Rice trustee emeritus Ralph O’Connor dies at 92

Rice trustee emeritus Ralph O'Connor died Dec. 30. He was 92.

Rice trustee emeritus Ralph O’Connor died Dec. 30. He was 92.

Rice trustee emeritus Ralph O’Connor, a Houston entrepreneur, civic leader and philanthropist, died Dec. 30. He was 92.

A longtime supporter of Rice, O’Connor served as a term governor for the university from 1967 to 1976 and then as a trustee from 1976 to 1988. He returned as a trustee from 1994 until 1996. He and his wife, Becky, provided lead funding for the George R. Brown Tennis Center.

O’Connor was named the inaugural recipient of the Chairman’s Award, the university’s highest honor for service, by the Rice Board of Trustees in May 2018. He is an honorary member of the Association of Rice Alumni and received the association’s greatest honor, the Gold Medal. For his support of Rice athletics, the R Association gave him the Honorary “R” Award.

“Few people have had the impact that Ralph O’Connor had on Rice University,” Rice President David Leebron said. “His generosity, advice and encouragement were both broad and deep. He understood universities in a very profound way, and was an important leader and adviser at Rice for decades. He helped shape the Rice University we know today, and we’ll miss him greatly.”

O’Connor was the benefactor of the old Rice president’s house, which was named O’Connor House before its renovation and conversion to office use in 2004. He was chairman of the search that led to the hiring of George Rupp as university president in 1985, and as president of the Marian and Speros Martel Foundation he was instrumental in the creation of Martel College.

The Ralph S. O’Connor Chair in Economics was created in 2015 through a $2.5 million gift from O’Connor, who is also the namesake of the Ralph O’Connor Award for Distinction in Teaching and Research in Economics. O’Connor also established the John J. Casbarian Travel Fund, which allows Rice School of Architecture students to analyze and absorb other environments, often across international boundaries.

As lovers of art, the O’Connors donated the owl sculpture by Geoffrey Dashwood in Hindman Garden and the Po-um (Lyric) sculpture on the north lawn adjacent to the Moody Center for the Arts on the Rice campus.

O’Connor was the founder and chief executive officer of the investment firm Ralph S. O’Connor & Associates. He held a B.A. in biology from Johns Hopkins University and completed Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Program.

“He was such a mentor to me in both business and philanthropy, especially in encouraging my support of and participation with Rice,” said Rice trustee emerita Karen George ‘77, who has been an associate with Ralph S. O’Connor & Associates since 1987. She received a scholarship funded by O’Connor’s Highland Resources as a student at Rice before taking a job with the company in 1981.

“He gave me the opportunity to work with him in so many areas of Rice, including searches for a football coach and a university president,” George said. “I learned so much from him and have tried to follow in his footsteps, being involved at Rice and the community. It’s been such an honor and a privilege to work for him.”

A visitation with the family will be held from 5-7 p.m. Jan. 11 at Geo. H. Lewis & Sons, 1010 Bering Drive. A memorial mass will be held at 1 p.m. Jan. 12 at St. Anne Catholic Church, 2140 Westheimer Road.

About Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is a senior editor in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.