Houston-based philanthropist Franci Neely was a co-chair of Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy’s 25th Anniversary Gala, which generated $5.4 million for its research and programming. One of the highlights was chatting with President Barack Obama, although it wasn’t the first time Franci Neely met the 44th president of the United States.
“I’ve been fortunate to get to be in President Obama’s company twice,” recalls Neely. “Once at the Baker Institute Gala and another time during his presidency when he spent a Presidents Day weekend at my former husband’s golf club. His wit and warmth envelop those around him. He is a man of singular perception and integrity.”
During the Baker Institute gala, Obama and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III spoke for nearly an hour in a conversation moderated by presidential historian Jon Meacham. The Nov. 27, 2018, event marked the 25th anniversary of the nonpartisan Baker Institute for Public Policy. The institute has hosted every living former president of the United States since its inception in 1993.
Franci Neely Recognized for Her Important Contributions
“As a member of the Baker Institute’s board of advisers, Franci Neely serves with distinction,” says Ed Djerejian, retired director of Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. “Of particular value to me are her important contributions to the subcommittee for the Center for the Middle East and the subcommittee for Presidential Elections, as well as her generous support of our overall mission.”
Franci Neely says she was one of the most active chair members of the gala. Former U.S. ambassador to Syria and Israel Djerejian, who reported more than 1,000 guests attended the 25th Anniversary Gala for the Baker Institute, says he was honored to have her as a co-chair and without the support of so many, the institute would not be as successful.
“The motto we have chosen for this anniversary, ‘A Quarter Century – Making History,’ bears particular resonance tonight,” Djerejian said. “It symbolizes the culmination of our commitment to strive for excellence and nonpartisanship. You have enabled us to reach the pinnacle of public policy discourse, and you have brought us to the forefront of the plethora of think tanks, both national and international, as our rankings have consistently risen.”
Djerejian stated in a press release that the institute dedicates itself to lending a mindful nonpartisan voice to domestic and foreign policy issues through its research and programs. “In recent years, the institute has introduced and strengthened specific centers and programs that address key issues, including the Center for Energy Studies, Center for Health and Biosciences, Center for the Middle East, Mexico Center, Center for Public Finance, the McNair Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and the Presidential Elections Program,” Djerejian said.
Djerejian also thanked Franci Neely and her fellow co-chairs for providing guidance and fundraising to support the work ahead. “We owe this enormous success to all our loyal supporters and we are deeply grateful for each one of you,” Djerejian said. “You can take pride in what we have built together, for is it not true in life that we are what we build?”
President Obama Deems Baker Institute’s Work ‘Extraordinary’
During the moderated discussion, Obama complimented Baker for “the extraordinary work that’s being done at the institute.”
“I had a chance to meet some of the young people interning here and the excitement they have about the prospect of serving their country in various ways got me excited and inspired, but also let me compliment Jim for the extraordinary service that he rendered the country,” Obama said during the discussion.
Rice University President David Leebron says the gala was a pivotal moment in the institute’s history. The Baker Institute typically hosts more than 150 events annually and covers a variety of public policy topics including drug policies, energy issues, and the refugee crisis. The institute partners with experts from government, business, and academia as well as private and nongovernmental organizations for research projects. Serving fellows and scholars, the institute encourages a constant conversation about research and policy reports for policymakers, leaders, and the world.
“The Baker Institute has become a true jewel of the university,” Leebron said in a video during the gala. “It’s a beacon that attracts respect and admiration from around the globe. After 25 years, it is now ranked the No. 3 university-affiliated think tank in the world. It is an essential and integral part of Rice’s success and our vision of the future.”