Celebrating Lives of Leadership and Service
Jane Meyer, of Waco, passed away Saturday, Aug. 21. She was 81. Honored as a Baylor Founder for her support of the University, Meyer’s strong Christian faith informed her philanthropy, and as president of the Paul and Jane Meyer Family Foundation, she built upon a legacy of generosity toward Baylor’s students through giving to scholarships, faculty funding and facilities.
“We honor Jane and her incredible heart for Baylor’s students,” said Baylor President Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D. “Jane believed in the transformative impact that quality, faith education can have on our students’ lives and, together with her late husband, Paul, she created an inspiring legacy through their generous support of endowment. Jane was always a source of encouragement and support, and she was generous with her time. We mourn with her family and we pray that God’s peace and strength will be with them as they remember and celebrate Jane’s wonderful life.”
Meyer continued the Baylor legacy of her husband, renowned entrepreneur and personal development pioneer Paul J. Meyer, in supporting education and the Christian mission of the University through the Paul and Jane Meyer Family Foundation. Paul, who passed away in 2009, was widely considered one of the most influential people in the personal achievement industry after the founding of the Success Motivation Institute (SMI) and Leadership Management Inc., for the purpose of helping people develop management skills.
Meyer received numerous honors, including the Baylor Founders Medal, the W.R. White Meritorious Service Award and Alumna Honoris Causa, the highest honor bestowed upon one who does not hold a Baylor degree. The Meyer family has celebrated more than a dozen Baylor graduations among their own children and grandchildren, who received their diplomas in the venue that bears the family’s name, the Paul J. Meyer Arena in the Ferrell Center.
Both Jane and Paul overcame hardships in their youth. The youngest of four children, Jane was born in Killeen, TX, and moved at age 2 with her family to a farm, where her father soon died in a tractor accident. Her mother relocated the family to Temple, where Jane completed high school before attending business school in Waco.
Born in California to immigrants, Paul worked in orchards and vineyards alongside migrant workers beginning at age 5, developing the discipline and work ethic that would fuel his success from a young age. In 1958, Paul moved to Waco from Florida to work in sales at Word Inc. In 1960, after two years in sales at Word Inc., Paul launched SMI, which revolutionized the personal development industry. It was the same year Paul met Jane. Eleven years later, the two married.
Sharing the success of SMI and subsequent ventures, the Meyer Family Foundation has given more than $75 million to assist the youth, elderly and needy in Central Texas. At Baylor, the Meyer Family Foundation established scholarships honoring friends and family and provided a leading gift to name the Paul and Jane Meyer Conference Center at the Paul L. Foster Campus for Business and Innovation, home of Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business. The Paul J. Meyer Arena at the Ferrell Center was named in Paul’s honor for his support in its construction. The Meyers also created The William M. Hinson Professor of Christian Scriptures at Truett Seminary and donated a building for use as a student-athlete residence hall.
Baylor alumnus and celebrated lawyer Walter Umphrey, BBA ’59, JD ’65, of Beaumont, TX, passed away Sept. 7, 2021. He was 85. Umphrey was born in Port Arthur, TX, and following graduation from Thomas Jefferson High School and with a scholarship in hand, Walter set off to SMU to play the sport that he loved his entire life — football. He ultimately transferred to Baylor and graduated in 1959. While in school, Walter drove to Crystal Beach to meet a beautiful, intelligent and spirited young woman named Sheila McCarthy. They married in 1960.
Between college and law school, Umphrey earned tuition money by working as an insurance adjuster. It was during this time that a mantra deep inside him was forged. He vowed to never represent insurance companies when he became a lawyer. He always wanted to help the underdog. Walter enrolled at Baylor Law, where he found himself challenged by the renowned Practice Court — a forum he would go on to master. After law school, Umphrey worked for the Jefferson County District Attorney’s office, advancing quickly to chief felony prosecutor. He founded the Provost Umphrey Law Firm in Beaumont with partner David Provost in 1969.
His legal career spanned more than 50 years, with victories, accolades, recognitions and appointments too numerous to list. Known for fighting for “real people,” Umphrey represented countless people, whether it was fighting to create a safer workplace for workers and unions, helping those discriminated against and victims of injury, or the people of Texas against Big Tobacco.
“Walter Umphrey epitomized what it means to be a Baylor alumnus. His legendary law career, coupled with his commitment to his family and as a leader in his community point to a legacy of light that will truly impact generations,” said Baylor President Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D. “But more than his works, Walter was a dear friend to so many within the Baylor Family, and we mourn with them.”
Walter and Sheila are well-known to the Baylor community through their service: They invested in his alma mater, providing the lead gift for the Sheila and Walter Umphrey Law Center at Baylor, and they continued to invest in students through scholarships and through support of the Baylor Football program with the naming of the Sheila and Walter Umphrey Bridge at McLane Stadium. For their generous support, Walter and Sheila were honored with the Baylor Legacy Award in 2014, which is given “to individuals who demonstrate extraordinary service and philanthropy to Baylor or to causes that fit our mission as a Christian university.”
John Gordon Wilkerson, Jr., BBA ’57, of Lubbock, TX, died Aug. 28, 2021 after a courageous battle with cancer. Wilkerson faced cancer the same way he lived life — with determination, steadfastness and gratitude. In life’s great victories and its most difficult challenges, his character, integrity, initiative, compassion and strong faith in God led him well.
A lifelong Lubbock resident, Wilkerson graduated from Lubbock High in 1953 and from Baylor University in 1957. He assumed leadership of Wilkerson Cold Storage Co. in 1956 and remained Chairman of the company until his death.
Wilkerson married Ruth Collins on June 21, 1958. In a lifetime of good decisions, this was his wisest. They spent the next 63 years together in Lubbock, where their family grew to include four children and they were actively involved in serving their church, schools and community.
A deacon at First Baptist Church, Wilkerson taught Sunday School and was President of Men’s Brotherhood. He worked on numerous church committees and served as Assistant Scoutmaster for Troop 9. Ruth and John were gracious in sharing their home with others in countless fellowships.
Baylor University made it possible for Wilkerson to complete his degree via correspondence courses and graduate with his class while he worked in Lubbock following his father’s unexpected death in a plane crash. This forged a lifelong love for and loyalty to Baylor. He served 18 years as a Regent, including two as Chairman of the Board. He was President of the Hankamer School of Business Alumni Board of Directors, a Director of the Baylor Alumni Association and Chairman of Baylor’s Development Council.
Wilkerson was a proud citizen of Lubbock, and he had a significant role in the growth it achieved in his lifetime. He served as Chairman of the Board of City Development, the Lubbock County Appraisal District and the Civil Service Commission. He took an active role in local, state and national political races. He spent substantial time and resources in efforts to secure a promising future for the area he loved.
Wilkerson had a true heart for helping others. He had a unique ability to reach downtrodden and overlooked individuals, quietly offering inclusion, advice and material resources. He spoke truth clearly. He possessed both the compassion and firmness necessary to help persons in extremely difficult circumstances.
Above all else, Wilkerson was devoted to his family. He instilled in them the value and rewards of hard work, a heart for service, wisdom and comfort in dealing with hardships and loss and profound gratitude for the Lord’s blessings.