director of alumni affairs. “We greatly appreciate their involvement in the Alumni Association through the years and their amazing generosity.”

Bob Warner received a biology degree from Ole Miss in 1979 and his medical degree four years later from the UM School of Medicine.

A general, thoracic, vascular surgeon at Arkansas Methodist Medical Center in Paragould, Arkansas, he has worked in northeast Arkansas for more than 25 years. He became the first surgeon in his region to perform minimally invasive abdominal aneurysm repairs, among other innovative vascular procedures.

“Our experiences with the Alumni Association have made us realize that the university has a depth and a breadth that reaches, really, across the world,” he said. “I look at my life and say, ‘What’s made my life where I can do some of the things I’ve done and have some success at it?’ and Ole Miss is just in the forefront of my mind.

“So we asked ourselves, ‘What can we do to be sure other people have that same opportunity?’ And I think it’s the idea that you want to give back so other people can have the same experiences.”

Those experiences include the career paths Bob and Mary Ellen, a 1979 nursing graduate, chose to pursue – professions in which the top priority is caring for others. In fact, they met as students at the UM Medical Center, where Mary Ellen was a cardiac nurse and Bob was a cardiovascular surgery resident.

In an effort to help others have a similar UMMC opportunity, the Warners have established the Dr. and Mrs. Robert L. Warner Jr. University Medical Center Scholarship Endowment in addition to their designated gift to the Alumni Association. This gift, valued at $700,000, will support a medical student for up to three years and a nursing student for up to four years.

“We are so grateful to the Warners for recognizing that supporting our students is an investment in the health of generations to come,” said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. “We are fortunate to have alumni like these who care deeply about the University of Mississippi Medical Center.”

In addition to the Warners’ gifts to UMMC and the Alumni Association, they have also designated $400,000 to establish the Dr. and Mrs. Robert L. Warner Jr. Scholarship Endowment, which will benefit Ole Miss students from Hinds County, Mary Ellen’s home, and from Hancock and Harrison counties, where Bob was born and raised.

After graduating from medical school and getting married, Bob considered returning home to Bay St. Louis to begin his career, but the opportunity wasn’t there. Instead, the Warners established a cardiac surgery practice in Jonesboro, Arkansas, just two hours from their beloved Ole Miss.

“Everybody in my family got their college degree from here: my mom, my dad, my uncle, my aunt, my cousins, their kids… so my first time at Ole Miss was when I was 2 or 3 years old because my dad had been in the Army and came back here to go to the School of Engineering. My mother had already graduated from here, so my first visit to Ole Miss was as a toddler,” Bob said. “I’ve been here since I was born really.”

Mary Ellen’s ties to the university are equally strong. Her late father, Dr. José Bebin, served UMMC as a professor of pathology, and her sister, Dr. Martina Bickley, is a pediatric neurologist who earned her medical degree there. Mary Ellen’s mother, Patricia, was instrumental in procuring many pieces of art for the UMMC library.

Bob says his interest in serving others is inherited from his parents: “My mother was a school teacher; my father was an engineer. I wouldn’t say we were poor … I would say they worked hard, and a lot of times they put my needs ahead of everybody else’s. I think that taught me that you have to be a little bit generous. They set a good example about that.”

Bob’s parents are graduates of Ole Miss and his father, who has a deep appreciation for the School of Engineering, also has made a gift to the UM Foundation as a tribute to the education he received.

The Warners are, by nature, humanitarians, finding satisfaction in improving the lives of others, both at home and abroad. Bob recently traveled to northwest India, where he joined a team of 42 medical professionals tasked with immunizing children in the region. Over a three-day period, various teams immunized about 75 million kids.

“The main thing you’re doing is giving support to the Indian public health workers to let them know that somebody else in the world cares about what they’re doing,” Bob said, adding that they have taken similar medical mission trips to Romania and Burma.

After moving to Jonesboro, Mary Ellen worked part time as an intensive care nurse and taught nursing at Arkansas State University while Bob worked as a cardiac surgeon. They also are among the original volunteers for a church-associated health clinic in Jonesboro.

“We have our own little medical practice,” Bob said. “We see patients of all kinds at that charity clinic, and we’ve been doing it for 20 years.”

Mary Ellen retired from the ICU and from teaching, but she continues to volunteer at the clinic. She has served as a board member on the Hispanic Community Service Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps Hispanic immigrants become self-sustaining in the United States. In this capacity, she has most recently poured her heart into one particular family.

“I’m going to tell you more than she would,” Bob said. “So this is a family that had been separated from their mother and some of the siblings for 13 years and through this incredible effort …”

“It took three years,” Mary Ellen said.

“We worked with an immigration attorney in Memphis, and Mary Ellen filled out all the paperwork and helped guide them along,” Bob continued. “The dad became a citizen (he was already here on a visa) and by him becoming legal, the whole family got to be legal and was able to reunite.”

“Well, I was just determined; I wasn’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer,” Mary Ellen said. “It was just a long, long journey and for someone who doesn’t really understand the path and who can’t communicate on that level, it can be too challenging.

“I was just their mentor. The greatest gift is to see them together with their mother.”

The Warners’ planned gift gives them membership in the 1848 Society, named for the year the university opened to its first students. The society recognizes generous donors who provide for the university through planned and deferred gifts.

For more information, interested individuals can call the UM Foundation at 800-340-9542 or 662-915-5944, or visit