Baylor Legacy Award: Clifton Robinson

October 5, 2010
Clifton Robinson, BBA '63, is a Waco native whose family has been around Baylor and Waco for five generations.

"My grandmother graduated back some time around the turn of the 20th century when Baylor had only been in Waco a few years, and my mother graduated from Baylor with a master's degree in the early '20s. I'm a third-generation Bear, and I had one brother [Glenn Robinson, BBA '59] who also graduated from Baylor."

Robinson's son Gordon attended Baylor, as did his grandsons, Cole, BBA '08, and Chad Robinson, a Baylor senior.

An invaluable booster of Waco, Baylor University and McLennan Community College, perhaps the only thing more impressive than Robinson's Baylor/Waco heritage is his enthusiastic desire to see Baylor and Waco maintain strong relationships. In 2009, Robinson Media Co., LLC, with Clifton Robinson serving as chairman and CEO and Gordon serving as president, purchased the Waco Tribune-Herald, Waco's local newspaper, from Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises. With that purchase, the 117-year-old newspaper came under local ownership for the first time since 1976. He hopes that the paper can help nurture the relationship between Waco and Baylor.

"The Baylor/Waco community has always been close, but I'm not sure that the Waco community always fully appreciated its biggest asset," says Robinson. "Baylor University is, by far, the biggest asset of the city, always has been and always will be, so it's natural that this city should nurture its relationship with Baylor.

"Around the turn of the 20th century, there was a discussion of moving Baylor University to Dallas. And that could have happened if it had not been for concerned people who did recognize the value of Baylor in Waco, and I have always recognized that."

As a longtime resident (and now newspaper CEO) with a bird's-eye view of the Baylor/Waco relationship, Robinson is especially excited to see downtown and Baylor become more connected.

"Of course, the proximity of the university to the downtown area is very important. The two are beginning to come together now, as Baylor has expanded, and as we have had a revitalization of the downtown area, we're coming together more. I'm just thrilled to death that the Baylor/Waco relationship is getting stronger every day, and we at the newspaper are going to do our part to see that it just keeps getting stronger."

Robinson says he is indebted to Baylor for helping him become a savvy businessman.

"I feel like what I know about business, I learned at Baylor University," says Robinson. "I majored in insurance and studied real estate and economics, and that's how I've made a living for the past 50 years. Had it not been for what I learned at Baylor University, that probably never would have happened. I feel very indebted to Baylor, and, of course, I love Baylor, what Baylor stands for and represents, and the high ideals there. I've tried to live my life accordingly, and have those same goals, ambitions and ideals."

As a successful entrepreneur in the insurance industry, Robinson started his first insurance firm while he was still in college. Since then, Robinson has participated in the formation, acquisition and management of numerous insurance business enterprises. He has also held positions with various insurance industry associations. Among his many civic responsibilities, he is founder and trustee of the Clifton Robinson Family Foundation and serves on the board of advisors of the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce.

Clifton's other son, Charles, is active in the family real estate business, Specialty Property, Ltd. Clifton's wife, Betsy, BA '71, also plays a large civic role and is best known for her efforts in founding and volunteering for Fuzzy Friends, a no-kill animal rescue center. (Pictured with Robinson is one such rescued poodle, Robinson's beloved Annie). In 2003, Clifton Robinson created Friends of Baylor, which donated $1 million to the school. The Robinsons provide scholarships to underprivileged students through the Honors Program at Baylor and through the MAC Grant program at McLennan Community College (MCC).

"When I started inquiring about the scholarships at Baylor, I came across the Honors College and determined that those are some of the brightest, smartest kids from all over America. But there were not enough available funds to bring in all those who wanted to come to Baylor," says Robinson. "So I thought that would be a very good place to put the money."

One of the more visible signs of Robinson's giving to Baylor includes the gift of Clifton Robinson Tower, an eight-story edifice housing administrative offices right next to I-35. The building, quite appropriately, bridges the gap between downtown Waco and the rest of Baylor's campus. But likely Robinson's most significant legacy for Baylor and for Waco is the Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative (BRIC). In 2009, the Robinson family, along with H. Bland Cromwell, provided part of the 2-million-square-foot former General Tire facility to Baylor as a home for BRIC.

The first project of the Central Texas Technology and Research Park, BRIC will develop, promote and market science and engineering technologies, university research and advanced technology training and workforce development. Those collaborating in the project include Baylor, Texas State Technical College, MCC, McLennan County, City of Waco, City of Bellmead, Waco-McLennan County Economic Development Corporation, Bellmead Economic Development Corporation, Waco Industrial Foundation, Heart of Texas Council of Governments and the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce.

"The fact is that Baylor is going to be a very, very big influence in research in coming years," says Robinson. "Research is going to provide hundreds of millions of dollars to Baylor University from foundations around the world, and they're going to be funneled into Waco for these various projects that are going to be going on."

Baylor engineering will benefit greatly from the additional opportunities BRIC affords; most notably, the expanded research capabilities will allow the university to offer the program's first doctoral degree. Faculty and students will be able to partner with both high-profile and start-up companies on researching new ideas. In the process, Central Texas stands to gain hundreds of white-collar jobs in the short term and thousands more jobs in the long term. Waco economist Ray Perryman, BS '74, forecasts the park will generate $1.5 to 4.2 billion in economic impact in the first 15 years, while creating between 8,000 and 22,000 jobs.

"In this particular instance, I'm able to do something for the good of my community, as well as the good of my beloved Baylor. I just think BRIC is one of the biggest things that Waco, Texas, has ever had, or ever will have in the next 20 years. I won't be here to see it, but I'm glad to have been a small part of it."

Just as Robinson feels indebted to Baylor for his personal success, current and future generations of Wacoans and Baylorites certainly are deeply indebted to Clifton Robinson.

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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