More than once I’ve heard Rice alums say that we always get the leadership we need when we need it. I never argue with them but their thesis is certainly not uniformly true (which I suspect they know but would rather not acknowledge). A chief example of this is the tremendous blow that was dealt Rice by the early death of trustee Harry Wiess, seen here in a beautiful 1935 Vera Prasilova Scott portrait:
You wouldn’t know it from the highly visible Wiess name on campus but he was only a Rice trustee for four years. Even before he joined the board in 1944 he, along with George Brown, played a crucial role in the the Institute’s acquisition of the Rincon oil field in South Texas, arguably the most important financial event since the founding. And once a trustee he immediately brought his wide business experience to bear on the problem of how to coherently manage the school’s expansion. Under his presidency the Humble Oil Company had completed a thorough history, creating at the same time a forward-looking plan that was meant to be revised every five years. He promptly proposed a similar survey for Rice. As chairman of the survey committee he enlisted the cooperation of alumni, faculty, and the community and produced a concise 12-point program that was officially adopted by the board as it looked to post-war growth and change. When the trustees hired William Houston as Lovett’s successor it was with the expectation that Wiess would be by his side as the plan was implemented. His untimely death in August, 1948 cut that partnership short, much to the Institute’s detriment.
Here’s the plan. It was short, direct, specific and sensible, nothing wasted or extraneous, a model of good planning:
Wiess unveiled the program to the alumni at an address in November, 1945, included here as a pdf. Like the plan itself his speech, a clear and level-headed history and analysis of the state of Rice three decades after its opening, is a well crafted piece of work.
We really could have used this man.Harry Wiess Speech to ARA