Baker Institute Gala Co-Chair Franci Neely Prepares for Fall Event Featuring Hillary Clinton, Henry Kissinger

Franci Neely
4 min readSep 5, 2023


As Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy gears up for its 30th-anniversary celebration on Oct. 26, gala co-chair and benefactor Franci Neely is eagerly counting down to the event, which will host former U.S. Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger, James A. Baker III, and Hillary Rodham Clinton, with CBS Evening News anchor Norah O’Donnell moderating the discussion.

Neely, a member of the board of advisers of Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, also co-chaired its 25th-anniversary celebration, attended by President Barack Obama.

“The demand for credible analysis from trusted sources is stronger than ever before,” David Satterfield, director of the Baker Institute and former ambassador to Turkey and Syria, said in a press release. “The gala will look back on the institute’s foundation of excellence and look forward to how actionable data and resources can benefit both the public and policymakers.”

Focusing on the theme “Raising a Meaningful Voice,” the slogan pays homage to Baker’s words, which are written on the facade of the James A. Baker III Hall on Rice’s campus. The institute is also named after him. The former secretary of state served President George H.W. Bush from 1989 through 1992, and was secretary of the treasury from 1985 to 1988 for President Ronald Reagan. He launched his career in 1975 as undersecretary of commerce to President Gerald Ford. The Houston native received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1991, and has traveled the world discussing political challenges and solutions.

More than 200 research fellows, scholars, and affiliated experts work with the Baker Institute offering data-driven studies on everything from economics and finance to energy, health science, and presidential elections. Through the years, the institute strengthened and broadened its research and programming to include the Center for Energy Studies, the Center for Health and Biosciences, the Center for the Middle East, Mexico Center, the Center for Public Finance, and additional areas of study.

Franci Neely’s Memorable History With the Baker Institute

The Houston-based philanthropist says she became affiliated with the Baker Institute through her friend Ambassador Edward Djerejian, the founding director. “He was the executive director of the Baker Institute for over a quarter of a century,” Franci Neely informs. “He recently retired from that position. Ambassador David Satterfield succeeded him, and he’s wonderful in that post.”

Djerejian has praised Neely’s role on the board. “Franci Neely serves with distinction,” Djerejian said. “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, a passionate world traveler, brings a global perspective to all of her philanthropic endeavors. Djerejian has also publicly recognized Neely and her co-chairs for building something they can be proud of together.

Neely says she was delighted to be invited to the board of advisers for the Baker Institute and she plans to continue her support for the nonpartisan research group. In 2018, the 25th-anniversary gala, which featured former President Barack Obama and Baker on a panel moderated by Jon Meacham, raised $5.4 million for Baker Institute’s research efforts.

Neely recalls an entertaining story about the influential historian.

“Jon Meacham said he was at a book fair one time with his new book and a very attractive woman approached,” Neely shares. “The woman said, ‘Oh my heavens, you’re here. I’ve always wanted to meet you. And I want you to sign your new book. I’m going to go buy it. I’ll be right back.’ And Meacham perked up at that. He straightened his hair and his collar and got ready for this woman to come back to sign her book.”

When the woman returned she handed Meacham a book — John Grisham’s newest novel. That’s when Meacham realized she’d mixed him up with the bestselling legal thriller author. When Franci Neely met Meacham, she playfully handed him a copy of a Grisham novel to sign for her.

At this year’s gala, Neely says she’s looking forward to a meaningful soiree with influential, independent thinkers.

“We want to have fun and have a fun dinner, but this is really about a thoughtful discussion of a number of issues,” Neely adds. “It’s a thought-provoking evening — one in which we’ll be celebrating the Baker Institute’s 30 years in existence.”

Revealing some of the responsibilities behind her role, Neely says being a gala chair or co-chair means not only lending your name to the event, but hopefully attracting friends and acquaintances to support the mission to benefit a worthy cause. Franci Neely reiterates that much time and energy goes into making the gala a success and it couldn’t be done without a dedicated staff and co-chairs to ensure the evening is running smoothly.

In addition to raising funds, creating a night to remember is paramount, according to Neely.

She says this gala will be a similar format to the 25th-anniversary gala and will include dining and a conversation among the three former secretaries of state. She’ll be in good company with gala co-chairs Ann and Karl Stern, and Sheridan and John Eddie Williams Jr.

“Before that, there’s a time to gather and sip your beverage of choice and maybe have a few hors d’oeuvres and see friends,” Neely shares. “And hopefully on a pretty Houston night that’s not 107 degrees, I hope.”

For more information on how to attend or support Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy’s 30th-Anniversary Gala, visit

Originally published at on September 5, 2023.