Bryson says ‘goodbye’ to Rice

The moment Barbara Bryson had been dreading finally arrived: the time to say “goodbye.”

Rice’s associate vice president for facilities engineering and planning (FE&P) announced in February that she has been named vice president for strategic planning and analysis at the University of Arizona.

Barbara Bryson displays some of the Rice mementos she received from the FE&P staff during her farewell reception. (Photo by Jeff Fitlow)

“For the last month I have been telling everybody I met that I’m not saying ‘goodbye,’ but I guess I finally can’t avoid it,” Bryson told members of the FE&P staff and colleagues who attended a farewell reception March 18 at Cohen House.

President David Leebron called Bryson’s departure a “bittersweet moment” for the university because she has made “enormous” contributions to the success of the university and now has an opportunity to take on even greater responsibilities at the University of Arizona.

Bryson joined the Rice staff in 2000 as director of planning and project management and became associate vice president in 2004. In her 14 years here, she oversaw the construction of more than 15 buildings and numerous renovations during a nearly 40 percent expansion of the built campus, much of it under the Vision for the Second Century. She also taught at the School of Architecture and the Jones Graduate School of Business, shared her leadership skills as staff chair of Rice’s United Way campaign and served as an associate of McMurtry College.

“What Barbara brings to every role she’s had is a professionalism and a passion that make her at every moment the right person for that role in terms of care and thoughtfulness, attention to detail and communication with all constituencies,” Leebron said.

Those qualities enable Bryson to build trust with people, he said.

“In her position she has helped us not just through those great opportunities to build new buildings but by making sure that in times of crisis like hurricanes we’ve done what we needed to do,” he said. Leebron also noted her role in the ongoing maintenance of the campus.

“Barbara, we could not be more grateful for what you have provided to this university, and many of us are doubtful that we could have achieved what we have without what you specifically contributed to it,” he said.

Jay Collins, who chairs the Board of Trustees’ Building and Grounds Committee, commended Bryson for maintaining Rice’s “fabulous campus” – even during Houston’s severe drought – and for building “a billion dollars’ worth of buildings on time, on budget.”

Among those buildings was the Rice Children’s Campus – the university’s first building to earn certification for meeting Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, which became a criteria for all new buildings as part of campuswide sustainability efforts.

“Thank you for taking all the phone calls that you’ve received from interested Rice people who just happened to find that one thing they care about on the campus that just needed a little twist,” Collins said. “I’m sure there were hundreds or maybe thousands of these phone calls, and all have been handled with extreme professionalism.”

Vice President for Administration Kevin Kirby said he has developed an appreciation for how important the campus is to recruiting the best faculty and students to Rice and Houston. “Today we’re honoring the person who’s had the challenge of taking care of our campus, growing it, developing it, making sure that it remains one of the great campuses in the world,” he said.

He said Bryson met the three criteria he tells his students are important to career decisions: being in the right place at the right time in the right role.  “As an architect and planner, you couldn’t imagine a better place to be than Rice over the last 10 years,” Kirby said.

Kirby said Bryson has “poured her heart and soul” into Rice. “You couldn’t ask for anything more. We’re really proud of what she’s accomplished, both personally and professionally.”

Even with the nonstop demands of being associate vice president for FE&P, Bryson managed to earn a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania and to write a book on the design and construction industry. She also was named a fellow of the American Institute of Architects and a senior fellow of the Design Futures Council during her career at Rice.

Both Collins and Kirby noted that Bryson is leaving Rice a better place than when she arrived. “There’s no doubt the campus is far better off than when Barbara came,” Kirby said. “That’s a great legacy for anyone.”

Speaking on behalf of the FE&P staff, University Architect David Rodd said there were other things besides buildings that were important to the staff’s relationship with Bryson.

“Everything we are living and doing came from Barbara,” he said. Rodd said Bryson’s emphasis on respect was her “predominant message.” “She’s treated every person who has crossed our threshold with respect. It translates into fair treatment. It translates into a community of success for everyone.”

He also cited Bryson’s emphasis on truth, responsibility, improvement and innovation.

“All those things are really true, but when you wrap it all up, the key to it all is that Barbara cares so deeply,” he said. “She cares about this university and she gave her all. She made us feel like we’re more than employees. She made us partners; she made us real stakeholders in everything we do.

“Barbara, we don’t want you to go,” he said. “But we do want you to go on, we want you to go onward, we want you to go upward and we want you to go forward.”

A tearful Bryson then came to the lectern. She expressed thanks “for this wonderful acknowledgment and for the many challenges and opportunities you’ve given me.”

Her list of goodbyes began with “this wonderful campus – the campus that captured my heart and my imagination the very first time I set foot on it.”

She continued with the “extraordinary faculty and staff that surprises me every single day with their accomplishments and their talents” and the “smartest students I’ve ever known, especially those at McMurtry – go Murts!”

She paid tribute to her favorite clients and some of her favorite partners on campus, as well as to the Building and Grounds Committee.

She cited the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen as “the single project of which I think I am most proud,” and she picked Brockman Hall and South Plant as “two of the buildings I love the most of all the buildings that have been added to the campus in the last 14 years.”

And she said the integrated campus planning process that she implemented “will not only profoundly change how Rice thinks about planning, but will have impact far beyond our hedges.”

Bryson said that saying ”goodbye” to everyone in FE&P was “the really hard part.” She started with the “extraordinary leadership team, which we affectionately call ‘the TLC,’” and acknowledged all the different operations and teams within FE&P.

“My dear friends in FE&P, I have done my best to support you in your jobs supporting the teaching and research missions of this incredible institution,” she said. “Each of you in return has made me so proud every day. I will miss you more than you know.”

Susann Glenn, manager of communications for FE&P, presented Bryson with a collection of Rice memorabilia to take to Arizona. And she announced a special gift.

“As a department, we have decided to keep a tradition alive that Barbara began at our annual meetings many years ago, when she would find people from the department who have gone above and beyond their duties and hand out an award she called her Secret Weapon Award,” Glenn said. “Our plan is to keep the award alive, and it will be known as the Barbara Bryson Secret Weapon Award.”

In her final remarks, Bryson quoted Winston Churchill, who once said, “We shape our buildings; thereafter, they shape us.”

“I don’t think there ever was a place that demonstrated that so well as Rice,” Bryson said. She said the campus and architecture have always been an essential component of Rice’s existence.

“I have cherished the culture and tradition and frankly tried my best to live up to that challenge,” she said. “Thank you for letting me be part of this special place and this extraordinary community of people. Goodbye, Rice.”


About B.J. Almond

B.J. Almond is senior director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.