Longtime Southwestern Supporter Dies
Elizabeth Perkins Prothro helped fund many projects at Southwestern, including a new building that bears her name.
Long-time Southwestern supporter Elizabeth Perkins Prothro died May 23 at her home in Wichita Falls at the age of 89. Services were conducted at First United Methodist Church of Wichita Falls, with interment at Riverside Cemetery in Wichita Falls.
Mrs. Prothro was born in Dallas on Sept. 7, 1919 to Lois Craddock Perkins and Joe J. Perkins of Wichita Falls. She attended Wichita Falls public schools, graduating in 1935 from Wichita Falls High School, and attended Sweet Briar College and Southern Methodist University (SMU), from which she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1939. She married Charles Nelson Prothro of Wichita Falls in 1938.
A champion of higher education in Texas, Virginia, California and South Carolina, Mrs. Prothro served on the SMU Board of Trustees, Executive Board of Perkins School of Theology at SMU, and Midwestern State University Board of Regents. Academic institutions named major recipients of her largess include SMU, Sweet Briar College, Southwestern University, Baylor University Medical Center and The University of Texas. In addition, she strengthened student opportunities at Texas Wesleyan University, Baylor University and Wofford College.
“My mother believed with all her heart in the importance of learning and the power of knowledge,” said Kay Yeager, daughter of Elizabeth Perkins Prothro. “She decided early in life to maintain a family tradition of enabling others to better themselves through higher education, a legacy both her children and grandchildren are continuing to honor. Today, thousands of students are learning from respected professors teaching in premiere facilities because of her commitment to scholarship.”
Mrs. Prothro facilitated construction of the Charles and Elizabeth Prothro Center for Lifelong Learning at Southwestern and made major contribution to the Lois Perkins Chapel, named for her mother; the Charles and Elizabeth Prothro Bishops Memorial Lounge in the Red and Charline McCombs Campus Center, and the Cody Memorial Library/A. Frank Smith, Jr. Library Center, home to the Prothro Room. The daughter of two longtime Southwestern supporters, Mrs. Prothro was named recipient of the Southwestern University Medal in 2006.
Also a lifetime SMU benefactor, Mrs. Prothro continued a family tradition, initiated by her parents in 1913, of service to the university. The Perkins School of Theology and the SMU community at large today benefit from endowed scholarships, fellowships, and premiere facilities made possible by Mrs. Prothro and her family, including the Charles and Elizabeth Prothro Theology Quadrangle and major renovations to Perkins Chapel and the organ in Perkins Chapel.
In addition, SMU is home to Mrs. Prothro’s renowned, 485-volume collection of Bibles and related works spanning eight centuries. Seed of the collection was several volumes presented to Mrs. Prothro by her husband in 1963 on their 25th anniversary. Today, the collection is housed in the Elizabeth Perkins Prothro Galleries, a gift from her husband on their 50th anniversary, at Bridwell Library, Perkins School of Theology at SMU. Books from the collection have been exhibited at UT, Sweet Briar College, Emory and Henry College, Southwestern University, and Wichita Falls Museum and Art Center.
Mrs. Prothro’s interest in Bibles spawned a broader interest in books and libraries, leading her to serve as president of Friends of SMU Libraries/Colophon, chairman of SMU Libraries Executive Board, and as a member of SMU Press. In addition, she was a founding organizer of Friends of the Sweet Briar College Library.
A photographer of professional stature, Mrs. Prothro’s photographs may be found today in private collections, educational institutions, commercial settings, and publications, including SMU Reflections (SMU Press, 1986), for which she served as editor and contributing photographer.
Esteemed for her floral photographs, Mrs. Prothro served on the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Board during years the First Lady was actively involved. Mrs. Prothro’s respect for photographers and their art is evidenced by the Elizabeth Perkins Prothro Photography Gallery at the Harry Ransom Center at UT and the UT photography collections, considered among the finest in the world. Mrs. Prothro was instrumental in providing the cornerstone gift and subsequent commitments for Ransom Center and the Prothro Theater at UT.
Mrs. Prothro was named recipient of the SMU Distinguished Alumni Award and honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, the Doctor of Letters by Southwestern University, the Centennial Award and Distinguished Alumna Award by Sweet Briar College, and the Award for Philanthropy by the Council of Independent Colleges. Her most recent honor was the naming of Elizabeth Perkins Prothro Hall at Perkins School of Theology at SMU in 2007.
Also a lifelong supporter of First United Methodist Church of Wichita Falls (FUMC), Mrs. Prothro was the first woman named chairman of the Official Board. In addition, she served as chairman of the Perkins Lecture Committee, chairman of the Commission on Worship, and co-chairman of the Heritage Committee; held numerous positions in United Methodist Women, and taught Sunday school. She also served on the World Methodist Council Executive Committee.
Mrs. Prothro and her husband were instrumental in construction of the Prothro Family Atrium at FUMC in 1997, and she made artistic contribution to the Christian banners that hang in the Atrium. Her legacy at FUMC also includes a comprehensive renovation in 2002-3 of the church’s 1928 Reuter organ, now Garland organ, with accompanying acoustical improvements to the sanctuary. In 2004, the church inaugurated the Elizabeth Perkins Prothro Organ Concert Series, which features internationally renowned organists.
Other philanthropic interests in her city of residence included Wichita Falls Museum and Art Center, of which she was a founding member; and River Bend Nature Center, home to the Elizabeth Perkins Prothro Pavilion.
Mrs. Prothro is survived by three children, Joe Prothro and wife, Dale; Kay Yeager and husband, Frank; Mark Prothro and wife, Dianne, all of Wichita Falls; and daughter-in-law, Caren Prothro of Dallas. Other survivors include grandchildren Kathryn R. Prothro, David Prothro and wife, Leslie; Nelson Prothro and wife, Jaclyn; Mary Perkins Prothro, Elizabeth Yeager, Linda Beltchev and husband, Alex; Vincent Prothro, Nita Clark and husband, Cullum; Holly Philbin and husband, Phillip; and Pat Prothro. Great-grandchildren include Reagan Lunn and wife, Ashley; Erica Green-Prothro, Christopher Prothro, and Katie Prothro; Lara Herreid, Yeager Edwards, Nicholas Beltchev, and Andrew Beltchev; Lillian Clark, Annabel Clark, and Charlotte Clark; Charles Philbin, Luke Philbin, and Mark Philbin. She also is survived by one great-great-grandchild, Parker Lunn.
Mrs. Prothro was preceded in death by her husband in 2001, their son, Charles Vincent (C. Vin) Prothro of Dallas in 2000, a younger sister, Dorothy Jo Perkins in 1926; and her mother and father, in 1983 and 1960, respectively.
In lieu of floral tributes, the family requests memorials be made to the First United Methodist Church Foundation, Wichita Falls; or Hospice of Wichita Falls.