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.