Regents Honor Former Gov. William P. and Rita Clements with UT System's Highest Distinction

AUSTIN – The University of Texas System Board of Regents today (Aug. 19) awarded its highest honor – the Santa Rita Award – to former Texas Gov. William P. Clements, Jr., and his wife, Rita Crocker Clements, a former UT System regent.

“Bill and Rita Clements epitomize service and selflessness, and The University of Texas System is better today because of this couple’s association with our institutions,” said Regents’ Chairman James R. Huffines. “We are grateful they have provided so much of their time and resources over the years to help advance excellence in the UT System and our great state, and we are proud to hold them high as shining examples for all Texans to emulate.”

William P. Clements, Jr., who served a pair of terms as Texas governor from 1979 to 1983 and from 1987 to 1991, gave a $100 million gift to UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas earlier this year. In 2006, Clements donated $10 million to the institution to complete a clinical and medical research facility now named the Bill and Rita Clements Advanced Medical Imaging Building; and in 1998, Gov. Clements donated $1.25 million to UT Southwestern to create the Rita C. and William P. Clements, Jr., Scholar in Medical Research to recognize newly appointed and promising faculty members. Ardent supporters of higher education, the couple has also contributed philanthropically to UT Austin, UT Dallas and Southern Methodist University.

In his first term as governor, higher education was a personal priority, and Clements spurred the establishment of the Governor’s Task Force on Higher Education to develop long-range goals and make recommendations for the future of higher education. He said, at the time: “Now … is the time to start preparing for the new demands of the future.” 

The task force’s recommendations led to significant restructuring of the state’s higher education system, bringing all UT System institutions at the time under the umbrella of the Permanent University Fund (PUF), expanding the fund’s bonding authority, and establishing a capital fund for non-PUF institutions known as the Higher Education Assistance Fund.

In his second term, and as the 1987 legislative session convened, the state faced a potential $5.8 billion shortfall. The governor proposed a balanced budget, and contrary to the expectations of his critics who foresaw dramatic cuts in higher education, Clements proposed a modest increase in higher education spending, with these words: “[O]ur college and university system is a central responsibility of state government and is a vital component in shaping the future of Texas. As the world grows more complex, a state can only hope to compete successfully nationally — and internationally — if it offers a higher education system of the first class.” His budget priorities for higher education then, now 20 years old, ring remarkably familiar today, as evidenced in this comment he made at the time: “More state money must be made available for research at our institutions of higher education.”

The former governor achieved success in the oil fields long before he reached the pinnacle of Texas’ political landscape. He founded SEDCO in 1947, which later became the world’s largest oil and gas drilling contracting company. He retired as chairman in 1985. He currently is a cattle rancher and an avid Texas history enthusiast, with a personal library of more than 8,300 volumes. A 1939 alumnus of SMU, he served on that institution’s Board of Governors for several years and as its board chairman twice, from 1967-1973 and from 1983-1986.

Rita Clements was appointed to the UT System Board of Regents by then-Gov. George W. Bush in November 1996 and was reappointed to a full term by Gov. Rick Perry in 2001, ultimately serving as a vice chairman of the Board when that term expired in 2007.

Among her many leadership positions on the Board, Mrs. Clements served as chairperson of the Facilities Planning and Construction Committee, and was a vigorous champion of capital projects, campus planning and architectural standards.

She has been a member of the UT Austin Development Board and served on the executive council of the university's ex-students' association. She also serves as a life board member of the Hockaday School and served as chairman of the board of the Willis M. Tate Distinguished Lecture Series at Southern Methodist University. She is currently serving on the Salvation Army Dallas Metroplex Advisory Board.
Her other current board memberships include 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 was born in Newton, Kansas, and grew up on ranches in Kansas and in the Hill Country of Texas. She is a graduate of the Hockaday School in Dallas and attended Wellesley College in Boston before attending UT Austin, from which she graduated cum laude in 1953 with a major in Spanish and minors in history and government. In 1991, she was named a Distinguished Alumna of UT Austin. A member of the Texas Women's Hall of Fame, her special interest in historical preservation earned her accolades from The Winedale Society and the Texas Historical Commission.

Governor and Mrs. Clements become the 22nd aid 23rd recipients of the Santa Rita Award, which 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 Gov. Dolph Briscoe, Jr., Bernard Rapoport, 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., 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.

The couple will be honored at a reception and dinner to be held in Dallas in 2010.

The award, first handed down in 1968, 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 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 $11.5 billion (FY 2009) including $2.5 billion in sponsored programs funded by federal, state, local and private sources. Student enrollment exceeded 194,000 in the 2007 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 81,000 employees, the UT System is one of the largest employers in the state.