Ray Neag, CLAS ’56, grew up in a working-class family that embraced giving. His father was a molder in a foundry in Torrington, Conn., a heavy smoker who worked each day with molten metal that so desensitized his fingertips that he could – and did – stub his cigarettes out on them without feeling any pain.
The son laughs heartily at the memory, but rejoices even more fully in his parents’ generosity.
“We sort of grew up understanding that if you had enough to eat and a good home, you should share your fortune with other people,” says Ray, who with his wife Carole has emerged as UConn’s most avid and generous supporter. “They brought us up in an era when everybody shared whatever they could. There was no selfishness.”
Ray Neag’s mother died when he was 10, and his older sisters stepped in to raise the family. Among them was Letitia Neag, whose loving and kindly nature Neag remembers with particular fondness. Letitia Neag Morgan died last October, leaving a devoted collection of family and friends. Ray and Carole Neag wanted to pay tribute to her caring nature, and have given $1.5 million to create the Letitia Neag Morgan Chair for Educational Psychology in the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut.
“Our focus is UConn,” says Ray Neag, “and in thinking about what to do with some of our good fortune, we thought that because education was so important to Letitia, wouldn’t this be a nice way to honor her?”
Their enthusiasm for this particular gift, one given in tribute to a woman they both loved and admired, is evident. They delight in remembering Letitia, and interrupt one another’s sentences in their eagerness to recall stories about her spontaneity and generosity.
“She was a wonderful mother, and she loved being with the children,” Ray Neag says. “And she far preferred making cookies with them to making the beds.”
She had a way with older people as well.
“She had a wonderful capacity for caring for people, and a kindness and gentleness,” Carole Neag says. “Here’s an example: Letitia was Episcopalian, but every Sunday, she would pick up one lady, an elderly retired schoolteacher, and take her to the Catholic Church. Letitia sat with her there week after week, and the priest finally said to her, ‘Mrs. Morgan, you’re here all the time but I don’t see you on our registry.’ And Letitia said, ‘Well, Father, I’d like to join. But I belong to the Episcopalian church up the street.’”
And Carole Neag laughs and laughs, because the story is so typical Letitia, a woman who helped other souls throughout her life, and was sure to take care of her own too.
Her obituary in the Torrington Register-Citizen is evidence of a life well-lived and fondly remembered: “She loved to read and she loved Torrington. She loved singing and music, ice water, her church, her Romanian heritage, and her friends. She loved family occasions and holidays. She filled every event with her personality and her energy. She was so proud of her children that she talked about them more than she should have sometimes. She was the best mother, grandmother, aunt, and friend that anyone could have. She took care of many people as a Head Start teacher’s aide, a nurse’s and home health aide, and a grandma. She was the light in every room and the heart of her family. Throughout her life, her most joyful occasions were times spent with her children and grandchildren. Letitia’s life is a testimony to simple gifts and pleasures: time with those you love, swimming on a sunny day, a snow storm, a rain shower; singing hymns, reading on a quiet afternoon, and jet skiing on her 80th birthday – all were regarded as celebrations of life and gifts of joy.”
Letitia Neag Morgan can now add one more accomplishment: a chair that will support education at the University of Connecticut, where so many of her loved ones received their education.
“This gift will help UConn with its goals to get the brightest and the best,” her brother says, “and Letitia would have liked that.”
To give to the Neag School of Education at UConn, please contact the Foundation’s development department.