When Bob Matthews came to the Vanderbilt School of Medicine, he discovered that at Vanderbilt he was in the company of smart, highly motivated classmates for whom the ethos “work hard, play hard” was the rhythm of life.
Matthews realized that this atmosphere of camaraderie and hard work transcended the classroom when he found himself in an unexpected place for a “skinny former cross-county runner from the middle of nowhere”—the rugby pitch.
“My friends admit that when they invited me to join, they thought I would come out for one or two practices, get broken somehow and give it up,” Matthews says with a laugh. Instead, he played the sport for the next 17 years.
“To me, rugby is everything that sports should be—hard competition on the pitch, and as soon as the match is over, you’re all friends. The best friends I have in life are the people I played rugby with, many of them from when I started playing at Vanderbilt.”
He praises the late Coach Joe Franklin, MLAS’09, as one of the most influential men in his life, crediting Franklin with helping him become more confident and mature and teaching him the meaning of total commitment. Matthews has applied these lessons throughout his career, first in the U.S. Navy, in active duty (14 years) and then the reserves (24 years).
Today Matthews lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he teaches residents at the University of North Carolina and is a surgeon at WakeMed Health and Hospital system. “Our hospital provides 70 percent of the indigent care in the area. To take care of people who don’t do financially well through no fault of their own—that’s an important mission.”
Matthews recently established a planned gift in support of the Rugby Club. While Matthews continues to make annual gifts to his class scholarship and the Joe Franklin Rugby Fund, he has included a bequest in his will to support the club through his estate and documented his gift with the university. He hopes to inspire others to consider a planned gift in support of a cause they are passionate about.
“It’s important that what you leave behind be something important and meaningful to you,” he says. “For me, that’s Vanderbilt rugby. Had my friends not invited me to play, my life would be radically different. I think it would be less of a life. If another kid has the sort of experience I had, it’s worth it.”