Jan. 16, 2018: A very cold Edgar Odell Lovett! There was an ice storm in the Houston area, and it was hard getting to campus as the roads were heavily iced over. I thought the orange leaves supplied an interesting background. Taken in front of Keck Hall, looking west.
The first time I was on campus
was Nov. 17, 1973. My big brother took me and my buddy John to see the Aggies beat up on the Owls. Things didn’t happen quite the way we had hoped. Rice’s quarterback, Tommy Kramer ’77, had a great game, the Owls ran a kickoff back to go ahead late in the fourth quarter, and the Aggies went home to College Station with a shocking defeat. Not to mention, or forget, the MOB had the most notable halftime performance of their entire existence. I was either too young to understand it or was sent to the concession stand while it was taking place. I do recall there were several people in maroon who were visibly upset.
The second time I was on the campus of Rice was early spring 1987. I recall seeing the ivy-covered wall at Entrance 1 and the grandeur of stately Lovett Hall. I don’t think I had ever seen a building so beautiful, and I still feel the same way today. I was there to drop off my portfolio for the new position of staff photographer.
Fast forward 35 years, and all I can say is that I got a lot more out of Rice than they got from me. Within a year and a half of starting, I would be on assignment in Europe. Within three years, I would find myself in front of the leaders of the free world. I would meet and become friends with two professors who would go on to be selected for a Nobel Prize in 1996. That same year, I would travel to Mexico and camp with the Tarahumara. In 2003, I would be witness to the first athletic national championship at Rice when the Owls beat the Stanford Cardinal at the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, to name a few highlights.
Unquestionably, and of the greatest magnitude, is the fact that what made my small window of time at Rice so glorious would be the people.
I’ve watched the campus grow to twice the size it was 35 years ago. I can’t stand anywhere on campus and not see something that hasn’t been added during my time there.
On my very last day, Sept. 2, 2022, an old friend hugged my neck and told me how lucky Rice was to have had me for so long. Though that made me very happy and proud to hear, after I had time to reflect, no statement could be more opposite. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart! Go Owls!
(Top photo) Dec. 8, 2017: Rare snowfall on campus. Photo taken from Founder’s Court (Lovett Hall) right before sunrise. It was a beautiful sight. I first saw the grandeur of Lovett Hall on my second visit to Rice University early in the spring of 1987. I don’t think I had ever seen a building so beautiful, and I still feel the same way today. I was there to drop off my portfolio for the new position of staff photographer. I had no notion that I would be the one selected; I was just looking for work in a sluggish economy. That’s me, Tommy LaVergne, shooting from the sidelines at Rice Stadium. Aug. 17, 2015: New students enthusiastically participated in an O-Week powder-paint fight. What makes a better image than incoming freshmen covered with vivid colors? April 5, 1995: Elton John’s “Face to Face” tour with Billy Joel is a reminder of Rice Stadium’s concert venue days. Billy Joel will be remembered as one of the greatest performers of my generation, and I was honored to have the chance to photograph him. July 2, 1988: A behind-the-stage shot at Rice Stadium of the Monsters of Rock festival, with Eddie Van Halen on stage. I was a young man and was totally digging every minute of it. Eddie Van Halen tore it up! Summer 1992: A Burger King commercial brought Evander Holyfield to campus for a production shoot inside the old gym (Autry Court). They let me in to shoot a few images. They must have been in there for four to six hours, and the only lines Holyfield had were “What?”, “That’s a good deal, but I’m the real deal!” and “Smart move!” Watch the commercial below.
June 23, 2003: In Omaha, Nebraska, a celebratory dogpile after Rice baseball’s College World Series win over the Stanford Cardinal. Anyone who knows me knows my love for baseball. Honestly, I wish I could remember the exact feeling I was experiencing, but I’m not ashamed to admit that tears were streaming down my cheeks as I hid behind my camera. What a night! If I ever had to pick one single memorable event I experienced, this would be the one.
March 25, 2017: Capturing the long jump. This is one of many photos taken of Rice athletes over the years. They work extremely hard and have many successes to show for it. Feb. 15, 2013: Joyce Pounds Hardy ’45 (aka the Bubblegum Lady). I often referred to her as my Rice mom. Each time I saw her, it felt like driving down Main Street in my own hometown. She had a way of making everyone feel welcome and warm. I approached her sometime around 2000 or 2001 with two boxes full of photos of Texas landscapes and asked her to look at them and write some poetry using her folksy Texas way with words. She insinuated that I must be crazy. I left them there anyway. It must have been four to six months later when she called me and asked me to come talk about some of them. When I got there, she already had at least 20 poems completed. They were perfect to me. We sat together many times over the next year or so. We had such wonderful conversations. She probably thought I was a nut, but we persevered, and “The Roads to Forgotten Texas” came out in 2004. I kept a book signing poster up on my studio wall with a photo of the two of us, so I could see her every day. I miss her. April 16, 2016: A painted bunting photographed at High Island, Texas. This probably comes as a surprise to Rice geologist and birder extraordinaire Cin-Ty Lee, but our photoshoot in High Island, Texas, not only changed my life but also had a positive influence on my wife, Mary Beth. I was always interested in bird observation, but Cin-Ty catapulted that interest into a whole new stratosphere. This man knows his birds, and that meeting gave me and my entire family something we can enjoy as long as we can walk and see. Thank you, Cin-Ty! April 16, 2016: An indigo bunting photographed at High Island, Texas. April 16, 2016: A rose-breasted grosbeak photographed at High Island, Texas. July 1996: On assignment in the Sierra Madre mountains in Chihuahua, Mexico, with Rice linguist James Copeland and writer David Medina ’83. Copeland was researching the language of the Tarahumara. This too ranks as one of the highlights of my time at Rice. July 1996: On assignment in the Sierra Madre mountains in Chihuahua, Mexico, with Rice linguist James Copeland and writer David Medina. 1989: This is a photo of Neuschwanstein Castle in southwest Bavaria, Germany, during a Rice alumni trip that I was asked to photograph. I was young and full of adventure and took full advantage of every wild and crazy minute. The trip coincided with the Austrian equivalent of Mardi Gras (“Fasching”). It was 30 years before I was allowed to go on another Rice alumni trip. That should tell you something right there. July 14, 2015: Rice historian John Boles ’65 lecturing on the Corps of Discovery during a Rice Alumni Traveling Owls trip that retraced the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Boles captured me the first time I heard him speak. He’s a walking storybook whether describing the life of Thomas Jefferson or the journeys of Lewis and Clark. I was thrilled to get the chance to travel with him up the Columbia River as well as across Montana and parts of Idaho. That trip enriched my life beyond measure. July 14, 2015: Here, Montana’s big sky is reflected in the Clark Canyon Reservoir, and Camp Fortunate, where the explorers met the Shoshone tribe, is beneath the water. 2009: One of my favorite portraits of James A. Baker III was taken with his aging and beloved dog, Josh, during a quail hunting trip on a South Texas ranch. We had to delay the photo for a few minutes so that Baker could call Nancy Reagan on “Ronnie’s” birthday. I distinctly remember him putting his hand on my shoulder, looking me in the eye and apologizing for the delay. This moving gesture made him a real person in my eyes. Another thing that had a profound effect on me was watching this lifelong Republican walking the fields with his buddy Charles Duncan Jr. ’47, a lifelong Democrat. On the drive back from Falfurrias to Sugar Land, I had several hours to ponder this, and I concluded that their generation didn’t let politics stand in the way of friendship. 2013: The Bushes at the James A. Baker III 20th Anniversary Gala. Former President George H. W. Bush, former President George W. Bush and of course, the head of the family, Barbara Bush, pictured in Baker’s office on campus. It was just another one of those nights when, driving home, I would wonder how in the world I ever got to be in this position. I had opportunities to photograph many branches of the Bush family tree, and it was truly an honor. May 10, 2008: From a window in Lovett Hall, I captured a traditional faculty procession during commencement. Pictured are former Rice president David Leebron, former Rice president and 2008 commencement speaker George Rupp, and chairman of the Rice Board of Trustees Jim Crownover ’65 and other trustees, led by J.D. Bucky Allshouse ’71 and Kent Anderson ’62. 2014: The Academic Quad was always such a beautiful setting for commencement. I really like this shot of former President David Leebron. He was always his happiest when mingling with students. He knew how to speak to them, and they always seemed to enjoy his conversations. July 12, 2012: James Turrell’s “Twilight Epiphany” Skyspace at sunset looking northwest. Pretty sky, pretty art on campus, pretty picture. 2016: A set of portraits for a Rice Magazine story on a program at the Jones Graduate School of Business which worked to increase veteran enrollment. I’m still very partial to black-and-white photography. This was a very special assignment, and I’m proud to have been a part of it. Pictured here is MBA grad Jimmy Vu ’16 (U.S. Navy SEAL). 2016: A set of portraits for a Rice Magazine story on a program at the Jones Graduate School of Business which worked to increase veteran enrollment. Pictured is MBA grad William Lyles ’17 (U.S. Army Special Forces). 2012: Wayne Graham, Rice’s legendary baseball coach, brought home the 2003 National League Championship and took his teams to seven College World Series, 23 consecutive tournament appearances and 20 consecutive conference titles in three different conferences. It was an honor to be in his dugout or to travel with the team. Thanks, Coach Graham! 2012: This candid shot shows Charles Duncan Jr. ’47 and J.D. Bucky Allshouse ’71 cutting up during a Rice centennial planning meeting. I had a few opportunities to observe Duncan during board of trustee meetings. He had a great sense of humor and was always kind to me, but when it was time to get down to business, everyone knew it. He was a great ambassador for Rice and a special person to me from the very beginning. 2009: At a gala for the Shepherd School of Music, I photographed conductor and maestro Larry Rachleff. I was constantly amazed by the perfection he demanded and accomplished. 2016: This image of English professor Dennis Huston is from a photoshoot for this magazine. He is what my grandmother would describe as a “ring-tailed tooter,” which many Texas folks will know as a term of endearment for an exceptional individual. In fall 1987, Huston’s classroom was the very first class I was asked to photograph for stock images. I was only planning to be there for about 10 minutes but got there early and stayed the entire time. His teaching style was something I had never witnessed, and I left feeling like I had been cheated as far as my education was concerned. He became a wonderful friend. 2012: When we did a feature on Rice faculty artists in Rice Magazine, I got to follow photographer Geoff Winningham ’65 around for a few days. My History of Photography class at The Art Institute of Houston had a section on him, and I spent a lot of years being completely intimidated by him. When I first started working at Rice, I would get upset if someone suggested that one of my photos must be “another beautiful Winningham shot.” I was too immature to understand what a great compliment that was. Later in my career, I did get to know Geoff, and now I’m proud to call him my friend as well as a great photographer and teacher. 2022: Jeff Cox was my boss for the better part of 35 years and over the course of many reorganizations, but I always made sure to mention that I was hired a few months before he was. While he had a special talent for design, his greatest talent might have been knowing how to get the best from his staff. It’s very rare to work so long for the same person, and even more rare to be a close friend with that person. Thanks, boss! 2011: I must have taken 200 shots of these three baby Eastern screech owls. I’ve taken so many shots of owls on campus, I can’t remember exactly where this shoot took place. Regardless, these little guys have made the rounds over the years and were last seen wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic on a giant sign at Rice’s Entrance 4.