Attorney Touts UH as 'Jewel in the Crown of Houston'UH System Board of Regent Secretary Nelda Luce Blair commits to public service, giving back to alma mater

Dedication to community runs in the family for Nelda Luce Blair. Following the examples of her great-grandfather - a state representative who rode on horseback from East Texas to the state capitol - and her father, who served his community in countless ways, Blair learned early on that she should use her talents to help others.

In her positions as secretary of the University of Houston System Board of Regents and chairman of The Woodlands Township Board, Blair does just that, using her skills to bring about positive change in her community.

"I am very, very blessed in what I have and what my life has been like," Blair said. "[Service] is an obligation. My Lord wants me to give back, and that is what I do."

Raised in Conroe, Blair said those around her knew before she did what career path she would take.

"Everyone around me insisted that I should probably be an attorney," she said. "I argued really well, from the age of 12 years on, I'm a public speaker. ... I have also been a writer most of my life, and that is a big part of being a lawyer as well."

After completing her undergraduate degree at Baylor University, Blair transferred to the University of Houston Law Center, where she completed her education.

 "The University of Houston was the place that I needed to be for the kind of education that I wanted," she said. "It allowed me not only to come home to Conroe, but to go to a school that really had the type of law degree I wanted."

Blair spent much of her time on campus in the law library, and she was rarely seen without at least one heavy law book in her hands. While she loved her classes, and appreciated the opportunity to study the law in-depth, Blair said her most worthwhile experience at UH actually occurred off campus.

As part of her degree requirements, Blair took a class allowing her to do in-court observation. For that class, she observed a district judge in Conroe.

"He was such a dear - he let me sit with the jury, he would take me into the chambers whenever he heard arguments from the lawyers, he would counsel with me on ideas about how he was going to rule on a certain case," she said. "I learned more in that semester than I did in all of law school put together. It was the actual experience that I think makes the big difference."

By giving her the opportunity to learn from those already practicing law, Blair said she believes UH gave her an advantage that helped pave the path for her future career.

"I am very proud of my education," she said. "There were so many different things that you could use to shape what kind of law future you were going to have, so many different courses, so many different opportunities."

Her UH education provided her with everything she needed to be able to transition straight from law school to private practice, which she did in 1982 after graduation, Blair said.

"I learned the kinds of things I needed to know to arm me to go right into the practice of law," she said.

After a few years in private practice, Blair became a special prosecutor for the state over real estate matters.

But even as she was working as a prosecutor, Blair, who describes her energy as boundless, started her own practice on the side.

"I had this full-time practice already by the time I left the prosecutor's office," she said. "I went right into it."

One day, a friend suggested she try out for a television show on Fox, called "Texas Justice." While she wasn't cast in that show, producers for another Hollywood show saw her tryout and thought she would do well on their show - "Power of Attorney." Ultimately, she was cast in the national show, which ran for nearly two years, and involved Blair representing people in small-claims cases.

"I spent the next two years going to Hollywood once a month and taping shows for four days," Blair said. "It was the most fun I ever had in my entire legal career."

As an offshoot of her time on the show, Blair now frequently appears as a legal commentator on CNN, FoxNews, CBS News, MSNBC and CourtTV, where she offers her legal expertise on a variety of national cases.

In addition to maintaining her law practice, Blair over the years became interested in politics and began to see that as an opportunity to serve her community. That interest ultimately led to her decision to run for a position on The Woodlands Township, a governmental body that oversees The Woodlands. Blair now serves as the chair of that board.

"It was very natural for me to get on this township board at a time when things are really moving and shaking," Blair said. "A lot is going on, and they need someone that is not afraid to open doors, and that is me."

Her ability to open doors has also made her an asset on another board - the UH System Board of Regents. Blair was appointed to the board in 2008 by Gov. Rick Perry. She said she jumped on the chance to serve her alma mater.

"When I realized the track that UH is on - this Tier-One push was just beginning - I am the kind of person that takes hold of something like that and doesn't let go until it's done," she said.

In her time on the board, Blair has focused her energy on strengthening relationships between the UH System and the Texas Legislature.

"What I have been best at so far is my legislative connections," she said. "I have been very involved in governmental affairs for a long time. I have been at the capitol, year after year, testifying in a number of cases that I happen to have a heart for, and so I have connections."

Recently, those connections were instrumental in helping to pass Proposition 4, the constitutional amendment that will help pave the way for UH and other state institutions to reach Tier One. Blair created a Political Action Committee to help raise awareness around the state about the campaign.

 "That was very exciting," she said. "It was just so important."

Blair said she is committed to seeing UH achieve Tier-One status. She does her best to spread that message to everyone she speaks with, everywhere she goes.

"Number one, I tell them [UH] is already a jewel in the crown of Houston, whether they realize it or not," she said. "They need to [realize it], because it needs to be a bigger jewel, it needs to have a bigger position in that crown, because it is so important to every aspect in Houston."

-- By Michelle Klump