As part of its Centennial Celebration, Rice University honored many of its supporters and friends from the Houston and Texas communities at a luncheon Oct. 12 in the Centennial Tent in Founder’s Court.
Among the guests were leaders of Houston’s business community and philanthropic communities and foundations, elected officials, leaders of the Texas Medical Center, leaders of Houston’s churches and “leaders of every segment of Houston joining with us to recognize the important fundamental relationship that has existed,” Rice President David Leebron said.
“We are here to celebrate the remarkable gift to the city of Houston,” Leebron said, who noted that William Marsh Rice became the richest man in Texas and ultimately decided to leave his wealth to start the Rice Institute.
“That gift has not been a one-way street,” Leebron said. “We at Rice have tried to give back to Houston in so many different ways – everything from hurricane protection to educating our school children here in the city. At the same time we take immense advantage of everything the city has to offer both in terms of the research of our faculty and, of course, the education of our students.”
Rice has worked particularly well with the institutions of the Texas Medical Center and neighboring Museum District, he said.
Rice Board of Trustees Chair Jim Crownover ’65 said it is hard to separate Rice and Houston. “Houston is more than Rice, and Rice is more than Houston,” he said. “Their histories are intertwined and their successes shared. They grew up together starting 100 years ago.”
A “mosquito-ridden city of 80,000” has become a major world-class city, and what used to be a treeless swamp now houses a beautiful campus for a very prestigious research university, Crownover said.
“All of us feel better when we go to sleep at night,” he said, because the top two elected officials in Houston are Rice graduates.
Both of those officials were at the luncheon.
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett ’71 said the impact of Rice University on Harris County and the community is vast. “We know about the buildings, the finances. We know about the discoveries for research. But the real impact is through the people, not just elected officials, not just athletes, not just Nobel Prize winners. But librarians, engineers, lawyers, architects – all have come out of this institution to make our community strong,” he said.
Houston Mayor Annise Parker ’78 was introduced by Rich Kinder, who along with wife, Nancy, is a supporter of Rice’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research.
Kinder said Parker is “a great leader for our great city” and noted that “by most measures, this metropolitan area has been the most successful of any in America in coming out of a pretty deep recession.” He recalled the night that Parker was elected mayor and began her victory speech by saying, “I’m very proud that I’m the first (pause) Rice graduate ever elected mayor of Houston.”
Parker recalled that night as well and said that when she was writing her speech, it was important that she said something that connected her back to the entire city. “I struggled over what that could be, and finally it came to me that mentioning an institution that had not just shaped me but shaped the entire city would be a way to bridge many lines,” she said.
“In the next 100 years of Rice University, we will continue as a city and as a university to work together, always in a perpetual forward motion: Rice University and the city of Houston – no upper limit,” she said.
James A. Baker III, honorary chair of Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, paid tribute to his grandfather, Capt. James A. Baker, who created and chaired the first board for the Rice Institute.
“I think a major reason my grandfather wanted to make Rice a great school is because he well understood the critical relation between higher education and city building,” Baker said. “Without great minds, it’s really hard to have a great city.”
Baker said his grandfather would be “very, very proud of the excellence that this university has attained” and would start making a checklist of the things that need to be done during the next 100 years to make Rice even better. “My grandfather understood that if you don’t prepare for the future, you risk losing what you have gained in the past. So even as we celebrate the last 100 years, let us rededicate ourselves to the next century of Rice’s existence.”
Throughout the community luncheon, portions of the video “Beyond the Hedges: Rice and the City of Houston” were shown on large screens along the walls of the Centennial Tent.