Roy Huffington, who personified the legend of a Texas wildcatter with his adventurous character and generous spirit, will be remembered at Baylor College of Medicine for his many contributions to the College and for his leadership as a member of the Board of Trustees from 1986 until 1999.
Most notably, the Roy M. and Phyllis Gough Huffington Center on Aging will stand as a landmark to his and his family's altruism. Established at BCM in 1988 with an endowment funded by Huffington and his wife Phyllis, who died in 2003, it is now recognized as one of the premier centers on aging in the world.
"Roy Huffington's experience in business and government made him a superb leader who will be deeply missed by the College and the community," BCM Interim President William T. Butler, M.D., said. Besides his longtime service to BCM, Huffington offered his time and vision to other boards in the Texas Medical Center as well as boards of the Houston Museum of Natural Science, Houston Symphony Society, Houston Ballet Foundation, Houston Chamber of Commerce, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and many others.
Huffington, 90, died July 11 while vacationing in Venice, Italy. In a memorial service held at the Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church and packed with his family, friends and admirers, he was remembered as a lighthouse of generosity and innovation.
"He set an example of hard work that lasted for nine decades," said Terry Huffington, also a former BCM board member, who spoke for the Huffington family at her father's funeral. Calling him her mentor, she said, "He was a gentle and giving man. A truly gentle man."
Born in Tomball, Texas, Huffington was raised in Dallas where he became the breadwinner of the family at age 14 when his father died in the oilfields of Venezuela. He received his bachelor's degree from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, later becoming one of its most generous donors. In March, SMU renamed one of its oldest and most distinguished academic departments the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences.
He went on to obtain his master's and doctoral degrees in geology from Harvard University and subsequently received Harvard's Alumni Achievement Award. He twice was decorated for bravery during his service in the U.S. Navy in World War II, using his photo-geology training as an intelligence officer.
As an independent wildcatter, he successfully discovered and developed domestic fields in Texas and Louisiana. He eventually expanded his operations into international oil and gas exploration and production and, in 1972, discovered a giant natural gas reserve in the Indonesian region of the island of Borneo.
Huffington was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Austria by former President George H.W. Bush in 1990 and was named Ambassador of the Year in 1992. That same year, he was inducted into the Texas Business Hall of Fame.
Huffington continued to back new ideas even while others his age were retiring. He called himself a "problem solver" in a recent interview and said that the key to much of his success was his ability to put the right people together to create new and original solutions. He said he hoped his philanthropy would have longevity and last into the future, making an important difference in the lives of others.
*This piece originally appeared in Baylor College of Medicine's Solutions Magazine