Losing both his parents by age eight, William R. White was raised by his grandmother in Frankston. He had an unusual gift of concentration, a unique ability for retention, and a powerful voice that he frequently used in amateur theatrical productions and religious activities.
White entered Baylor in 1913, but soon transferred to Howard Payne College in Brownwood for health reasons. Graduating in 1917, he enrolled at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and earned his doctorate in 1924. He remained to teach missions for three years and then pastored in Greenville and Lubbock. He served as executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas from 1929-31 and then led Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth and First Baptist, Oklahoma City. In 1940 he became president of Hardin-Simmons University, leaving in 1943 to join the Baptist Sunday School Board in Nashville as editorial secretary. He returned to the pastorate in 1945 and was leading First Baptist Church, Austin when Baylor trustees beckoned him for service.
At his inauguration on April 13, 1948, White announced his desire to expand the religious emphasis of the institution and to enhance the school’s physical plant. He proclaimed that “Those who launched Baylor University had a definite concept of its two-fold purpose. It was to serve the church and the state. I shall add what they always implied—the world.”
Within a year, enrollment in Waco passed the 5,000 mark (5,102) with a few hundred more studying in Dallas and Houston. Additional facilities, both temporary and permanent, were constantly on the drawing board. Success seemed to be the norm as the next year enrollment set another record, passing 6,000.
Consequently, White began concentrating on fund raising. Endowment rapidly increased by more than $7.5 million, and the institution’s assets, including the Waco, Dallas, and Houston facilities, reached a value of $32.3 million. Paralleling the physical growth was the strengthening of Baylor’s faculty in both numbers and scholastic qualifications.
In 1959, believing his talents could better be used in development and public relations than as an administrator, White persuaded the trustees to change his responsibilities so he could travel and represent the University. School of Law Dean Abner V. McCall became executive vice president with authority to oversee the day-to-day operations. The arrangement continued until 1961 when White became chancellor and McCall president.
W. R. “Billy” White was born on a farm in Henderson County, Texas, on December 2, 1892, to Gibson and Kittie Dorman White. He answered the call to ministry at age eleven and preached his first sermon at fourteen. He married Edna Woods, his college sweetheart, in 1916. After her death, White wed Catherine West Tarwater in 1950. She died in 1970, and he later married Odera Mohr. The Baylor president had no children of his own. He died in Waco on March 24, 1977.