A Legacy of Generosity

March 19, 2013
Remembering Joe graphic

In the mid 1960s, Joe Allbritton -- by then a successful businessman in Houston -- approached his former Baylor law professor (and then university president) Abner McCall about donating a gift to provide a permanent home for Baylor's president.

"I told him at that time there were too many things Baylor needed besides a president's home," McCall, JD '38, BA '42, told The Baylor Lariat in 1974. "He was chairman of the library committee then, and I told him to give a gift to the library."

Allbritton's support helped lead to the establishment of Baylor's central library, Moody Memorial, in 1968; the foyer is named in his honor.

"He brought [the idea of a house] up again about the time Castellaw Communications Center was being built, and I told him to give his gift to Castellaw," McCall continued. "[Finally,] he said he wasn't going to give any more money until he built the house, because he already put one house in the library and one house in the communications center."

Joe and Barbara Allbritton's generosity over the years has touched a wide swath of campus. Their family name remains on the Allbritton House, the home of Baylor presidents for nearly 40 years.

Shortly after graduating with a bachelor of law degree in 1949, Allbritton -- a champion debater as a Baylor student -- began to support his former program by giving $100 awards to the university's top debaters. His family's generosity continued to benefit his former departments later in life with gifts such as those that established the Abner McCall Chair in Evidence in the law school (1985) and the Joe L. and Barbara B. Allbritton Endowment Fund in support of the Glenn R. Capp Chair in Forensics (1989) -- gifts that furthered Baylor's commitment to academic excellence.

Joe and Barbara expanded their reach by bringing the Allbritton Art Institute to Baylor's Department of Art in the late 1990s, offering students extraordinary excursions to Chicago, New York and Paris, as well as a rich curriculum of art history courses and an annual symposium.

Allbritton gave equally freely of his time, frequently returning to the Baylor campus. In 1965, he helped bring President Lyndon Baines Johnson to Baylor, where the leader of the free world gave the spring commencement address. Allbritton also served two stints on Baylor's Board, once as a Trustee from 1959-68 and again as a Regent from 1998-2001.

His affinity for Baylor was well-known among his friends. At Allbritton's memorial service at the National Cathedral in January, former U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III listed Baylor University among a handful of Joe's life-long loves.

"Baylor has a history of outstanding leadership," Allbritton told Baylor Magazine in 2011. "Abner McCall was a major force in making Baylor what it is today. Ken Starr, now, has come to Baylor at a time when his experience and expertise will give Baylor a balanced leadership perspective to move well into the 21st century.

"As the world changes, so will Baylor, I am sure of that. And its only direction is to be a stronger and better world-class university. Of this, I am very proud."

Over the years, Joe and Barbara Allbritton have been honored with many of the university's most distinguished awards, including the Baylor Founders Medallion in 2003 and the Baylor Legacy Award in 2011.

"The breadth of Joe Allbritton's generosity touched countless lives at Baylor and around the world, leaving a lasting impression on our hearts," said Baylor University President Ken Starr. "We deeply admire Joe for his servanthood and selfless care for others. His innovative spirit and enduring friendship will be deeply missed, but we know that his legacy here at Baylor -- and beyond -- will be preserved through future generations."