Lovett family unveils first president’s statue

On the sun-kissed warm and breezy morning of Oct. 13, 20 great-great-grandchildren of Rice’s first president, Edgar Odell Lovett, unveiled an 8-foot bronze sculpture of the man who launched the trajectory of Rice’s 100 years of success celebrated last week.

Shortly before the unveiling of the statue, located in front of Keck Hall, Molly Hubbard, university art director, welcomed the large crowd assembled for the event and opened a 30-minute program featuring Rice Board of Trustees Chairman Jim Crownover ’65, Rice President David Leebron, Rice historian John Boles and sculptor Bruce Wolfe.

“We were always excited about this project, but we totally underestimated the enthusiasm that this brought,” Crownover said.  “And I think it just shows the great affection and respect that we have for this extraordinary man.”

“First and foremost, we did this to honor President Lovett’s great work and vision,” Leebron said. “But we also did this as an addition to our growing campus art. We sought something that would really be a great piece of work as well as an important monument. It turned out wonderfully.”

Rice historian John Boles said that the statue was placed in front of Keck Hall to recognize the exact spot where Lovett gave his final formal address in March 1946. “It was here that Lovett handed over the baton of leadership to incoming President William Houston,” Boles said.

Wolfe depicts Lovett in motion, stepping forward confidently. He has a book bag bound together and swung over his back with a leather shoulder strap. Young and armed with knowledge, this Lovett is ready to build and shape an outstanding institute of learning, Wolfe said.

The sculptor said he was on a tight deadline and would work for long periods of time.

“The statue took me about 10 months to do,” he said. “I tried to get the feeling of the man himself. I’ve got him walking based off some photos provided by the great research department at Rice.

“I tried to bring some life to his face. I did his head five times. The way the light falls on his face, on his facial bones, it should bring life to him. I don’t think he was an arrogant guy; I think he was determined, and that’s what I tried to capture.”

Wolfe has spent 40 years creating commissioned busts and statues. He’s made likenesses of Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, former Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The base of the statue was built by architect and Rice alumnus Jeff Ryan ’67.

The university announced plans to build a statue of Lovett in June 2011 after the Wortham Foundation issued a $300,000 challenge grant to the university. The grant met about half of the cost to build the tribute, with the rest coming from private donations raised by the university.

Reaction to the statue at the unveiling ceremony

Malcolm Lovett, grandson of Edgar Odell Lovett

“Today is extraordinary, as has been the whole centennial week. This exceeded all of my expectations, both in the terms of the quality of the addresses and the speakers, but more importantly the understanding of the leadership of this community and David (Leebron) to the next century. A foundation has been laid for the next century, and it will be exciting to watch these young people here today develop the institution.

“Bruce did an extraordinary job in capturing a young man and his clear-eyed vision. His eyes are just clear. He knew where he was going.”

Mary Hale McLean, granddaughter of Edgar Odell Lovett

“It’s been fantastic, the whole Centennial Celebration has been marvelous; it’s been such quality and such care has gone into it. It’s just been beautiful.

“The statue is fabulous. Awesome. He was a dynamic man but even shy. He has the energy, and you can tell he’s looking to the future. It’s just a marvelous statue.”

Charles Duncan ’47, former chairman of the Rice Board of Trustees

“To me it looks absolutely amazing. I think he has a very determined look on his face. He walks with purpose. He was still president my first year at Rice, and I remember every time I would walk by him he would speak to me. He couldn’t have known me, because I was 16 when I came to Rice. But he was a very pleasant gentleman.”

Rice President David Leebron

“I think it turned out beautifully. It’s an inspirational statue for an inspirational person. It’s a symbol of what leadership can accomplish. I think it’s great that they captured him in the early years in his youth. You have this sense of vision as he looks into the future.”

George Rupp, former Rice President

“I think it’s a terrific statue, and I’m especially pleased that the sculptor decided to make a representation of the young Edgar Odell Lovett, because we have all of seen a lot of photos of Lovett in his older years, But this really shows how farsighted and energetic and determined a person he was and how crucial it was to the first years of this university.”

Edward Djerejian, founding director of Rice University’s Baker Institute

“I think this statue couldn’t be a more perfect symbol at Rice University. The first president, who with this incredibly determined regard in his face and captured as a youthful man I think will be an inspiration to the students of Rice, because it shows inspiration, determination, confidence and youth. This is what I think Rice students can aspire to. It’s just a beautiful piece of art.”

John Boles ’65, professor of history at Rice University

“I think it’s fantastic. I think it really captures the youthful vision and ambition and looking ahead with forward movement. Look at the eyes. You get a sense of strength and vision and moving ahead, and that was him. This is Lovett at the moment he is envisioning the university. This is when he is making his plans for his around-the-world trip and what Rice is to be.”

Susie Glasscock ’62, trustee emerita and co-chair of the Centennial Campaign

“I’m in love. We talked through the months about it, and I felt like I knew what was coming. I knew it was going to be wonderful, but it just takes my breath away seeing it now. This to me is the Dr. Lovett who told us where we were going. And we went back to his words when we were looking to make a Vision for the Second Century, and the words are still good. They’re just perfect.”

About David Ruth

David Ruth is director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.