52 - Mary Evelyn White

By Courtney Marie Wetzel Zandstra, Xi Kappa/Texas A &M

Last spring, six women sat around pictures to recall dear memories and share beloved stories about the beginning stages of the Xi Kappa Chapter at Texas A&M University. There was a pace that lingered, and no one was in a hurry. It was just a moment of simple gratitude to reflect on the sincere Sisterhood that Chi Omega was and refocus on the Sisterhood that Chi Omega was becoming. Little did this group know that a couple of months later, beloved Mary Evelyn White’s memories, stories, and words would be sacred to the women in that room and something that each person would hold on to dearly.

Mary Evelyn Merritt White, affectionately known as Mev, had that kind of persona to her. Every word she spoke was something that everyone wanted to cling to. Each word was carefully chosen and eloquently used. She was given a platform of leadership that was gratefully used for the welfare of those around her.

Mary Evelyn White as a collegian

“To speak kindly, to act sincerely, to choose thoughtfully that course which occasion and conscience demand.”

“These words from our Symphony beautifully describe the way Mary Evelyn carried herself,” Xi Kappa House Corporation President, Amy Walker said. “Mev was a woman ahead of her time. A loving wife and mother, she was also a successful businesswoman and a tireless volunteer in her community. She carried herself with grace and confidence, and had a unique way of seeing the talent in others while encouraging them to do their very best.”

Mary Evelyn, like many of the women of Chi Omega, bore countless roles. She was known as daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, confidant, friend, mentor, humble leader, faithful servant, beloved advisor, and Sister. Mary Evelyn was an initiate of the Iota Chapter for the University of Texas where she was Personnel Chair and G.H. and later a founding advisor of the Xi Kappa Chapter at Texas A&M University. Mev served at the National level for many years, including four years on the Supreme Governing Council as S.T.B. from 1990-1994, and was actively involved in the design of our National Executive Headquarters in Memphis, TN. She was also awarded Outstanding Personnel Advisor Award in 1990 and the Chi Omega President’s Award in 1996.

She met her husband, Bob White, who brought her to College Station, Texas, home of Texas A&M University. It was in a buffet line that Mev leaned over to a dear friend, Mary Anne Culpepper, and said, “What do you think about starting a Chi Omega chapter?”

Mary Evelyn’s heart when she started the Xi Kappa Chapter was to have women achieve goals with dignity and have a chapter onto itself. With Mary Evelyn and several other devoted women, Xi Kappa began, and because of Mary Evelyn’s selfless leadership and efforts, we now have the wonderful S.H. Shelley Eubanks Potter.

“Upon my first introduction to Mary Evelyn, I knew she was exceptional,” S.H. Shelley Potter said.  “Perhaps it was her stylishness, her warmth or the engaging smile that lit her face. As a sophomore at Texas A&M where women numbered few, I was drawn to the potential of an impressive role model, but what I received exceeded all expectations.  She taught me the essence of being a Chi Omega and continually shaped the arc of my life toward unlimited opportunities all the while inspiring with her extraordinary grace and wisdom.”

Mary Evelyn White, Chairman of the Building Committee and then S.T.B.; Bill McLaughlin, senior vice president of Union Planters National Bank of Memphis, who financed the construction; Melanie Shain, then S.H.; and Shelley Potter, then landscape architect

It is women like Mary Evelyn who teach us all to use our platforms well. She was able to humbly meet everyone where they are. Mary Evelyn was a giver of opportunities and a challenger to remind us all to be our best self. She sought out the best in women when they themselves could not see it. That’s the thing, she truly saw people and took the time to invest.

“Mary Evelyn was one of my primary mentors and supporters when I began volunteering on the National level on the National Recruitment Team,” current S.T.B. Laura Miller said. “When I was appointed chair, it was Mary Evelyn who became my sounding board and champion.

Our friendship grew over the years and her love, care, and advice never wavered. She was a beacon of light and strength in my Chi Omega journey.”

Mary Evelyn used every experience as a building block and platform to grow. Chi Omega gives women the opportunity to continue to say yes well beyond their collegiate experience.

“Because she had such great experience working with Xi Kappa for 15 years before being chosen for the Council, Roselyn Dabbs, S.H. used Mary Evelyn for many visits to active chapters. I had the opportunity to go on some of these trips and our time together was most memorable,” National Archivist Lyn Harris said. “At one chapter, we were trying to motivate the rather apathetic group, so Mev invented an acrostic: FUAGNEM — which meant, “Fired Up And Going Nuts Every Minute!” For the next 25 years — our emails, cards and phone calls to each other always ended with the salutation, “FUAGNEM!”

When Mary Evelyn was serving on Governing Council, National Executive Headquarters made the move to Memphis and she was a driving force in the process. With her vision and leadership, she was able to give invaluable support to the process with great insight and thoughtfulness.

Mary Evelyn White, right, at the groundbreaking ceremonies in Memphis, September 13, 1992 for the Executive Headquarters

“Having Mary Evelyn’s leadership on any project or challenge was a pleasure, but working with her on the Headquarters Building Committee was just the ultimate experience of what can be achieved when everyone is working tirelessly on the same goal,” former S.H. Melanie Shain said. “Her expertise in so many of the pertinent matters of the project were unequaled.”

Chi Omega has always been a place where women are cultivated to go beyond the walls of the beloved Fraternity to do hard and holy things. That is what Mary Evelyn did best. She encouraged women, spoke truth and identity into each one of them, and entrusted them with the secret works and symbolism of our dear Chi Omega. But beyond that, she had an unique ability to create spaces that would welcome and inspire any person who would walk in.

“Mary Evelyn’s extraordinary taste in shades of cardinal and straw and selection of décor to reflect the history of Chi Omega are evident,” Chi Omega Foundation Vice President Sally Kimball said. “When we asked Mary Evelyn why she selected these floors, she stated “to reflect the antiquity of Chi Omega.” Additionally she selected floral fabric for the Boardroom Chairs as she felt this room “should have some feminine touches.”

Throughout the building, Mary Evelyn placed décor with Chi Omega emblems like the pomegranate. Her talented eye for colors, furnishings, and timeless design have created tremendous enjoyment for volunteers, staff, and visitors. Our Fraternity’s strength is due to this magnificent home and those who gather here,” Kimball said.  

Mary Evelyn’s humble obedience and steadfast leadership is the legacy she has imprinted on the walls of 3395 Players Club Parkway. Like our very own Shelley Potter said,“Her fingerprints are on the success of so many and so much.”

“Headquarters Chair, Mary Evelyn, and the national leaders desire for a home for Chi Omega’s archives, professional offices, and meeting space was a great dream made into a remarkable reality,” Kimball said. “Mary Evelyn hoped through the design and décor of the Executive Headquarters that the staff would be viewed as professionals whose role is to support our members nationwide and strategically manage the Fraternity, Foundation, and Chi O Creations. Mary Evelyn’s strategic vision for Chi Omega, her kindness, warmth, intellect, sense of humor, and design skill made her a great friend to our staff and legend for Chi Omega.”

Since the passing of Mary Evelyn back in August of 2018, the Xi Kappa Chapter dedicated their chapter room on November 3, 2018, in memory of her. Mary Evelyn has a lasting legacy rooted deep inside of that chapter facility. Her humble leadership led to the genuine success of this chapter and many others.

Plaque outside of Xi Kappa chapter room in honor of Mary Evelyn White

“It is fitting that Xi Kappa celebrate her exceptional legacy with the naming of our chapter room since she had the vision for its beautiful transformation,” Potter said. “We shall miss her dearly but always be grateful for her friendship and inspiration. We rise to the charge to forever remember her contributions and carry her shining light forward.”

Chi Omega Sisters at NPC meeting, Mary Evelyn White is pictured third from the left in the back row
Mary Evelyn White, pictured middle, at Convention
Mary Evelyn White pictured right
Lyn Harris, left, and Mary Evelyn White, right