It would be difficult to overstate how important John McCants was to the opening and operation of Rice in its first decades. President Lovett convinced him to come to Texas as his personal assistant in 1910, when the Institute was nothing more than a couple of offices in the Scanlan Building downtown. As they concentrated on getting the thing up and going, the two of them quickly forged a close personal and working relationship. Here’s a letter from Lovett to McCants, written in early 1912 as he crossed Europe feverishly trying to recruit the best possible faculty in time for the opening, filling him in on the possibilities:
Simply put, McCants was a guy who made things happen, a practical man who did whatever needed to be done in service to the greater good. He taught English and Business Administration as required, served as registrar for a time, as bursar for most of his career and above all as a sort of de facto dean of students, dealing with the many and varied needs of kids who were often far from home during a time when communication with home was difficult. He just took care of things. (Those of you who worked on campus during the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s will understand what I mean when I say that McCants was the Carl McDowell of the Rice Institute.)
The early students responded to his care with deep appreciation, dedicating the 1922 Campanile to him:
After his retirement in 1953 his former students began raising raising money for a prize for accounting students named in his honor. Yesterday I ran across this 1976 brochure for these continuing efforts, which I think gives a pretty good idea of McCants’s value to the Institute:
And here’s the front cover of the same brochure. This painting was near the back doors of Allen Center for along time but I haven’t been there for a while so I can’t swear it’s still there:
I wonder how many of our current students could read that letter? Beautiful handwriting. One of the lost arts.
I wonder if the young biologist he mentioned was Julian Huxley.
Indeed it was. And one of the “Cambridge men” Lovett was interested in was physicist H.A. Wilson, who he was able to poach from McGill. The “Thomson” he was trying to get to come to the Rice Opening was J.J. Thomson, the Cavendish professor at Cambridge and the discoverer of the electron.
Carl! He’s looking happy in retirement! He was a good friend to the Shepherd School and he was the University Administration’s representative at Dean Hammond’s funeral in New York in 2002. He had just retired then but he agreed to come.
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