Rice names campus grove in honor of Rev. William Lawson

NEWS RELEASE

Jeff Falk
612-964-7236
jfalk@rice.edu

Amy McCaig
217-417-2901
amym@rice.edu

Rice names campus grove in honor of Rev. William Lawson
Esteemed community leader honored for contributions to university, city  

HOUSTON – (May 18, 2020) –Rice University announced today that it will name part of its campus central quadrangle The Reverend William A. Lawson Grove in honor of the esteemed community leader’s contributions to the university and the city of Houston.

Rev. William Lawson

Rev. William Lawson

The announcement was made by Rice President David Leebron at the Rice Kinder Institute for Urban Research “Lunch-Out,” where Lawson was honored with the 2020 Klineberg Award for his years of service to the city. The grove is a beautiful shaded area that sits at the heart of the campus, situated between Herring Hall and Brochstein Pavilion and flanked by live oak trees. It houses the prominent “Mirror” art installation by Jaume Plensa, which was donated by Stephanie and William Sick.

The decision to permanently honor Lawson and name this space for him was approved at last week’s meeting of Rice’s Board of Trustees. It was an easy one, according to Leebron.

“We are so grateful to have the opportunity to honor the Reverend Lawson, one of Houston’s most prominent leaders and a man admired for his contributions to equality and opportunity for all in our city,” Leebron said. “He brought people of different perspectives together to achieve progress for Houston. We think it’s important that our students, now and in the future, know of his impact and legacy.”

“For over half a century Rev. Lawson has played a pivotal role in addressing a range of spiritual and civil needs, and in the process helping to foster opportunity for all Houstonians to live in fullness,” said Anthony Pinn, director of the Center for African and African American Studies at Rice and the Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Humanities. “This is a fitting tribute to one whose impact on the quality of thought and life in Texas is without question.”

“The Lawson family is deeply moved by this overwhelming honor to our father and grandfather Rev. William Lawson,” said Lawson’s daughter Melanie Lawson, a longtime television anchor at ABC-13 KTRK-TV. “We are so proud of the important contributions he and our late mother, Audrey Hoffman Lawson, made throughout their lives to this great city, always aimed at helping Houston to become diverse and inclusive. And we are extremely grateful to Rice University for such a beautiful and important recognition of their legacy.”

Lawson is the founding pastor emeritus of the Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church and has dedicated his life to the spiritual and social needs of the Houston community. Lawson has shared his experience and knowledge in numerous campus lectures and through the Center for Engaged Research and Collaborative Learning. In addition, his papers are housed at Rice’s Woodson Research Center.

As one of the preeminent leaders of the civil rights movement in Houston, he worked to peacefully desegregate schools and other institutions in the area. A powerful and longtime advocate for African Americans, Hispanics, women and the poor, he founded the United Way’s Houston Homeless Initiative to meet the needs of the city’s homeless and jobless. His namesake organization, the William A. Lawson Institute for Peace and Prosperity (WALIPP), has advocated for and served the needs of disadvantaged people in Houston’s Third Ward. WALIPP has also established two single-gender charter schools for boys and girls and built housing for seniors.

A graduate of Tennessee A&I State University (now Tennessee State University) and Central Baptist Theological Seminary with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and Bachelor of Divinity and Master of Theology degrees, respectively, Lawson was married to his late wife, Audrey, for more than 60 years. He has four children, two grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

“Reverend Lawson’s life truly exemplifies the Rice values of responsibility, integrity, community and excellence,” said Bobby Tudor, chairman of the Rice Board of Trustees. “His impact on Houston has had a lasting benefit for all of us.”

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This news release can be found online at news.rice.edu.

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Located on a 300-acre forested campus in Houston, Rice University is consistently ranked among the nation’s top 20 universities by U.S. News & World Report. Rice has highly respected schools of Architecture, Business, Continuing Studies, Engineering, Humanities, Music, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences and is home to the Baker Institute for Public Policy. With 3,962 undergraduates and 3,027 graduate students, Rice’s undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio is just under 6-to-1. Its residential college system builds close-knit communities and lifelong friendships, just one reason why Rice is ranked No. 1 for lots of race/class interaction and No. 4 for quality of life by the Princeton Review. Rice is also rated as a best value among private universities by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.

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About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.