Baylor Legacy Award: Tom and Pat Powers

Awarded to individuals who demonstrate extraordinary service and philanthropy to Baylor or to causes that fit our mission as a Christian university

Tom and Pat Powers of Houston have chosen to invest in the lives of future generations, leaving lasting legacies in two fields of common interests: education and healthcare. Over the years, their personal commitment to giving back has served the people and entities they love exceptionally well.

The Powers credit the development of their dedication to service to their similar backgrounds of growing up in working-class families steeped in church life. “If the church doors were open, we were encouraged to be there and participating,” Tom says.

Their parents, who were never able to attend college, believed education was an essential element to succeed in life.

Pat Graves Powers, BBA ’62, was born in Oklahoma, spent her early childhood in the Texas Panhandle and graduated from high school as a National Merit Finalist in Pasadena, Texas. She attended Baylor on an academic scholarship. Her fondest memories of campus life start at Collins Hall, where she established friendships that remain to this day. She became active in Alpha Omega (later Pi Phi) and a variety of service activities. She later served as president of the Houston AO organization.

Born in East Texas, Tom Powers, BBA ’60, grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas. Early in Tom’s life, his father suffered from Crohn’s disease, which had a major impact on his family and his ability to work. Tom finished in the top 1 percent of his high school class and had been accepted to at least two universities. However, he was unsure of what college to attend and had no resources to cover the costs of any college experience.

Milton Cunningham, BA ’50, later to become a longtime Texas Baptist leader and Baylor Board member, and his wife Barbara attended church with the Powers family in Corpus Christi.

The Cunninghams encouraged Tom that Baylor was the place for him. “I really didn’t know that much about Baylor until Milton and I sat down, and he painted a dream that I just bought into,” Tom says.

A high school counselor introduced Tom to the idea that an academic scholarship might be available to him.

“Well, we applied and, lo and behold I got a four-year scholarship from Baylor that was funded by Texaco Oil and Gas,” he notes. “They gave me the scholarship as well as a summer job to earn spending money. So, Pat and I both were blessed to have scholarships to Baylor.”

At the start of his sophomore year, Tom learned his father had been diagnosed with ALS and had less than a year to live. He wanted to drop out of school, but that wasn’t an option. “Dad insisted that God wouldn’t have provided that scholarship if he didn’t intend for me to use it,” Tom says. On one of his trips home, Tom wrote a note to his dad, promising that he would live a better life for Christ. His father died shortly before Tom’s final exams in the spring of his sophomore year.

The note, “I promise myself to live a better life for Christ as I return to school,” was discovered many years later in his father’s Bible. Tom related the story to his family, and on his 75th birthday, the card returned to him—framed by the hand prints of each child and their promises to live a life dedicated to Christ.

After graduation, Powers worked for national accounting firm Price Waterhouse, then joined a privately owned investment operation led by former U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen. In 1976, Powers and a business associate assembled a group that acquired an investment advisory firm that had been part of the Bentsen Group holdings. Over the next 14 years they developed the organization into a national investment advisory firm managing mutual funds and large institutional investors from all over the world. They later took the ownership public and finally negotiated a sale of the entire operation to Transamerica Corp. in 1990. Powers stayed with the operation as CEO for three years and then retired from day-to-day operations.

Early in her career, Pat served in various management positions in Houston-based companies until she became a full-time mom with three children. After the children were in school, she established an interior design firm, obtained her ASID and developed a career in commercial and residential design.

A longtime community volunteer and philanthropist, Pat’s love for children and the plight of those who are underserved led to her a more than 25-year-long relationship with DePelchin Children’s Center, where she serves on the board.

Their commitment to giving back is a staple of their marriage. As newlyweds, Pat and Tom made a commitment that as soon as they had the resources, Baylor would be on their priority list—particularly to do something that would help future students. Tours of Cambridge and Oxford helped solidify their plans. “We were in awe as we strolled the halls and read of far-sighted people who had established ‘Chairs’ for various departments and professors, in many cases hundreds and hundreds of years ago,” he says. “What a way to guarantee that thousands of future students will benefit.”

In the 1990s, they established The Pat and Tom Powers Chair in Investment Management, filled by Dr. Bill Reichenstein. The Powers have established several scholarships for business and social work students, contributed to building projects such as the McLane Student Life Center, McLane Stadium and the Paul L. Foster Campus for Business and Innovation.

Pat serves on the advisory board of Baylor’s School of Social Work, and Tom was a Baylor Regent from 1988-97 and Regent chair from 1996-97.

While a Baylor Regent, Tom utilized his expertise in investment management to help build Baylor’s endowment management strategy. He had similar experience in helping start the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund in Boston, from which he retired last year. He still serves on the Fidelity board. Tom was also involved in Baylor’s transition from the Southwest Conference to the Big 12.

“Those were some of the things that made a sea change at Baylor, and it was a time when I think Baylor was beginning to really consider what it wanted to be when it grew up,” Tom says. “When I was Regent chair, we started putting together a comprehensive, long-range plan for Baylor. And we began to pull all those things together, even as rudimentary as they were.”

He adds, “The most rewarding thing is to see Baylor rise. We have some little gems that are growing at Baylor that are niches that fill needs and that are making us known throughout the country. One of the good things about Baylor is that we aren’t just sitting still. We are blessed to have leaders who have had vision that goes beyond what any of us would have had individually.

“Baylor has the opportunity to be a beacon and example—to participate in the changing world and help evolve and change that world,” he continues. “The message will show people that you can make a better life for people. That’s what all of us should be trying to do, but Baylor is a collective effort to do that. I think that vision is really unique in higher education.

“We all have a responsibility to plant trees that we may never sit under,” says Powers, who believes that Baylor’s long-term health depends upon constituent support. “We live in a world of instant gratification, and charity is not something where you necessarily get the result immediately. It’s an investment in the future and you may never sit under the shade of the tree that you plant, but somebody will. Whatever you have, you’ve got to give back to keep Baylor alive. We continue to strive to fulfill that promise and leave Baylor, and this world, a better place.”