Legendary Love

July 1, 2022
Tom Hanks

Tom Hanks, A.B.C. ’22, Ph.D.

For generations of Baylor alumni, Tom Hanks, A.B.C. ’22, Ph.D., suited, smiling and sporting a trilby, was as ubiquitous to the University’s campus as Dr Pepper Hour or the overly-friendly squirrels in the Quad.

For generations of his students, Hanks’ love for his wife, Carole, A.B.C. ’22, Ph.D. — whose doctorate is in public health — remains as enduring and inspiring a lesson as his classes on Tolkien or Arthurian legend. Married for more than 57 years, Drs. Tom and Carole Hanks have each established their own significant legacies: his through more than 41 years of teaching in Baylor’s English department and designation as a Master Teacher, hers through a long and varied career that included serving with Waco’s Mental Health District, working as director of a Nurse-Family Partnership research program, supporting students as a member of the Louise Herrington School of Nursing’s faculty and working with veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder through the Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Their contributions to Baylor University, its students and scholarly research in their respective fields have earned them the moniker of “legacy.” But never one to settle, Dr. Tom Hanks recently shared with his Baylor Family the decision to establish a chair at Baylor University, honoring his wife, Carole, and permanently weaving their story into the future faculty of the institution.

The Dr. Carole Ann McDaniel Hanks Endowed Chair in English will create permanent support for its chairholder, funding the research, travel and costs associated with the highest levels of scholarship and teaching in higher education. Held within the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of English, the Carole Hanks Chair will fund, attract and retain nationally or even globally known faculty who will inspire students and generate original approaches to research, writing and teaching that will raise the profile of the department for generations to come.

When asked why he wanted to establish the chair, Hanks gave two reasons.

“Carole has led a remarkable personal and professional life, a life for which she has sought no recognition,” he says. “I want her to have that recognition, to be widely recognized for the contributor she has been to public health in the U.S. and abroad, most especially for women in the lower socio-economic levels who wish to have healthy babies and raise them healthily.

“More personally, I want to recognize publicly for myself, for our family and friends, and for Carole, widespread awareness that she has brightened my life, our children’s lives and the lives of thousands of others during her time as a health professional (1972-2015).”

The Hanks Chair constitutes a blending of the legacies of two passionate educators. Dr. Tom Hanks represents the consummate Baylor faculty member: a well-known scholar-teacher of Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur, a renowned scholar whose passion for his chosen field continues to fuel his curiosity and study, and a person of faith whose commitment to his students animates his teaching and mentoring that continues to shape students’ lives and perspectives on the world. Now retired, Hanks recently joked that he still finds himself on campus almost as much as when he was teaching, between continued support for programs and his weekly coffee breaks and poetry discussions with students.

Alzheimer’s disease has ended Dr. Carole Hanks’ teaching career, but her impressive body of work continues to prepare nurse practitioners and other public health professionals for lives of service. Throughout her long and varied career, at the heart of Hanks’ work was a desire to help others and a fearlessness to take on hard tasks that, at times, required her to live more than 200 miles from her family. Whether teaching students or supporting mental health patients, Hanks approached her work and her life’s calling with commitment, purpose and a desire to improve the resources and knowledge available.

But what would she have thought about the Hanks Chair in English? 

“She might say, ‘You could have established the chair in the nursing school (where she taught for decades),’” Hanks says with a laugh. “I think she would understand, though, why I wanted to establish it in the English department. I wanted to do something that would bolster the department. I’m very fond of the people that I knew there; I have a high opinion of their abilities as scholar-teachers and as decent human beings. Again and again I hear from students how their English teachers have made significant changes in their lives.”

That fondness is reciprocated, and it inspires English Professor Greg Garrett, Ph.D., who will serve as the inaugural holder of the Hanks Chair.

“Part of what makes this an incredible honor is that there are few people that I admire more than the Doctors Hanks,” Garrett says. “To hold a chair named for Dr. Carol Hanks, who is one of the fiercest, smartest, most compassionate, most intelligent people that I have ever known — someone whose life has affected the lives of tens of thousands of people. And then Tom Hanks, who is perhaps the greatest teacher in the history of our department, perhaps the history of Baylor University.”

Within higher education, a named, endowed faculty position is a high honor, designating a faculty member’s work and teaching as especially valuable or influential within the institution and the academy. At Baylor, named endowed positions are created by the University’s donors, alumni, parents or friends who want to make a permanent impact on a specific area of study or support excellence in teaching and research.

“Baylor has a number of internal resources that I used in the years building up to my getting grant money and gift money from outside donors, and Baylor is very good at supporting scholars in the early stages of their career,” Garrett says. “At some point, if you’re going to (join) the national or international ranks of people in a certain discipline, and we have a number of those people at Baylor, it takes resources to operate on that level. The Hanks Chair, and other endowed chairs, offer so much more than taking care of salary. This gives faculty the resources that they need to represent Baylor on a national or international stage.”

The Hanks Chair is one example of many new opportunities provided to faculty through the Give Light campaign. The fundraising campaign has raised more than $1.2 billion in support for the initiatives and priorities of Illuminate, Baylor’s strategic plan. Since its inception in November 2018, the Give Light campaign has galvanized support from the University’s alumni, parents and friends, with more than 85,000 members of the Baylor Family giving to support the University. 

One area of significant growth has been the University’s number of endowed faculty positions. The Baylor Family has provided for 38 endowed faculty positions since the start of the Give Light campaign, providing increased salary and research support, providing Baylor with greater resources to recruit and retain the next generation of faculty scholar-teachers who can inspire future generations of Baylor students, and carrying on a legacy of teaching excellence that makes the Baylor experience distinctive.

To have a faculty member support future generations of Baylor faculty is especially meaningful.

“To give back in this way and at the level of an endowed chair is significant,” Lee Nordt, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, says. “It is the largest funded endowed chair in the humanities at Baylor University. This gift will help promote Baylor’s reputation nationally and internationally through its chairholder, beginning with Dr. Garrett. He exemplifies not only the scholar-teacher, but it will advance the Christian mission through his work as a scholar on important topics at the intersection and faith and social causes.”

The intersection of faith and social causes is an area of special interest for Garrett, whose research on religion and culture has been featured in international media, through his more than two dozen books, articles and essays for leading national and international magazines, newspapers and other publications.

“One of the things that I love about the way the agreement has been set up is that this is a chair that should have value, not just within the academy, but in the larger world,” Garrett says. “Whoever holds this chair, whether it is me or whoever comes after me, should be a person who continues that legacy of Carol Hanks in engaging the world.”

The word legacy is often used when families make the decision to give to endowment at any institution. It is the connection of family name and a family’s story to the University, the assigning of an enduring story that weaves institutional mission with family history. For the Hanks family, the legacy already existed, with more than four decades of excellence in teaching and countless Baylor students’ lives shaped by the guiding hands of Tom and Carol Hanks.

Engaging with the Baylor Family was a hallmark of their teaching at Baylor. Dr. Tom Hanks compares teaching to the actions of maestros of an orchestra, who create insights into music but never make a sound themselves, creating an environment where the entire orchestra can communicate and respond, learning and growing in confidence together, creating separate moments for each individual to shine and is empowered to share their gifts and intellect. It’s a metaphor he borrowed from Maestro Benjamin Zander, musical director of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra.

As Baylor’s commitment to transformational undergraduate education continues, this rich tradition of teaching will be undergirded by Baylor donors — like the Hanks family — who give generously to create enduring support through endowment.

Learn more at baylor.edu/givelight