For University of Mississippi alumna Teri Fontenot, an unexpected job offer over 40 years ago paved the way for a fruitful and rewarding career in the health care industry. Now, with a gift to the Patterson School of Accountancy, she’s expressing her gratitude for the degree that made it all possible.
Fontenot’s $50,000 gift to the Patterson School Building Fund came after she met with Accountancy Dean Mark Wilder and left impressed by the potential of the school’s new home. The school will honor Fontenot’s gift by naming a meeting room in honor of her and her late husband, Gerald.
“The school building is designed to be a fabulous learning center for students,” Fontenot said. “I wanted to show my support and appreciation for the accounting education I received at Ole Miss. It was pivotal in my career success.”
As a commuting student in the 1970s, Fontenot described herself as a “nontraditional” student by most Ole Miss standards of that era. Born in Biloxi, Mississippi, and raised in Clinton, Fontenot married at 18 and had her first child at 20. Two years later, she was facing a future as a single mother and “knew she needed a college education” to support her daughter.
“Ole Miss provided financial assistance and the advisors were very supportive and accommodating,” Fontenot recalled. “Back then, few students commuted. I lived in Pontotoc (Mississippi) and drove to campus every day. I worked part-time for an accounting firm while taking 18 credit hours in the fall and 15 in the spring.”
Fontenot finished a bachelor’s degree in business administration with an accounting emphasis in three years.
Soon after graduation in 1979, she moved to Ruston, Louisiana, to be closer to her parents who helped with her young daughter while she established her career.
While working as a controller for a private company, Fontenot was approached about a vacancy for the controller position at Saint Francis Medical Center in Monroe, Louisiana. As it turned out, she entered the field at a pivotal time in the medical industry.
“Medicare was shifting its payment model from fee for service, which paid hospitals for services as billed, to a prospective payment system, for which payment was pre-established for 479 different diagnoses. The risk shifted from the payer to the clinical provider,” Fontenot said.
During that time, Fontenot also passed the CPA exam and earned a MBA.
After a stint as the chief financial officer of the South Florida Regional Medical Center in Fort Myers, FL, Fontenot returned to Louisiana and was the CFO at Opelousas General Hospital and Woman’s Hospital in Baton Rouge. She was promoted to CEO at Woman’s, where she would remain for 23 years, retiring in 2019.
Fontenot received the Distinguished Service Award, the highest honor bestowed by the American Hospital Association. She was named by Modern Healthcare magazine to its inaugural list of the “Top 25 Women in Healthcare” and twice selected as one of the “Top 100 Most Influential People in Healthcare.” She is also the recipient of the inaugural Healthcare Hero award from the Louisiana Department of Health and was named the Baton Rouge Businessperson of the Year. She currently serves as an independent director on audit committees of public and private company boards.
Wilder said Fontenot’s gift helps make the new 110,000-square-foot Patterson School on the corner of University Avenue and Grove Loop a reality.
“This will be the finest building at Ole Miss in the best location on campus. This wonderful facility will provide unprecedented visibility for our programs and will help us tremendously in recruiting,” Wilder said. “The Patterson School is ranked No. 8 in the nation and first in the SEC, and we believe our new building will provide an opportunity for us to become the top ranked accounting program in the country. We are grateful to Teri for her generous support, and are honored to have the Fontenot name associated with our new building.”
Ultimately, Fontenot said Ole Miss provided the springboard to jumpstart her professional life.
“I’m so grateful for the opportunity to earn an accounting degree because it launched my career, and I couldn’t have done it without the support and cooperation of the professors at Ole Miss,” she said.
The university continues to play a role in the lives of Fontenot and her family. Her daughter and granddaughter are UM graduates, the younger one earning an undergraduate degree last May and currently working on her post-graduate degree. In 2022, Fontenot was honored with induction into the Ole Miss Alumni Association Hall of Fame.
By Andy Belt/UM Foundation