Distinguished Alumni Achievement Awards 2009
Mr. E. W. Bill Wright III
BA Sociology 1970
First Vice President-Investment Officer
Wachovia Securities LLC; Wells Fargo
|Mr. E.W. Bill Wright III
Remarks by Dr. Ann Marie Ellis
Dean, College of Liberal Arts
Bill Wright has been involved in so many important State events that his life reads like a recent history of Texas.
He has held political posts with former President Lyndon Johnson, Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, and the Democratic National Committee. He has made, and lost, fortunes in real estate and oil and gas, then recovered in the financial industry. He has influenced the economic diversification of Houston, and he has been recognized nationally as an outstanding volunteer. And, he is a former Regent of the Texas State University System.
Bill was born in Taylor, TX, and grew up in Thrall and Temple. His father had been a career Army officer, who wanted Bill to go to West Point. But, having attended a strict, all-male military high school, West Point was the last place Bill wanted to go. Disappointed, his father told him he’d have to put himself through college.
After working in a variety of jobs for a year, including as a farm laborer, Bill joined the Marine Corps to take advantage of its college tuition program, and in February 1965, he was in one of the first battalions sent to Vietnam. Bill was supposed to be discharged two years later, but he found he could get an early discharge if he were accepted to a college. He applied to several universities, and Texas State was the first to respond in admitting him.
He enrolled at Texas State with plans to transfer to UT, but he had become friends with a number of Kappa Sigs, whose members managed the Strutters. Bill went to one of the Strutters’ summer tryouts, and that convinced him to stay at Texas State.
In fact, he was at a Strutters’ rehearsal one day when he met his future wife, Kathleen. At the rehearsal, Kathleen pulled a muscle, and Bill helped to carry her off the field and to the doctor’s office. They became a popular couple and were sponsored as Gaillardians by Laurel Hall. Married in 1969, Bill says their two daughters, Karen and Lisa, are his proudest accomplishments.
Through his membership in Kappa Sigma, Bill got his first taste of politics. The Kappa Sigs required him, as a pledge, to run for the Student Senate. So Bill ran, and he won.
In his junior year he ran for Student Body President and won that race, too. As a Vietnam veteran and a student senate leader, he was often called upon to speak against the War. There’s a kind of irony in this story: here we have a war protester who would later meet and work for former President Lyndon B. Johnson, but I’m ahead of my story here.
In 1970, President Johnson was in private life and wanted to visit Texas State and spend some time with our students. Now you have to see the scene: LBJ wants an invitation to campus, but he wants it to come from the students, so he invites Bill (Student Body President) to visit the ranch. He also invites the University President, Dr. Billy Mac Jones. At about 3 in the afternoon, well into the Ranch visit, it finally dawns on Bill that he should invite LBJ to campus. Johnson wasted no time in accepting. It was a Thursday afternoon, and Johnson replied, “How about I come on Monday?”
Dr. Jones and Bill scurried to put together a schedule for LBJ’s visit. I’m pleased to say that President Johnson was well-received by faculty and students, and at the end of the day he returned to the Ranch.
Then, at 5 a.m. the following morning, Bill’s phone rang and it was President Johnson calling. The President thanked Bill for the campus visit and asked him what he planned to do with his life. When Bill said something about going to The University of Texas Law School, Johnson said, “You come work for me and attend the LBJ School at the same time.” (Can you imagine being awakened by a former president asking you about your life plans?)
Bill accepted Johnson’s offer and became a member of the first class to be admitted to the LBJ School of Public Affairs in 1970. He was also the only student working for President Johnson. As Special Assistant to the President, he did everything from picking up laundry and sitting in board meetings to writing correspondence and doing research for speeches. He traveled with Johnson, met guests with Johnson at the Ranch, and accompanied Johnson to President Harry Truman’s funeral. Bill says that, bar none, he was the most undeserving, unqualified staff member Johnson had, but LBJ thought otherwise. In fact, he thought so much of Bill that he established an award at Texas State to honor Bill while he was an undergraduate—the Outstanding Senior Student Award, which is still given, and Bill was the first recipient.
Bill graduated from the LBJ School and worked for President Johnson until his death in 1973. He then went to work for Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, in Washington, D.C. as his legislative assistant and travel aide. After helping Bentsen to be reelected in 1976, Bill decided it was a good time to go into private life. He said his back was completely cut to shreds from the politics he’d gone through in Bentsen’s campaign and he was ready to try something new.
He and Kathleen moved to Houston, where he became Vice President for Administration with the Warren King Companies, a small oil and gas producer that became one of the nation’s largest privately held oil, gas, and real estate development companies.
Later, he helped organize Kathy Whitmire’s successful mayoral campaign in Houston, and later ran his own mayoral campaign against Whitmire. He didn’t win, but his campaign caused the Mayor to make Houston’s economic diversification her first priority.
A true entrepreneur, Bill went on to found the August Printing Company. He went into real estate development, helped to start Texas Guaranty National Bank, and invested in oil and gas interests, all of which were successful ventures until the recession of the 1980s. He lost everything and had to start over again, becoming a financial consultant in 1989. Recently, he was named First Vice President and Investment Officer for Wachovia Securities/Wells Fargo. Bill has been recognized a number of times for his achievements in the financial industry.
Meanwhile, he continues to participate in political campaigns. He’s held high-profile posts on the Democratic National Committee, including Managing Trustee and Deputy Chair of the Committee’s Presidential Trust Fund.
Bill has given many thousands of volunteer hours to dozens of non-profit organizations—so many, that in 2006 he was recognized by President George Bush with the President’s Volunteer Service Award.
He has worked with the American Diabetes Association for 16 years and was recently honored with the Association’s prestigious National Service Award.
Bill has also served on the Texas State University System’s Board of Regents, and our University can thank him for at least two lasting accomplishments. Bill served on the board that convinced the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to allow Texas State to buy the old San Marcos Baptist Academy, including land and buildings that now comprise most of our West Campus. Because of the purchase, our fast-growing University has room to grow.
His other important board accomplishment was that he helped to save the Strutters. Former University President Lee Smith wanted to disband the drill team. President Smith had already disbanded the “Bobkittens,” and he was pushing to disband the Strutters—a terrible idea in Bill’s view. Bill and another Regent (and again, you have to see the scene), in typical LBJ fashion, met with President Smith to tell the President that they didn’t want to see him embarrassed by his decision.
The President interpreted from the conversation that Bill and the other Regent had enough votes on the Board to stop him (which I’m not sure was the case). That conversation and the efforts of Barbara Tidwell and her many supporters convinced Smith to withdraw his recommendation. And the Strutters remain a unique Texas State icon.
In 2005, Bill was named a Distinguished Alumnus of Texas State, and he was a founding member of the Liberal Arts Advisory Board. Bill has distinguished himself on our campus, in his career, in his community, and in service to the state and nation. I am very honored to present him with the Liberal Arts Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award.