Weekday afternoons in the late fall and winter you’ll find Tom Nerney ’77 not behind his office desk at United States Liability Insurance Group (USLI), where he’s chairman, president, and CEO, but on the gym floor at Germantown Academy in Fort Washington, Pa., where he volunteers as assistant coach of the school’s girls’ basketball team.
His focus is not so much to design plays or run passing drills, but to help his captains assert their leadership, to help players work through conflicts that might arise, and to get everyone to understand the concept of team.
“I’m more on the ‘dynamic’ side,” is the way he puts it. “I try to reach into people to help them get better.”
One reason he’s so well suited to this role is that others played it for him when he was a student at Cabrini.
Tom Nerney and Jill Chambers met at Cabrini as sophomores. Jill was a biology major and a strong student. Tom majored in social science and philosophy and played basketball (he was inducted into the Cabrini Athletic Hall of Fame in 2006). They started dating and were engaged by fall of senior year. They broke off that engagement, but got back together a couple of years later and now have been married 32 years.
When they talk about Cabrini, they talk about getting two educations: the academic one, and then something else.
“I was searching to find out who I was,” says Tom. He credits faculty members and administrators for helping him with that search, reaching out to him and Jill, spending time with them, genuinely liking them.
One professor taught Tom how to tie a tie, and went with him when he bought Jill’s engagement ring. “It was more than just learning a subject or a discipline. These people really cared about us.”
That caring attitude has stayed with the Nerneys. The couple hosts dinners at their home to support philanthropic efforts for healthcare; Jill is a Trustee of the Bryn Mawr Hospital Foundation; and Tom recently joined the Board of Governors of Main Line Health System.
Tom and Jill have founded two nonprofit organizations: the Nerney Family Foundation, which makes donations to a variety of charitable causes, and A Front Row Seat to Learning, which enables some three dozen low-income Philadelphia-area youth to attend private high schools, and opens up educational opportunities for hundreds of children in Rwanda. Tom and Jill are helping to launch a new Philadelphia high school for low-income students.
At USLI, Jill oversees an internship program providing opportunities for students from Cabrini and other area colleges and universities. Additionally, Tom created a curriculum for those at USLI who have people leadership responsibilities, called Leadership with Heart.
The phrase Education of the Heart may not have been top of mind at Cabrini when the Nerneys were students, but the idea was there, and it stuck. They’re delighted to see the concept being brought to center stage today.
“It was an education outside the classroom,” Tom says. “It was learning to care about other people, to respect other people, to believe in other people. It’s learning to use your heart as a compass in what you’re doing in life.”