I’m embarrassed to say that for almost two decades I consistently underestimated Rice’s second president, William Vermillion Houston. I know now why I did this–I was young enough to be caught up in all the excitement and challenges of the early years of the Institute and then the launching of the modern Rice in the 1960s. But over time I have come to respect and admire Houston deeply. A quiet, reserved, and formal man, he had a thorough understanding of and dedication to the academic mission of the university. When he arrived at Rice he immediately set about redistributing authority, which had resided more or less in the person of Edgar Odell Lovett for almost forty years, to include the faculty in significant ways. He remained an active scholar (more about this later) and coupled his intellectual seriousness with an almost complete lack of pretension. This straightforwardness can be immediately seen in his prose style, which was characterized by clarity, concision, and humility.
This is the speech he gave when he was presented the Alumni Gold Medal at Homecoming in 1967. Note how little he talks of himself and how much credit he gives others:
Bonus: That chair you can see just a piece of in the picture of Houston at top? It’s in the Woodson now. I sat on it just to see how it felt.
Not that great, actually.
Ten extra credit point to whoever knows whose portrait is hanging behind it.
She’s E.O. Lovett’s wife, Mary Ellen Hale Lovett (1875-1952).
Ten points for Mike Ross!
Is it known when Auguste Leroux made this painting and where Mrs. Lovett sat for it?
(Might it have been painted in association with Mrs. Lovett receiving in 1928, as Dara Flinn mentioned in the Woodson blog post linked above, a medal from the Central Federation of the Alliance Française in Paris?)
That’s a really good question. I’ll investigate.
In the last two days, a former Rice professor and a former Rice president used a common word – fate – in their writings to explain favorable outcomes. Professor Gorry uses it in describing why one man, out of many, would survive and return home from a war. President Houston uses it to describe how a fledgling university would carry on despite a country at war and a financial depression. So now, for the second night in a row, I continue to ruminate about fate. Is it just something we should accept? Or do we have a hand in altering its course?
That’s a good speech! And I like the tip of the cap to Messrs. Wiess, Hanszen and Brown.
Where was the first picture taken? Those are lovely bookcases.