Abernathy Family Starts Scholarship in Memory of Husband and Father's Generosity

When Monique Abernathy and her daughters, Peyton Abernathy Villarreal and Tessa Abernathy, decided to create two scholarships at the University of Houston in honor of her late husband John Abernathy ('67), they knew the gift should reflect his two greatest passions: the food industry and the practice of helping others. 

John dedicated his life to the business of food, an industry his family was passionate about. His father Lewis Perry Abernathy was one of the founders of Sysco Foods. After John graduated from UH, where he majored in business administration "with a minor in psychology," which Tessa and Peyton said he never let them forget, he worked at Zero Foods Co., then Armour and Co., before spending over 20 years at Sysco. He met Monique in New Orleans while she was working at the company as well. They got married and raised their daughters in Louisiana until 2008 when they returned to his hometown of Houston. 

His love for his work was no secret. Monique, Peyton and Tessa remember friends calling him by the nickname "Big Daddy Meats." That was why they chose for the first scholarship in John's memory to support a student in the Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality and Leadership. They hope the gift from the Abernathy Family Foundation, which also includes his sister, Lynda Topp, and son, Matthew Abernathy, will help somebody who is as enthusiastic as John was about the food and restaurant business to launch their career. 

In 2019, Peyton decided to attend her father's alma mater after finishing her bachelor's and master's degrees in biomedical science at Texas A&M and was struggling to find the right job. She describes him as steadfast in his support.  

"He had such grace with me when I was finding my way, saying, 'Look, as long as you're getting where you need to go, I will support you in anything you need.'" 

She chose UH College of Nursing's one year program for students who have already completed their undergraduate studies because she appreciated the various career paths the degree made possible.  

"I feel like nursing doesn't get enough credit for all of the things that you can do once you get that degree. There are school nurses. There are nurses who work on oil rigs or cruises."  

Her younger sister, Tessa, was also studying to be a nurse at the same time. She describes her father as extremely supportive and helpful during their coinciding nursing programs.   

"He woke my sister up for class. He cooked breakfast for her. He would drive my car to the gas station while I was in class and fill it up for me. We were very blessed to have him there to help us accomplish our goals." 

John's eagerness to help others extended beyond his family. He often offered support to anyone he met throughout his career and life, whether it was lending money, giving business advice or encouraging people to achieve their goals. He even had a group text with some of his daughter’s friends in which he would give stock and financial advice. 

Inspired by John's acts of kindness, Monique, Peyton and Tessa wanted to carry on his legacy of paying it forward. They created the Abernathy Family Foundation's second scholarship at UH College of Nursing. They felt this scholarship would ensure somebody else could experience support akin to what they received from John. 

"We hope it ends up going to somebody who doesn't have that support in their life," Peyton shares. She encourages others to consider contributing to a scholarship. "The support is monetary and tangible, but every little bit helps, no matter what it is."   

What comforts the Abernathy women is that the scholarship is not only a way to honor John's legacy, but a way to keep his memory and his generous spirit alive.  

"We hope there is somebody out there who goes, 'Wow. Thank you to this man who helped me achieve my goals.'"