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Baylor Legacy Award: Harold Riley

Oct. 5, 2010

Collegiate all-Americans usually start playing organized football before their senior years in high school. And typically, future NFL draft picks don't have to go the extra mile to earn scholarships to Baylor, especially with ones from Texas and LSU already in hand. Even less common is it for someone to be responsible for the then-single largest gift in the history of a 115-year old institution. Usual, typical and common are not words used to describe Harold E. Riley, BBA '52. His love for Baylor spans 65 years, from the days when he often walked around campus with his friend and hero, former Baylor President Pat Neff.

As a teenager, Harold soaked in the green and gold while he and his parents, Ray, BA '45, and Ruby, BA '45, Riley, lived just off campus near 9th and James. Harold left Waco when his parents graduated and moved to Fort Worth. Because his father was in training for the ministry and the family moved often, Harold never played football until his senior year at Paschal High School, when the coach asked him to come out for the team.

It didn't take long for colleges to notice his talent. Riley says he received scholarship offers from "most of the major schools," but the only place he wanted to go didn't contact him. Riley wrote a letter to the Baylor coaches, but got no response. His high school coach advised him to go to LSU or Texas, but Riley had already made up his mind.

"If you cut my arm, I'll bleed Baylor," he says.

Without telling anyone, Harold went down to Waco determined to make his case in person. Coach Bob Woodruff was new to Baylor and did not know anything about Riley.

"Coach Woodruff comes out of his office and walks over and says, 'Hello man, I understand that you want to go to Baylor and play football?' And I go, 'Yes, sir.' He said, 'Well, what makes you think you can?' I said, 'Because I want to.'"

Woodruff invited Riley out to spring practice that afternoon. Riley says he did not fare well at blocking, passing or catching. He had had a recent appendectomy, but he says he still outran halfbacks Dudley Parker and Lyle Blackwood in a race. To protect his recent surgery scar, he chose to line up at right defensive end instead of the left where he usually played. They ran three plays, and Riley made three tackles.

"When I got up the third time, Coach called me over. He put his arm around my shoulder and said, 'So, you want to go to Baylor and play football?' And I said, 'Yes, sir.' And he said, 'You just got a scholarship.'"

Riley, a unanimous all-Southwest Conference pick in 1950 and a member of the 1952 Orange Bowl team, went on to become an all-American and was drafted by the NFL's Los Angeles Rams. He declined the offer in order to enter the business world.

A decade later, from 1962 to 1968, Riley was president of National Western Life Insurance Company, owned by Robert Moody. If you've ever wondered why there are so many buildings bearing the Moody name on college campuses in Texas, the one responsible for Robert Moody is Harold Riley.

"I had the privilege of directing a lot of Robert Moody's money, not only to Baylor, but to many other schools as well," says Riley. "Robert didn't care who it was given to, and a number of our Baptist institutions benefited from those gifts."

One day, Riley called then President Abner McCall and said he had a $300,000 gift for Baylor.

"Abner said, 'That's wonderful. But we need a million dollars. Do you think you could get a million?' And I said, 'Well, Abner, if you want to gamble your three hundred for a million, I'll go for it.' So I called Robert, told him what the need was, and he said he thought the Foundation would do it. I had a lot of fun helping Robert give away the Moody Foundation's money."

Soon thereafter, Moody Memorial Library opened, in 1968, to the benefit of tens of thousands of Baylor students over more than four decades.

Riley so enjoyed giving Moody Foundation funds to Baylor, he and his wife Dottie began giving generously themselves to areas all across the university. He founded Citizens, Inc., a New York Stock Exhange-listed company, of which he remains chairman and CEO. The Austin couple supports the Hankamer School of Business, Baylor athletics and student scholarships. Riley was inducted into the Baylor Athletic Hall of Fame in 1978, and he is the 1977 recipient of the Hankamer School of Business Outstanding Alumni award. He also served as chair of the Athletic Committee for Baylor, and four of his five children attended Baylor.

Perhaps most notably, they have contributed to the technological advancement of the same library Riley helped fund in the mid-1960s. The Ray I. Riley Digitization Center, the Dottie S. Riley Conference Room and the Riley Reading and Digital Presentation Room have provided the space, equipment and tools to complete landmark digitization projects like the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project, which recently received national recognition.

In 2010, Riley established a permanent endowment to provide leadership for the sports chaplaincy program within George W. Truett Theological Seminary. The Harold and Dottie Riley Professor of Practical Theology and Director of the Sports Chaplaincy Program will be the cornerstone for developing the first seminary degree in sports chaplaincy in the United States.

Riley says he has continually supported Baylor over the years because of the Christian influence that Baylor can have on any student.

"They may come there not even knowing Christ, but students are going to be influenced because of the Christian atmosphere of the campus," says Riley. "They're going to have that opportunity to be exposed, and I've seen it affect a lot of young men's and women's lives. The university has a very strong principle and character to it that I think is very important for any student that comes through Baylor."

As a former student-athlete, Riley wants to see today's student-athletes changed the way he saw people changed when he was in school.

"We didn't have [sports chaplains] when I was a student-athlete at Baylor. Some of these student-athletes don't have any contact at all with spiritual things before they come here.

"When I was a student, we had a lot of veterans come back to Baylor as World War II ended, and some were pretty tough, drinking and cussing type of guys. And I saw the effects that the Baylor Christian atmosphere had upon their lives. That was very meaningful to me, to see these young men having been out there facing gunfire, coming back from the war."

From the playing field, the business world and Baylor libraries, to supporting sports chaplains who will share what they learn at Truett Seminary with athletes around the country, there's no doubt Harold Riley is leaving a legacy truly unique to Baylor.


Read the Profiles:

Alumnus of the Year: J. Cary Gray
Young Alumna of the Year: Katie Wilhoit Kilpatrick
Pro Ecclesia, Medal Of Service: Dr. Bill Pinson
Pro Texana, Medal Of Service: Sen. Kirk Watson
Baylor Legacy Award: Sadie Jo Black
Baylor Legacy Award: Sue Holt Getterman
Baylor Legacy Award: Harold Riley
Baylor Legacy Award: Clifton Robinson
Baylor Founders Medal: Charles and Mary Alice Wise

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