My 50th Rice Reunion began with a joyous re-uniting of old friends at the lovely home of Patti Everett, whom I first met on a train to Girls State in 1961. She and her husband Richard hosted a Reunion-Eve party that brought together friends who first bonded during our freshman year at Rice and have been in regular contact ever since. Joe Simmons and my Wild Rice Women buddies were all there, plus several others I was glad to see. These photos show the delight we shared. (Click on each photo for descriptions.)
The first official event of our gathering was a luncheon at the new Glasscock Center for Continuing Studies, followed by a panel discussion entitled “Reflections and Projections,” led by my fund-raising buddy, Bob Easton, an active venture capitalist in New York City. Bob acknowledged that many of our classmates remember Rice as a stern and rigorous environment, though he found it prepared him well for business. Gretchen Vik, in answering the class survey, observed “Only at Rice would professors go out of their way to make bright kids feel stupid.” That attitude was more prevalent in the science and engineering departments; I found stimulating, but nurturing professors like Katherine Fischer Drew and Floyd Seward Lear in the History department. Garrett Boone, CEO of TreeHouse, especially praised History Professor Allen J. Matusow, for challenging him to think more deeply, so deeply that he filled up 13 blue books on the final exam. Thanks to Elizabeth Lodal’s invitation, Matusow was in the room. What a moment for a teacher, to be appreciated publicly and vividly 50 years later!
Elizabeth Lodal recounted her experiences as a principal of a high school for gifted students in Fairfax County VA, many of whom went on to Rice. She is now involved in revamping K-12 education as a member of the Virginia State Board of Education. Bill Folk, Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Missouri, showed a video about his investigations of herbal remedies in Africa and what they could mean for health economics. Warner Strang, who runs Strang Project Management Services in Houston, agreed that Rice had prepared him well, but observed that his family meant more to him than any of the many structures he had built. Bill Broyles, editor and screen writer, told how he lured many of his Rice Thresher colleagues to Austin to work on the Texas Monthly, when he was its first editor. He recalled Dr. Alan Grob’s unforgettable response to the assassination of John F. Kennedy during our sophomore year. For his Saturday morning class (!) in English Literature on November 23, 1963, Grob simply read John Milton’s pastoral elegy, “Lycidas,” closed the book, and dismissed the class.
The biggest changes I see in Rice over the last 50 years are its greater diversity and its now equal balance of women and men. In my day, the ratio of men to women was 4:1; the first Black students were admitted to Rice during our senior year. This year’s Homecoming banners celebrated 50 Years of Black Undergraduate Life. Bob Easton pointed out that an article about Rice in a 1961 issue of Time magazine had attracted more out-of-state students to our class than to previous classes. Brenda Barry Tanner, who attended an all-girls high school in New York City, confirmed that her mother had noticed the male-female ratio and the absence of tuition reported in Time and urged her to apply. I, for one, had never met a New Yorker and appreciated her voice and ideas at Jones College. There were virtually no female engineers in our class; women now excel in all fields. Some classmates said they had felt intimidated by so many men; others, like Susan Bonner-Weir, now at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, learned how to flourish.
My favorite improvement at Rice is its fine music school, which was only a dream in the 60s. While checking on the Steinway grand piano that I donated to the Shepherd School last year, I was able to meet two students who showed how that dream has come true. The first was a graduate student in voice from Puerto Rico named Ricardo Rivera, whom I heard warming up in the lobby. With no practice room available, I took him to the James Turrell Skyspace just outside and he sang “Some Enchanted Evening” for me alone. Ahh! Ezio Pinza reincarnated! I must find out how his audition with the Wolf Trap Opera went that afternoon.
Then I proceeded to Jaume Plensa’s “Mirror” sculpture, where I had arranged to meet Frances Lee, a graduate student in piano at Rice, whose financial support includes the annual prize that my mother established over 30 years ago in memory of my grandmother, Lucy Burt Duke Raiza. Over lunch at the Brockstein Pavilion, we talked of her musical experiences in Singapore, England and Maryland, and the challenges of inspiring young piano students. I marveled at her enthusiasm for memorizing and performing all the music her doctorate requires.
Another example of the kind of students Rice has produced was in the person of Antoinette Green, whom I met at the tailgate barbecue that preceded the Homecoming football game. An engineering graduate in 1982, she recently retired from a career in oil and gas exploration to embark on renovating houses in East Houston, where she grew up. She is the guardian of her disabled younger brother and has created a group home where she can be sure he is receiving excellent care.
At the Brown College 50th anniversary last year, I had met Connor Stuart-Paul. Now a senior he was working as a photographer for the Alumni Association. He kept popping up at 50th Reunion events and was willing to follow some of my suggestions for shots during the weekend. Here is my album of photos he and I took–his are the better ones. Connecting with current students and alums of other classes was almost as much fun for me as seeing old friends.
The rest of the weekend was a whirl of football, friends, and festivities. For the past 20 months Bob Easton, Mike Carter and I, along with Helen Toombs ’77 of Rice and a great team of volunteers, had led an effort that succeeded in raising $1.6 million for the Rice Annual Fund, which provides scholarships to students in need, and another $2.87 million in designated gifts and bequests to Rice. At the “Golden R” dinner on Friday evening and again at the football game, we presented a check to President David Leebron for $4,469,898, a record for a 50th Reunion gift.
Fifty-year celebrations have brought me much joy during the last two years: revisiting Austria and my 1965 Experiment in International Living family in August 2015; Steve’s 50th Rice Homecoming and Brown College‘s 50th Anniversary in November 2015; our 50th wedding anniversary last June, and our September cruise in France with Steve’s classmates who matriculated at Harvard Business School in 1966. The institutions to which we committed ourselves in the 60s have proved worthy of our continuing support. I feel very blessed to retain so many dear friends from those years.