The Clements Center staff, board, and affiliates mourn the death yesterday of former University of Texas-Austin President Bill Powers. Bill touched the lives of countless students and faculty, led UT-Austin to new heights of excellence, and combined visionary leadership with a memorable warmth and down-to-earth style.
For us his loss is especially painful, because quite simply the Clements Center would not exist without Bill Powers.
Several years ago when the Clements and Seay families, Professor Frank Gavin, Admiral Bob Inman, and I first presented to Bill the idea of creating the Clements Center, he immediately embraced it. The risks were abundant, including an unproven concept, uncertain demand, skepticism in some quarters on campus, and the notion of it being led by a then-untenured junior professor who at the time had only been at UT for a year (yours truly). With his entrepreneurial flair and eagerness to think big, Bill saw the upsides more than the downsides, and immediately gave the project his full support. His backing was much more than symbolic – he also gave us prime office space in the heart of campus, and agreed to place the Clements Center organizationally in the office of the president. He soon thereafter pledged meaningful financial support on top of the Clements and Seay family’s generous founding gifts.
Bill’s enthusiasm for the Clements Center also came because as a Navy veteran he knew firsthand the importance of a strong national security policy, as a scholar he appreciated the value of diplomatic and military history, and as a university president he embraced the cultivation in our students the values of citizenship, patriotism, and service to country.
Those of us privileged to know Bill also came to appreciate that behind his gregarious manner and courageous leadership, he was at heart a genuine intellectual. He loved and lived for ideas in all of their manifestations and across all disciplines – whether science, humanities, or his own field of law. Bill and I discovered a common interest in theology and biblical studies, and I particularly learned much from him about the Book of Job, which he had studied in depth. In his final days, he found comfort in the words of Job 19:25: “For I know that my Redeemer lives.”
As the Clements Center’s executive director, for me there is no higher honor than to hold the William Powers, Jr. Chair. Bill may be gone, but his remarkable legacy carries forward – at the Clements Center, across UT-Austin, and throughout our state, nation, and world. He will be much missed; may he rest in peace.