DALLAS – For decades, former Texas Gov. William P. Clements and his wife, Rita, selflessly gave their time, energy and resources to promote excellence within The University of Texas System. On Thursday (Feb. 4), the two were honored in Dallas as the 22nd and 23rd recipients of the UT System’s highest distinction: the Santa Rita Award.
“Bill and Rita Clements epitomize tireless, selfless service, and their many contributions to the University of Texas System and its institutions will be impacting Texans for many generations to come,” said UT System Board of Regents Chairman James R. Huffines. “Bill and Rita have helped foster excellence in our system and their service and philanthropy set a shining example of which all Texans can be proud.”
The Santa Rita Award first was handed down in 1968. It is given to individuals who have made significant contributions to the UT System and who show a deep commitment to higher education. The award is named for the Santa Rita No. 1, the first producing oil well on UT System property in West Texas. The oil produced from the well from 1923 to 1990 prompted growth of the Permanent University Fund, transforming the University of Texas.
The Clements are avid supporters of higher education and health care, and their philanthropic efforts have furthered the transformation of the UT System as a university of the first class. In 2009, Gov. Clements donated a $100 million gift to UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas and, in 2006, he gave $10 million for the Bill and Rita Clements Advanced Medical Imaging Building, a clinical and medical research facility. To recognize newly appointed and promising faculty members, Clements donated $1.25 million to UT Southwestern in 1998 to create the Rita C. and William P. Clements, Jr., Scholar in Medical Research.
William P. Clements, Jr., served two terms as Texas governor from 1979-1983 and from 1987-1991, overseeing significant changes in higher education in Texas. During his first term, Clements established the Governor’s Task Force on Higher Education. The task force’s recommendations considerably shifted the structure of the state’s higher education system. Facing a potential $5.8 billion deficit during his second term, critics awaited Clements to make major cuts in higher education funding. But Clements further proved his dedication to the state’s academic future when he proposed a budget that included an increase in higher education spending, emphasizing the importance of higher education in Texas.
In 1947, Gov. Clements founded SEDCO, which went on to become the world’s largest oil and gas drilling contracting company. He retired as chairman of SEDCO in 1985. He served on the Board of Governors at SMU, his alma mater, for several years and as the board chairman twice, from 1967-1973 and from 1983-1986. Clements is currently a cattle rancher and, with a personal library of 10,000 volumes to show for it, an enthusiastic Texas history buff.
Rita Crocker Clements was appointed to the UT System Board of Regents by then Gov. George W. Bush in November 1996 and reappointed to a full term in 2001 by Gov. Rick Perry. During her term she spearheaded several capital projects and was actively involved in campus planning and architectural standards. She served as vice chairman of the Board when her term expired in 2007.
Mrs. Clements served as a member on the UT Austin Development Board and the executive council of the Texas Exes Association. She has also served as chairman of the board of the Willis M. Tate Distinguished Lecture Series at Southern Methodist University and is a life board member of the Hockaday School.
She currently serves on several other boards, including the Salvation Army Dallas Metroplex Advisory Board, the Center for Human Nutrition, Charter 100, the Communities Foundation of Texas, the Crystal Charity Ball, the Dallas Historical Society, the Friends of the Governor's Mansion Foundation, the O'Donnell Foundation, and the Robert and Nancy Dedman Foundation.
Mrs. Clements graduated from the Hockaday School in Dallas and attended Wellesley College in Boston. She transferred to UT Austin, where she graduated cum laude in 1953 with a major in Spanish and minors in history and government. She was named a Distinguished Alumna of UT Austin in 1991 and was named to the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame in 1996. She has also earned accolades from the Winedale Society and the Texas Historical Commission for her special interest in historical preservation.
Past recipients of the Santa Rita Award are former Gov. Dolph Briscoe, Jr., Bernard Rapoport, Frank Denius, Margaret McDermott, Wales H. Madden, Jr., Peter T. Flawn, former Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, Jack S. Blanton, Jess Hay, Larry Temple, Peter O’Donnell, Jr., former Lt. Gov. William P. Hobby, J. Erik Jonsson, Mary Moody Northen, John H. Freeman, John W. McCullough, Cecil H. Green, Harry H. Ransom, Eugene McDermott, Hines H. Baker and Ima Hogg.
Serving the educational and health care needs of Texans for more than 125 years, The University of Texas 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 $11.9 billion (FY 2010) including $2.5 billion in sponsored programs funded by federal, state, local and private sources. Preliminary student enrollment exceeded 202,000 in the 2009 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 84,000 employees, the UT System is one of the largest employers in the state.