William P. Clements Jr. and SMU:
A relationship of more than 70 years and support for academic programs

SMU's relationship with the late Texas governor spanned more than 70 years and included support for academic programs.

Bill Clements

Bill and Rita Clements
The late Bill Clements and Rita Clements in 2009 at SMU-in-Taos on the grounds of Fort Burgwin, N.M.

Tributes from Clements Center Fellows
The Clements Center for Southwest Studies provides fellowships for scholars to bring book-length manuscripts on Southwestern America or the U.S.-Mexico borderlands to completion. Read tributes from fellows for opportunities the Center has created.

DALLAS (SMU) — Former Texas Governor William P. Clements Jr. was a longtime major supporter of academic programs at Southern Methodist University. His relationship with SMU began in the mid-1930s, when he was an engineering student, and through the years he became a major benefactor funding some of SMU’s highest academic priorities, including support for his special interest in the Southwest.

“Bill Clements’ generosity and guidance have made a significant impact on academic programs throughout SMU, with major gifts supporting engineering, theology, mathematics and history,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “By endowing the Clements Department of History, including a new Ph.D. program, and the Clements Center for Southwest Studies, he enabled students ranging from undergraduates to doctoral fellows to learn more about the history and cultures of this region. Bill and Rita Clements also made it possible for SMU to acquire, rebuild and offer academic programs at SMU-in-Taos, located on the site of historic Fort Burgwin in northern New Mexico. This facility has given generations of students and faculty a tremendous and unique resource for teaching, learning and research.

“Earlier, as chair of SMU’s Board from 1967-73 and again from l983-86, Bill Clements led the formation of an endowment committee resulting in dramatic increases in market value. He led funding of the campus master plan that continues to guide our academic offerings, and with an eye for detail in bricks and mortar, he preserved the continuity of SMU’s Collegiate Georgian architecture. All this he accomplished with his typical no-nonsense approach and direct style of communication. His legacy as a business leader, public official and supporter of SMU will stand the test of time. He was a member of the SMU community for more than 70 years and he will be greatly missed.”

Through the years Clements and his wife, Rita, have contributed more than $21 million for the University’s academic programs and facilities. Their gifts include:

  • $10 million in 1994 to establish the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies at SMU and endow the Clements Department of History, including funds for development of a Ph.D. program in American history. Creation of the Center was the fulfillment of Clements’ love for the history of Texas and the Southwest.  He said, “I want to make it possible for others to learn more about the unique history of the Southwest and to train educators who will pass along this knowledge to young people who will be the future leaders of this region.”

Upon his retirement, the late David J. Weber, who held the Robert and Nancy Dedman Professor of History and was the Founding Director of the Clements Center, said, “Bill Clements’ vision and resources enabled us to create a major research center at SMU. The Center’s post-doctoral fellowships dramatically changed the lives of many young scholars, improving the quality of their work and advancing their careers.  Bill never micromanaged the Center, but was always ready to lend support and advice when we needed it.”  

  • More than $7.5 million over the years for facilities and programs at SMU-in-Taos, the University’s campus in Northern New Mexico. This total includes $4 million for facilities improvements in 2008, including new student housing, and $1 million for the new Wendorf Information Commons, dedicated in 2004.

In 1965, Fred Wendorf, chair of SMU’s Department of Anthropology, had proposed that SMU get involved in restoring the site of 13th–century Indian ruins, Pot Creek Pueblo, and a pre-Civil War cavalry post, Fort Burgwin, 10 miles south of Taos, as an archaeological research center and field school. With Clements’ support, SMU began to acquire and develop the property in 1968. Today, the 295-acre campus, surrounded by the Kit Carson Forest, offers courses in disciplines ranging from art to the sciences.

“Governor Bill Clements' envisioned a learning community where students and faculty could pursue research and coursework amidst the towering mountains of northern New Mexico,” said Mike Adler, associate professor of anthropology and executive director of SMU-in-Taos. “Through strategic planning, Clements helped create a campus that kept the rustic beauty of historic Fort Burgwin intact while also providing state-of-the-art technology, classrooms and residential facilities. Today the Taos campus hosts undergraduate and graduate courses, research conferences and academic retreats. One of the signature events each year is the colloquium lecture series, funded by an endowment given in honor of Gov. and Mrs. Clements, that for the past 37 years has brought more than 40,000 people to free public lectures on the Taos campus.”

In his book on the history of Fort Burgwin, Fred Wendorf wrote that the generosity of Bill and Rita Clements “has made Fort Burgwin a delightful place for SMU students to study and learn about the beauty of nature and the diversity of our world.”

Additional Support of SMU

  • $1 million in 1986 to establish the Betty Clements Professorship in Applied Mathematics in Dedman College in honor of his sister.
  • Nearly $900,000 in l965 to renovate SMU’s second campus building. Adapted from a former dormitory to general-purpose classrooms, it was renamed Clements Hall.
  • Other support ranging from SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering to Perkins School of Theology, where he was a major donor to the W.J.A. Power Professorship in Biblical Hebrew and Old Testament Interpretation.

Additional Service to SMU

In addition to his philanthropy, Clements gave generously of his time and energy to SMU. Highlights of his relationship with the University include:

  • Served multiple terms on SMU's Board of Trustees and its former Board of Governors and as chair of the Board of Governors from 1967-73 and again from l983-86. He was named trustee emeritus in 1991.
  • Received the Lyle School of Engineering’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2003, Mustang Award for longtime service and philanthropy in 1995, Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree in 1974 and SMU Distinguished Alumni Award in 1966.
  • Member, with his wife, Rita, of the SMU-in-Taos Executive Board.
  • Served on the Texas Committee of The Campaign for SMU, which concluded in 2002 and raised $542 million.
  • Served from 1992-95 on the President’s Leadership Council, a volunteer committee for development of major donor prospects.
  • Served as chair of the $37 million fund-raising drive supporting goals of SMU’s 1963 Master Plan. Clements was instrumental in promoting the continuity of SMU’s traditional Collegiate Georgian architecture.

Other Ties to SMU

Several generations of the Clements family have attended SMU, including:

  • His late son, Ben G. “Gill” Clements ’63, daughter-in-law Pat Lindell Clements ’63 and granddaughter Margaret Gill Clements ’93.
  • Daughter Nancy Clements Seay ’64, son-in-law George E. Seay Jr. J.D. ’68 and grandson George E. Seay III J.D. ’94.
  • Daughter-in-law Hong Z. Bass M.L.A. ’08, wife of James E. Bass.

A memorial service honoring the life of Governor Clements was held Thursday, June 2, at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church.

Those who wish to make a gift to SMU in memory of Governor Clements should direct their gifts to the William P. Clements, Jr. Memorial Fund. See http://smu.edu/giving/howtogive.asp for information on how to make a gift to SMU.

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