New $33 Million Riverside Law Center Dedicated At Baylor
by Alan Hunt
A long-held dream was realized Saturday with the dedication of Baylor University's new Sheila and Walter Umphrey Law Center on the banks of the Brazos River. The project to build the new $33 million facility was launched in 1992. Offering 128,000 square feet of space, the impressive building is well beyond double the size of Baylor Law School's former home since 1955, Morrison Constitution Hall.
A standing-room-only crowd of law alumni, friends and supporters of the Law School heard Judge Robert M. Parker of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals present the keynote address at the dedication ceremony in the James Kronzer Appellate Advocacy Courtroom. Baylor President Dr. Robert B. Sloan, Jr. offered the dedicatory prayer.
Rain forced the cancellation of plans to hold the program in a large tent on the riverbank. Instead, the ceremony was held in the Kronzer Courtroom, with two adjoining classrooms on the first floor used to accommodate the huge overflow crowd. Live video feeds relayed the ceremony from the Kronzer Courtroom.
Later, at the annual Law Day banquet held in the Ferrell Center, John Eddie Williams of Houston was honored as Baylor Lawyer of the Year for 2002. Keynote speaker during the evening was Baylor graduate and former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, who delivered the John William and Florence Dean Minton Endowed Law School Lecture. More than 850 people attended the banquet.
Law Dean Brad Toben said the new Umphrey Law Center provides Baylor with one of the nation's finest law school facilities. Groundbreaking ceremonies for the facility took place on April 10, 1999, and the first classes were held there on Aug. 27, 2001.
The building, which contains more than 30 miles of computer wiring, includes state-of-the-art classrooms, courtrooms, law library facilities, computer labs, seminar and meeting rooms, faculty and administrative offices, and common areas.
The new center is named in honor of 1965 Baylor law graduate and famed Beaumont lawyer Walter Umphrey and his wife, Sheila, who made an unprecedented $10 million gift to the Law School's capital and endowment campaign. The campaign has underwritten both the law center and program enhancements. Umphrey led the five-lawyer "Dream Team" that recovered an historic $17.6 billion settlement for the people of Texas from the tobacco industry in 1998.
Two other members of the team, Harold Nix and John Eddie Williams and their spouses, made major gifts to the capital and endowment campaign. Nix, a 1965 Baylor law graduate and his wife, Carol Ann, of Daingerfield, gave $5 million, and Williams, a 1978 Baylor law graduate, and his wife, Sheridan, of Houston, also gave $5 million. Significant components of the new facility and the School's academic program are named in honor of the Nixes and the Williamses.
Toben added that generous seven-figure gifts to the campaign also have been received from many other Baylor law alumni. "The building is simply the latest evidence of a program that is going places," he said. "We now have a great home, a great facility for that program. This is, without doubt, the best law school facility in the entire nation."