Bernard Rapoport


Bernard Rapoport was born in San Antonio, Texas, on July 17, 1917, the first of two children to David Rapoport and Reva Feldman Rapoport, both Russian immigrants who met and married in the United States. His father, David, was a particpant in the Russian revolution of 1905 and was exiled to Siberia for distributing propaganda against the czar. He was ultimately condemned to death but escaped in 1910 by walking 600 miles to Belgium. His mother, a deeply devout orthodox Jew, instilled her Hasidic background into the family. Living in a poor Jewish community in San Antonio, Mr. Rapoport learned to value compassion and charity during the Great Depression era, surviving on his father's meager income as a blanket peddler, never sure one day to the next if the electricity or water may be shut off, or if his family would be evicted. One day when he was thirteen year old while walking home he was hit by a vehicle resulting in a broken leg that left him bedridden for a year and a half. It was during this time Mr. Rapoport became an avid reader, and thanks to the generosity of teachers who would visit his home, he continued his studies. 

Mr. Rapoport graduated from high school a talented student in 1935 and was offered a scholarship to University of Texas (UT). However, because he could not find a job in Austin, he was forced to attend San Antonio Junior College for one year. Luckily the following year he was offered a position as a credit manager at Zales Jewelry in Austin and was able to transfer and finish his BA in economics at UT in 1939. Mr. Rapoport continued at UT to work on his MA, however he never completed the process due to the fact that he did not turn in his thesis on Marxism on account of his utter disillusionment with his philosophies by the time the research was completed. With multiple years of business experience under his belt, he decided to take a position at the Kruger Jewelry Company, first in Austin, then later Wichita Falls, TX where he used two-thirds of his pay to help his sister pay for her college education at Columbia. 

Then in a moment of pure serendipity, in December 1942 Mr. Rapoport met Audre Newman in Waco during a layover of his very first flight from Wichita Falls to San Antonio. It was love at first sight, and within a matter of weeks they were married. After living together briefly in Wichita Falls, Audre convinced Bernard to open his own jewelry store in Waco, and with the financial backing of Audrey's stepfather Ben L. Art, Mr. Rapoport began work as manager of Art's Jewelry store in 1943. The Rapoports welcomed a son, Ronnie B., in October of 1947 and Bernard continued to work in the jewelry business until 1949. 

Looking for a new opportunity, in the early part of 1950 Mr. Rapoport began to help his father sell insurance for Texas Life in San Antonio. After his initial success, Audre's uncle, Harold Goodman, introduced Bernard to the president of Pioneer American Bob Schulman, who offered him a position as a general agent in Waco. Mr. Rapoport continued to excel, to the point where in May of 1951 Mr. Goodman offered him a 20% share and the position of president of his own company, American Income Insurance, based out of Indianapolis, IN. 

American Income originally sold low-cost hospital insurance plans, later expanding into life insurance. During its first year in 1952, the company took in about $95,000 worth of premium income, ballooning to $1 million in 1953 and $2 million in 1954. In September 1954, Goodman and Rapoport formed a new company called American Income Life Insurance Company (AIL). American Income Life reinsured the policies of American Income and was transformed from a mutual reserve company to a stock company. Between 1954 and 1955, AIL’s assets had doubled, its net reserve had tripled, its capital and surplus more than doubled, and it had about $15 million of insurance in force. In 1956, Mr. Rapoport began to expand nationally by obtaining a license in Ohio and opening a central office in Columbus. By the close of 1956, American Income Life was operating in thirteen states out of 96 general agencies. In March 1958, the company’s home offices were moved from Indianapolis, IN, to Waco, TX. 

In 1961, AIL began providing supplemental insurance to members of labor unions. AIL began the practice of waiving payment of premiums by union members during an authorized strike action, a benefit still enforced today. AIL also developed a college scholarship program for children of union members, and the company contributed to the strike funds of unions engaged in lawful strikes. In period between 1963 and 1973, AIL’s annual income rose from about $6 or $7 million to $31.5 million. In October 1973, the company was granted an official designation as a Union Label company by the AFL-CIO. In 1994, American Income Life was sold to the Torchmark Corporation for $563 million.  

Bernard Rapoport passed away on April 5, 2012, just a couple months after celebrating his 70'th wedding anniversary. Memorial services were held in both Waco and Washington D.C. and featured eulogies from many past and present members of the political sphere including Tom Daschle, Nancy Pelosi and Bill Clinton. He is survived by his wife Audre, son Ronald and granddaughters Abby and Emily.


Outside of the business world, Bernard Rapoport has a long history of activism in many political and philanthropic causes. Donating $46 million of his own funds, he established the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Foundation in 1987, which benefits education and the arts by establishing endowed chairs and professorships in various disciplines at UT and supporting multiple Jewish institutions, the greater Waco community and many other enterprises. He was awarded the 2009 FDR Distinguished Public Service Award and was listed in Fortune magazine as one of America’s "40 most generous philanthropists." He is a former Chairman of the Board of Regents for the University of Texas, was appointed by former President Clinton as a member of the Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations (ACTPN) and holds memberships in the Library of Congress Trust Fund Board, the National Hispanic University Trustees, the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, the Economic Policy Institute, the National Jobs For All Coalition, and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. His list of political friends and contacts range from former local Congressman Chet Edwards to current President Barack Obama. 

Rapoport Audio Clip 1
[01/08/2009] Mr. Rapoport details his stance of giving back to the community. . . (02:45 ) 

Rapoport  For example, when we did—when we sold the company, we got a lot of money, and we put half of it in the Foundation. Some of my friends said, Well, you’re crazy. Why did you do that? I said, “Because I owed it.” Said, Who’d you owe it to? I said, “To society.” I said, “Anybody that thinks they’re a self-made man is an idiot. I mean, I—if I had to make a list of all the people that helped me get to where I am,” I said, “there’s not enough paper in the world.” And so, the—I was good at managing, and I was good at motivating, and so we were able to build a company. But I made—how many people do you think helped me do that? The only guy that I can’t stand is a self-made man because I know I’m talking to an idiot. None of us are self-made.

Where would you be if you hadn’t gone to college?

Sloan  I know where, yeah, exactly. But, you know, this speaks—we’re doing this project with the Cooper Foundation to help understand philanthropy and why people give back and what motivates them. And I think you spoke to the heart of it right there.

Rapoport  Well, I think the first thing you have to do is to accept that we owe. And where would I be if it hadn’t been for the University of Texas. And I’ll tell you how I went to the University of Texas. The first year, I went to a community college in San Antonio because my father had—my family had no money. And so—but I couldn’t find a job in Austin. And so, I went to community college. And then I found a job in Austin, so I went to U. T. for those three years, plus a year in—working on my master’s.

But anyways, the thing that happened, uh, look, I came from a family where nobody—Papa and Mama didn’t care how rich you were; they care how much you cared about other people. So, money has never been an end for me—it’s a means. And if you accept that, then you know that what you have is not really all yours—you owe it. And so, the Foundation has been one of the great things that we have enjoyed. . .

Rapoport Audio Clip 2
[01/08/2009] Mr. Rapoport explains the roots of his concept of "betterment". . . (01:53 ) 

Sloan  Well, one theme that’s been through your life that kind of connects to your interest in philanthropy is betterment. You know you always talked about your father waking you up, and you needed to know something today that you didn’t know yesterday.

Rapoport  We lived by the railroad tracks, you know—we were very poor. And these hobos in the thirt—at ’29, thirties, you know, early thirties. Hobos would come by the house, and Mama would give them a peanut butter sandwich. And one day I said to Mama, I mean, I said, “Mama, some of these people don’t deserve that sandwich.” She says, “It’s better to feed all than to miss one that needs.” Now, I mean, she imbued that kind of philosophy within me. And so, if somebody needs help, and I help them, and they fool me and I lose, that doesn’t discourage me. I know—I say, “Well, the next guy won’t do that.” And when it comes to financial things, what I do is I—what success I’ve had is because I’m worried about how much I can lose before I worry about how much I can make. And so, because of that, I’ve never had to do anything desperate in business. I never had to do the kinds of things that sometimes are not—that are off the record—things that guys shouldn’t do. But that didn’t happen to me because I never gambled in business beyond what I could afford to lose.

So now, you’re smarter than you were because you know everything you know, and now you know everything I know. (both laugh)

Rapoport Audio Clip 3
[01/08/2009] Mr. Rapoport describes some of the work done by the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Foundation. . .(02:53 ) 

Rapoport  One-sixth of all the money the Foundation gives every year in perpetuity goes to the University of Texas for scholarship programs—and not for freshmen. You have to have a good freshman year. If you have a good freshman year, you get thirty thousand dollars—ten thousand dollars a year for three years so that you—and that enables them to study and also to take trips because, you know, that enlarges them when they go overseas and stuff like that. And so, that was the first thing that we did.

The second thing that we did was—being Jewish—you’re not Jewish—Jerusalem Foundation does major projects to—not just for Jewish things, but in the Jerusalem area—hospitals and that kind of thing. One-sixth of the money goes there. No, one-twelfth of the money goes there, and the other twelfth goes to the United Jewish Appeal, okay? So, those are—that constitutes a third of the money. And then, a third of it has to be spent in Waco, Texas. This is where we live; this is where we prospered; this is where we owe. And I—you know, most people go through life and they don’t ever think they owe anything. But we think this is a great community, and we think we owe. I wish more people thought they owed. But anyway, for us to have as many poor people around here as we do—and people talk about being religious. I mean I don’t know how you can think you’re religious if you ignore that.

Sloan  That’s right.

Rapoport  And then the University of Texas gets a lot of money from us. And the Foundation is—what I like the Foundation is that we really accept responsibility in making certain that the money we give is going to make a better society. We really are committed to that. We’re not going to give money for a show or something like that. I mean, I’m serious about this thing called life, and I wish more people were.