Preserving the past for the future

Jan and Trevor D. Rees-Jones ’78 give significant portion of their illustrious collection and $30 million to create the Rees-Jones Library of the American West.

The American West has long been of great interest to me, and I’m pleased that Jan and I can share that passion with SMU students and faculty, the greater Dallas community and visiting scholars.

– Trevor D. Rees-Jones ’78, founder and chairman of Chief Oil & Gas

A major gift from Jan and Trevor D. Rees-Jones ’78 will strengthen the University’s reputation as a vital place for education and research related to the American West. At the center of the couple’s gift is a significant portion of the expansive Rees-Jones Collection consisting of thousands of items – including rare books, manuscripts, maps, photographs and ephemera. The donors have also committed $25 million to establish and build the Rees-Jones Library of the American West and a $5 million endowment to support the library and its collections.

“Donors like Jan and Trevor Rees-Jones inspire scholars to look at the past with new perspectives and to gain a deeper understanding of how the present is influenced by history,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “Through this generous commitment, they will further our understanding of a pivotal time in American history and elevate SMU as one of the foremost institutions for the study of the American West.”

The couple’s generous commitment is the largest gift benefitting SMU Libraries that has yet been given during SMU Ignited: Boldly Shaping Tomorrow, the University’s multiyear $1.5 billion campaign for impact. The gift addresses the campaign’s goals to enrich teaching and research and enhance our campus and community for future generations. The extraordinary Rees-Jones Collection will complement existing SMU strengths in the DeGolyer Library collections on related topics, comparing favorably with the holdings of some of the best institutional collections in the country devoted to the history of the American West.

Through their generous commitment, Jan and Trevor Rees-Jones will elevate SMU as one of the foremost institutions for the study of the American West.

— R. Gerald Turner, SMU president

“The American West has long been of great interest to me, and I’m pleased that Jan and I can share that passion with SMU students and faculty, the greater Dallas community and visiting scholars,” said Trevor Rees-Jones, founder and chairman of Chief Oil & Gas. “I feel honored to have our names connected directly to E.L. DeGolyer’s legacy at SMU, and I look forward to seeing how the Rees-Jones Library will inspire and support future generations of scholars.”

With a diverse array of thousands of works created as early as the 17th century, the Rees-Jones Collection features everything from the rarest first editions to quotidian examples of ephemera, including: 

  • Nearly all the major color plate folios published on the trans-Mississippi West during the nineteenth century.
  • Albums of masterworks by pioneering photographers.
  • Many unique and highly significant manuscript maps, as well as landmark sheet maps, atlases and foldout maps in books. 
  • Correspondence and documents from major historic figures.

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Expected impact

  • Strengthens SMU’s standing among the leading institutions with special collections devoted to the history of the American West, such as the University of California at Berkeley and Yale University.
  • Supports historic preservation and future-focused discovery for generations to come.
  • Elevates SMU as one of the foremost institutions for instruction, conservation and research related to the American West.
  • Expands SMU teaching and research offerings with original, firsthand visual and written accounts from historic figures and explorers.

The collection provides a trove of material related to the discovery, exploration and settlement of the trans-Mississippi West.

“As we continue to gain momentum toward Carnegie R1 status, donors like Jan and Trevor Rees-Jones are vital to the impact of our research and the strength of our academic offerings,” said Elizabeth G. Loboa, SMU provost and vice president for Academic Affairs. “Through their gift, SMU will continue to raise its reputation as a place of future-focused inquiry and research with impact.”

Chairman of the SMU Board David Miller ’72, ’73 noted: “The establishment of a new library facility containing a significant collection from day one is a rare occasion in the history of an academic institution. Having the Rees-Jones family’s name on the new library in perpetuity will forever be a sign of the collection’s excellence and also strengthen SMU’s commitment to the preservation and interpretation of primary sources in Western history.”

The Rees-Jones Collection and Rees-Jones Library of the American West build on the University’s longstanding excellence in research, teaching and cultural appreciation of the American West. In addition to the related holdings in the SMU DeGolyer Library, the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies and the Clements Department of History include faculty and students who study issues related to the development of the southwestern United States, borderland issues such as immigration and the contributions of the American Southwest to the American economy. Other academic departments across the University also offer programs and curricula related to the American West, all of which will benefit from this extraordinary gift.

“We are incredibly grateful to Jan and Trevor Rees-Jones for their generous contribution to SMU Libraries and our community,” said Holly Jeffcoat, dean of SMU Libraries. “The Rees-Jones Collection and Rees-Jones Library of the American West will diversify our offerings to students and faculty and enrich crucial conversations about our collective past and future. Importantly, having both the Rees-Jones Collection and the existing DeGolyer Library on the same campus makes our resources on the American West among the very best in higher education and an essential research destination for scholars of the American West.”

Beyond the Dallas campus, SMU-in-Taos offers immersive cultural experiences and unique research opportunities related to the American West. While in Taos, New Mexico, students and visitors perform in-depth research in a culturally rich and energetic environment that boasts singular collaborative experiences for artists, historians and earth scientists who seek a better understanding of one of the country’s most unique regions.

“Jan and Trevor Rees-Jones’ latest gift to SMU continues a relationship extending three generations,” said Brad Cheves, vice president for Development and External Affairs. “Having the Rees-Jones family as a leading donor in our SMU Ignited campaign sends an important signal to the philanthropic community of the positive impact SMU continues to have on our community and nation.”

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Jan and Trevor D. Rees-Jones ’78

The second of three generations of SMU alumni, Trevor Rees-Jones earned his Juris Doctor from the SMU Dedman School of Law after graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from Dartmouth College. His connection to both SMU Libraries and the Dallas legal arena can be partly accredited to his father, SMU alumnus and prominent Dallas attorney Trevor William Rees-Jones ’43, who served as the lawyer for the estate of the late E.L. DeGolyer, Sr., the namesake for SMU’s DeGolyer Library. 

In the years since his graduation, Trevor Rees-Jones has become a renowned presence in the Dallas law, business, and oil and gas industries, practicing as a bankruptcy lawyer, followed by a prolific career in the oil and gas business. His interest in the industry led him to establish Chief Oil & Gas in 1994, where he became a front-runner in shale fracking innovations. The recipient of the 2016 L. Frank Pitts Award for Energy Leadership and Innovation, he has also been inducted into the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, Texas Business Hall of Fame and the Junior Achievement’s Dallas Business Hall of Fame.

An alumna of Texas Tech University, Jan Rees-Jones is an active Dallas community member and volunteer. In addition to her former service on the George W. Bush Women’s Initiative advisory council, she served from 2010 to 2013 on the SMU John Goodwin Tower Center Board of Directors. She has also held several positions in the women’s ministry at Highland Park Presbyterian Church and is a passionate advocate for animal welfare. The couple has two sons, David Rees-Jones and Trevor R. Rees-Jones ’19, the latter representing the third generation of their family to attend SMU.

As philanthropists, Jan and Trevor D. Rees-Jones were major donors of SMU’s previous fundraising campaign, SMU Unbridled, and have contributed greatly to programs and funds across campus, including the Meadows School of the Arts’ music therapy partnership with the nonprofit Hugworks and the Dedman College Tower Scholars program. In 2006, they founded The Rees-Jones Foundation to support youth programming in North Texas, with a special focus on the personal development, protection and physical and mental health of children and youth. Jan Rees-Jones currently serves as the foundation’s vice chairman and director. Over the years, The Rees-Jones Foundation has also made significant contributions to the University’s initiatives, including the SMU Dedman School of Law’s W.W. Caruth, Jr. Child Advocacy Legal Clinic and the Simmons School of Education and Human Development’s Budd Center: Involving Communities in Education, among others. 

Trevor Rees-Jones’ first interest in collecting began during a childhood visit to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. In the years since, his interest has only grown, leading to one of the nation’s most substantial and selective collections of maps, books and other material related to America west of the Mississippi River.