Founder of UT’s International Office, Joe W. Neal, dies at 96

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Joe W. Neal, founder of UT’s International Office and a former professor in both the College of Communication and the College of Liberal Arts, died Jan. 14 at the age of 96.

Neal earned a bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degree in government from UT and was considered by many colleagues to be instrumental in bringing international education to Texas. He worked with the governments of dozens of countries to establish exchange programs for faculty and students with universities in Texas.

When UT could no longer support the number of international students seeking access to an American education, Neal created the Texas International Education Consortium in 1985. The consortium broadened the number of universities whose faculty and resources foreign countries could access.

Pam Stephenson, former vice president of finance for the consortium, said Neal’s creativity and drive left an enormous impact on the scene of international education.

“If nothing else, he taught me, if there’s a way to get it done, do it,” Stephenson, who worked with Neal for 47 years, said. “He truly helped us to be who we are today.”

Stephenson said the lesson she learned from Neal’s life was to work toward a vision for the future.

“He never stopped working,” Stephenson said. “We might be in Malaysia one day and Thailand two days later and China the next.”

Stephenson said Neal believed international education should be focused on making students be useful for their country.

“It was about making sure that they got an education and then did something in their country,” she said.

Among the students was Abdullah al-Tariki, who attended UT before returning to his home country of Saudi Arabia to become the co-founder of OPEC and the first Saudi oil minister.

“He had a great sense for programs,” Bill Franklin, a former president of the consortium, said. “He had a sense of what we were capable of doing through the [consortium].”

Neal was instrumental in creating other international programs as well, including the National Association of Foreign Student Affairs, the Association of International Education Administrators and the Texas Partners of the Americas. 

John Schmidt, academic coordinator for the consortium, said Neal enjoyed the people and activity associated with international education. Neal owned a ranch named Horse Thief Hollow, which was a short distance from Austin, and used it to welcome Fulbright scholars, exchange students and friends with Texas barbecue and culture.

“He delighted in welcoming people, whether they were local Austinites or international visitors,” Schmidt said. “He’d get a Christmas card from somebody and they’d get a two- or three-page typed letter.”

Margie Kidd, executive director of Global Austin, a nonprofit that grew from a UT international hospitality committee created by Neal, said Neal was a mentor to many of those who knew him.

“He had a real instinct for people,” Kidd said. “He liked to take young people that he thought had a future and were bright and put them in positions of responsibility.”