It’s an understatement to say that Burt McMurtry ’56, who passed away Sept. 2, 2018, left a lasting impact on Rice.
At the heart of the McMurtry legacy is a love story. Burt and his wife of 62 years, Deedee ’56, met at Houston’s Lamar High School and began dating when they were sophomores at Rice. In addition to classes and “library dates,” as Deedee called them, they were active in various clubs and organizations on campus. During their senior year, Burt was the Student Association president and Deedee was vice president. Burt was also a student representative on the 1955 committee that established the original mission and basic organizational design of Rice’s residential colleges.
After Rice, Burt conducted laser research and development while pursuing his master’s and doctoral degrees in electrical engineering at Stanford. Continuing to reside in California, Burt went on to become an early leader in the venture capital industry and a highly influential philanthropist.
A passion for giving back was something Burt and Deedee shared. “The first thing we did when we had any expendable funds was to create scholarships in our parents’ names. Those were our first gifts to Rice,” Deedee said. “We felt very lucky to have those great, free educations. We both went to Rice because there was no tuition, [which was] important to our families. When you are privileged like that, it’s natural to give back when you can.”
The McMurtrys’ accomplishments and philanthropic efforts are innumerable, but their gifts were not only monetary in nature. Burt served on the Rice board from 1987 to 2004, which was a significant period of growth and transition for the university. In that time, Rice’s charter was altered to modernize its governance and business structures. For instance, the number of voting trustees expanded from seven to 25, term limits were established in place of lifetime terms and strategies were developed to increase financial efficiency. The number of students and buildings on campus was also growing.
“Burt’s guidance and leadership were invaluable in this period of change,” said Melissa Kean ’00, Rice’s centennial historian. “He was one of the most important trustees we’ve ever had in the history of this institution.”
The McMurtry name is all over campus — including two endowed scholarships, two endowed professorships and McMurtry Auditorium — but their most recognizable namesake is McMurtry College. In 2006, the McMurtrys pledged $32 million to Rice, a portion of which was combined with the couple’s earlier undesignated gifts to create a long-term operating and maintenance fund supporting the residential college system. Their contributions also led to the establishment of Rice’s 10th residential college, which opened its doors in 2009.
Deedee has fond memories of the college’s dedication ceremony. “At the opening of the college, each of us talked a little bit. I said, ‘I don’t know what you guys are going to do with this name for a yell or anything. McMurtry is such a long, difficult name.’ So [the students] came up with Murts — they are so clever and funny.”
It’s this endearing connection with the students that embodies the McMurtrys’ legacy on campus. “The students were very moved by Burt’s passing and put together a book of memories to send to Deedee,” said Margaret Beier, a McMurtry College magister. “They took pictures of their favorite places in the college and wrote about what those places and memories mean to them. They wanted to thank the family for the generosity that has enabled them to live in this community. The impact they’ve had on these students is really something special.”
Burt’s influence continues to reach far and wide, and we thank him for all he did for Rice. “His generosity is legendary,” Kean said, “but it was his incisive intelligence and independence of mind that were his greatest contribution to his alma mater.”