EDINBURG – The University of Texas System Board of Regents today (Feb. 7) awarded its highest honor, the Santa Rita Award, to longtime philanthropist Bernard Rapoport, a Waco businessman whose association with UT institutions spans eight decades.
The founder of American Income Life Insurance, a company that carved out a niche by providing coverage for union workers in the 1950s, Rapoport was a member of the UT System Board of Regents from 1991 to 1997, serving as chairman for the last four years of his term.
His gifts to UT Austin, UT San Antonio, UT Health Science Center at Houston, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas and UT M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston total more than $26 million, and have funded buildings, established scholarships and created endowed chairs, among other things.
“Bernard Rapoport’s generosity and unwavering commitment to the UT System and its institutions is extraordinary by any measure and his activities in the business and philanthropic worlds are inspiring to each and every Texan who cares about higher education,” said H. Scott Caven, Jr., chairman of the UT System Board of Regents.
“It is because of the generous efforts of visionary individuals such as “B” and his wife, Audre – who have given time, energy and resources to our institutions – that our campuses are leaders in excellence on a world scale,” Caven continued.
In 1983, the couple established the Rapoport Centennial Chair in Economics and Public Affairs at UT Austin. They also instituted the Audre and Bernard Rapoport Regents Chair of Liberal Arts; the Frank C. Erwin, Jr. Centennial Professorship in Government; the Ralph W. Yarborough Centennial Professorship in Liberal Arts; the Edward Everett Hale Centennial Professorship in Economics; and the Rapoport Centennial Professorship of Liberal Arts, all at UT Austin. And in Houston, the Rapoports donated $1.7 million to the UT M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.
The couple also established namesake endowed chairs in pediatric endocrinology, clinical care and research, and cardiovascular research – as well as a center for cardiovascular research – at UT Southwestern Medical Center. Additionally, the Rapoports gave $100,000 for scholarships to the UT San Antonio Excellence Fund and $5,000 to the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio for the Dr. Mario E. Ramirez Chair Fund in Family and Community Medicine.
In 1988, Rapoport was named to Fortune magazine’s list of the 40 most generous Americans. A year later, he and his wife established the Bernard & Audre Rapoport Foundation, which has contributed more than $32 million to education, arts and culture, community development, and health and child development.
Besides his term as a regent, Rapoport serves on the Chancellor’s Council Executive Committee, the Commission of 125, the We’re Texas Campaign Executive Council and is a life member of the UT Austin Development Board. He serves on the UT Southwestern Health System Board of Visitors and the Leadership Council for UT Southwestern’s Innovations in Medicine campaign. He also served on The University Cancer Foundation Board of Visitors at the UT M. D. Anderson Cancer Center from 1976-1980.
Born in 1917 to Russian immigrants in San Antonio, Rapoport grew up in poverty and attended UT Austin during the Great Depression. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1939 and launched his insurance company in 1951 with the help of a $25,000 loan co-signed by his wife’s uncle. He moved the company to Waco in 1956 so his wife could be near her mother.
Rapoport sold his company in 1994 to McKinney-based Torchmark Corporation, but continued to run the insurance outfit until he retired in 1999.
Rapoport, 90, becomes the 20th recipient of the Santa Rita Award since it first was presented in 1968. The prestigious award is given to individuals who have made significant contributions to the UT System and who show a deep commitment to higher education and serve as an example of selfless, spirited service. Past recipients are Frank Denius, Margaret McDermott, Wales H. Madden, Jr., Peter T. Flawn, Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, Jack S. Blanton, Jess Hay, Larry Temple, Peter O’Donnell, Jr., William P. Hobby, J. Erik Jonsson, Mary Moody Northen, John H. Freeman, John W. McCullough, Cecil H. Green, Harry H. Ransom, Hines H. Baker, Eugene McDermott and Ima Hogg.
The award is named for the Santa Rita No. 1, the first producing oil well on UT System property in West Texas. The well produced oil from 1923 to 1990 and spurred growth of the Permanent University Fund.
About The University of Texas System
The UT System is one of the nation’s largest higher education systems, with nine academic campuses and six health institutions. The UT System has an annual operating budget of $10.7 billion (FY 2008) including $2.3 billion in research funded by federal, state, local and private sources. Student enrollment exceeded 190,000 in the 2006 academic year. The UT System confers more than one-third of the state's undergraduate degrees and educates nearly three-fourths of the state's health care professionals annually. With more than 80,000 employees, the UT System is one of the largest employers in the state.