Jean Ellen duPont Shehan used to drive an old pickup from her Maryland home to Northern Virginia for volunteer council meetings at the Virginia Tech equine medical center named for her aunt, Marion duPont Scott.
“We’d have meetings, and then she’d load up with Southern States horse feed because it was 50 cents a bag cheaper in Leesburg than in Eastern Maryland,” recalled Dr. Peter Eyre, dean emeritus of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, for which the equine medical center is one of three campuses.
Such personal frugality from a member of one of America’s most storied families might be surprising, but according to Eyre it was perfectly in character for Shehan, who died last month at age 88.
“She wasn’t ostentatious at all,” Eyre said, “but she used her wealth in very positive, very productive ways.”
One of those ways was to help the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center, which opened in 1984. After serving on its founding committee, Shehan became the first chair of the facility’s council, an advisory and resource development organization.
Shehan also served on the board of the Virginia Tech Foundation and was a member of the President’s Circle within the Ut Prosim Society of major donors, as well as the Legacy Society of those who make planned gifts.
On the equine medical center council, Shehan was known for being a direct speaker who was never shy with an opinion.
“I witnessed contractors who realized immediately her prowess and decided to take proposals elsewhere,” said Shelley Duke, who succeeded Shehan as council chair in 1999 and still serves in that position. “With her scrutiny and craftiness, regardless of her diminutive physical size, she came out the victor.”
At one point 20 years ago, when the financial viability of the center was questioned, Shehan stepped forward with an extraordinarily generous challenge gift that is credited with saving the center.
"Very likely the equine medical center would have been closed in 1991 if not for Jean Ellen's support and her challenge to maintain it as a center of excellence," said the center’s director Dr. Nathaniel White, who since 2004 has held the Jean Ellen Shehan Professor and Director title, which was established in 1996 through a gift Shehan made.
In a 1990 Virginia Tech Magazine profile, Shehan described the center as “an important component of the health services available to the equine community.”
Thanks in no small measure to her generosity, two decades later that is still the case.
“Her kindness, love of horses, and dedication to veterinary medicine will live on for generations,” said the veterinary college’s current dean, Dr. Gerhardt Schurig. “We are indebted to her for her tremendous support of the college and of our Marion du Pont Scott Equine Medical Center. Our condolences to Jean Ellen’s family and friends. Jean Ellen will not be forgotten.”
- Vital Signs is the e-newsletter of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine
- Equine medical center summer 2011 newsletter (PDF)