SMU honors distinguished alumni and emerging leader

Philanthropic, civic and business leaders will receive SMU's Distinguished Alumni Award.

SMU Distinguished Alumni Award logo

SMU Distinguished Alumni Award logoDALLAS (SMU) — Philanthropic, civic and business leaders will receive the Southern Methodist University Distinguished Alumni Award, the highest honor the University bestows upon its graduates, during a campus ceremony in late October.

The 2013 Distinguished Alumni are business leader Joseph M. “Jody” Grant ’60, investor Jeanne Roach Johnson ’54, and community leader Peggy Higgins Sewell ’72. Brittany Merrill Underwood ’07, an international advocate for women and children, will receive the University’s Emerging Leader Award, which recognizes an alumnus or alumna who have graduated in the last 15 years, for outstanding achievements.

The Distinguished Alumni Award presentation and dinner will be at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 24, on the SMU Main Quad.

To purchase tickets visit: or call 214-768-4468.

During the ceremony, past DAA recipients will be honored as Centennial History Makers as part of SMU’s ongoing Second Century Celebration. Those whose accomplishments will be recognized include Michael M. Boone, Laura Welch Bush, Kirbyjon H. Caldwell, Gerald J. Ford, Terrybeth N. Ford, Linda Harris Gibbons, Alvis Forrest Gregg, Robert W. Haley, Mona Sheinfeld Hersch-Cochran, Ward L. Huey, Jr., Walter J. Humann, William E. Joyce, Christine Ann Loock, John Lopez, III, Thomas W. Luce, III, Bobby B. Lyle, James C. McCormick, J. Barry McKernan, Harriet E. Miers, John J. Nance, Benjamin R. Oliphint, Cecil B. Phillips, Richard W. Quick, George T. Reynolds, III, William C. Roberts, Karen Livesay Shuford, Charles Robert (Bob) Smith, Aaron Spelling, William B. Stallcup, Jr., H. Leighton Steward, William Payne Stewart, Regina A. Taylor, James Cleo Thompson, Jr., Charles H. Trigg, Mary Katherine (Kitty) Hughes Trigg, Garry A. Weber, Ewing Werlein, Jr., Martha Hess Whitehead and Myra Nicol Williams. Bill Melton will receive the Mustang Award for Service.

Joseph M. “Jody” Grant

Joseph M. 'Jody' GrantJody Grant has provided leadership to his profession and his community, using abilities he first honed at SMU. He earned his B.B.A. from SMU in 1960, followed by an M.B.A. and a Ph.D. in economics and finance from the University of Texas at Austin. While attending SMU on a swimming scholarship, he earned four individual Southwest Conference swimming championships and was twice named All-American.

Grant became CEO of Texas American Bancshares in 1986. Following the banking industry’s setbacks in the late 1980s, he joined EDS as its chief financial officer. Believing that Texas needed a Texas-owned bank to support the state’s middle-market companies, in 1998 he launched Texas Capital Bank, which became one of the nation’s most profitable financial institutions. For his successes in the banking industry, American Banker named him Community Banker of the Year in 2001, and he received the Horatio Alger Award in 2010. He is now chair emeritus of Texas Capital Bancshares, Inc.

He served on the SMU Board of Trustees from 1980 to 1988 and currently serves on the board of SMU’s John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies in Dedman College. As chair of the Woodall Rodgers Park Foundation Board, he worked to raise approximately $100 million for Klyde Warren Park, a deck park over Woodall Rodgers Freeway that has become a vital part of the Dallas Arts District. Grant’s leadership positions have included serving as chair of Communities Foundation of Texas and on the boards of the Dallas Museum of Art, KERA and Dallas County Community College Foundation.

Jeanne Roach Johnson

Jeanne Roach JohnsonJeanne Roach Johnson has served her alma mater and her community with dedication and distinction. She earned her B.B.A. from SMU in 1954. As a private investor in Dallas, she realized the need for young women to be better equipped for success in the business world and established the Johnson Women in Business Scholarship for women with proven leadership skills to pursue an M.B.A. in SMU’s Cox School of Business.

Johnson’s love of music, particularly piano, inspired her support of SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts with funds that led to new concert-quality pianos for student practice and performance, a special initiatives fund for the Meadows piano program and renovation of the music practice rooms. The Jeanne Johnson Piano Guest Artists Endowment Fund gives SMU students the opportunity to learn from national and international piano artists who perform and teach on a visiting basis. The annual Jeanne Roach Johnson Piano Recital showcases outstanding students and alumni of SMU’s piano program. Johnson has served on the Executive Board of Meadows School of the Arts and currently serves on SMU’s Second Century Campaign Committee for the Meadows School.

Beyond her involvement in SMU, Johnson has provided leadership to Dallas arts organizations and other community programs. She has served as an advisory governor of the Dallas Symphony, a director of the Dallas Symphony Foundation and the Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra, Inc., an elder at Highland Park Presbyterian Church and a member of the Board of Distinguished Advisors of the Dallas Arboretum.

Peggy Higgins Sewell

Peggy Higgins SewellPeggy Higgins Sewell exemplifies the dedicated volunteer leadership that is vital to community organizations. She earned her B.F.A. in art history from SMU in 1972 and has been a loyal supporter of her alma mater ever since. She currently serves on the Executive Board of Meadows School of the Arts. She and her husband, Carl, have co-chaired the SMU annual giving campaign, and together they established the Sewell Meadows Scholarships for students in the Meadows School.

Peggy Sewell has provided leadership to numerous organizations benefiting her community and beyond. Her service includes membership on the Dallas Museum of Art Board of Trustees, Junior League of Dallas Sustainer Advisory Board, Salvation Army of Dallas Advisory Board, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center Board of Visitors in Houston, and St. Martin’s Episcopal School Alumni Board in New Orleans. She also serves on the board of Baylor Health Care System Foundation and has chaired its annual giving campaign. She has chaired many events benefiting community causes.

Her contributions to the arts in Dallas were recognized with the 2013 TACA Silver Cup Award. She also has received the Profiles in Leadership Award presented by the annual SMU Women’s Symposium, the Kappa Kappa Gamma Sorority of Dallas Golden Key Award and the Distinguished Alumna Award from St. Martin’s Episcopal School of New Orleans. Peggy and Carl Sewell were honorees at the 2009 SMU Meadows at the Meyerson Annual Benefit Concert and together received the Flora Award from Texas Discovery Gardens.

Brittany Merrill Underwood

Brittany Merrill UnderwoodBrittany Merrill Underwood, who is receiving the Emerging Leader Award, has had an extraordinary impact by transforming the lives of impoverished women and children. While at SMU, she spent the summer of 2004 in Uganda and was moved by the dedication of local women who sought to transform their communities. In 2006, Underwood founded the Ugandan American Partnership Organization (UAPO) to partner with a Ugandan ministry to build a three-story orphanage with the capacity to house 180 street children. She moved to Uganda after completing her B.A. with a major in journalism and a minor in political science. Her first orphanage project was completed in 2009 and was featured worldwide on CNN and in other media outlets.

While working on the orphanage in 2007, Underwood established the Akola Project, a nonprofit that offers women opportunity through vocational training, education programs, employment opportunities, support groups and savings and loan associations. By providing sustainable skills and reliable income for women, the Akola Project has lifted more than 1,200 women and children out of extreme poverty. Locally made, high-quality, fashionable products from the women of the Akola Project have been sold in more than 220 boutiques throughout the United States.

Since 2004, Underwood’s organization has successfully drilled more than 23 clean water wells in displaced communities, constructed two vocational training centers and created a thriving social business for women. Underwood received a master’s degree in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary in 2013 and continues to devote herself to improving the lives of women and children as the founder and president of the Akola Project.

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