Rapoport loss will run deep
• A Jew who made his home in the staunch Baptist stronghold of Waco, home of Baylor University, a well-known Baptist institution.
• A well-to-do liberal, who became owner of his own insurance company in 1951. It catered to organized labor, and he grew wealthy in the process.
• A renowned philanthropist, who with Audre, his wife of 70 years, gave away millions of dollars through the Bernard & Audre Rapoport Foundation. That included $26 million to his beloved alma mater, The University of Texas, and the endowment of five professorial chairs.
• The patron saint and financial lifeblood for decades of the Texas Observer, the liberal bi-weekly that has been a major and often lonely voice of progressives in Texas for more than half a century.
• A large donor to political causes and politicians, on a first-name basis with people like former President Bill Clinton, the late U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, and former Democratic U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.
“B,” as friends and just about everybody else called him, insisted that if there were self-made men, he wasn’t among them. He credited public schools, The University of Texas, organized labor, his loving wife, and many others as having a huge influence in helping shape who he was.
B was the son of poor Russian communist Jews, who fled their homeland after taking part in the anti-czarist Russian Revolution. He was born in San Antonio, and was a graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School there. He later said that was where he evolved from a Marxist radical to a Democrat, who to believe in private enterprise as well as in liberal causes and taking care of the downtrodden.
B worked his way through the University of Texas at Zale’s jewelry store. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1939.
B met Audre Newman, a student at Baylor, in January 1942, and they soon married. They lived for a time in Wichita Falls, where B continued his work in jewelry sales.
But then B tried his hand at selling insurance, as his father had done. He found out he was quite good at it. He eventually became the owner of American Income Life, which was headquartered in Waco.
He could have been called a Progressive Compassionate Capitalist. He believed in free enterprise and the profit motive, but also in helping those less fortunate, and allowing workers to organize into unions.
B broke new ground by inviting labor to organize his insurance office, and then, partly because union members were doing all the company’s insurance processing, attracted many insurance contracts from unions and their members.
“I have always believed that it is essential to the preservation of our society that we maintain a conservative voice, a liberal voice and a middle ground,” Rapoport wrote in his autobiography, “Being Rapoport: Capitalist with a Conscience.”
B’s book was written “as told to” Don Carleton, director of the Briscoe Center for American History at UT, which published it in 2002.
He was always thankful for what he felt he was fortunate enough to have, and eager to help others because he felt others had helped him.
Rapoport first met Bill and Hillary Clinton in 1972, when the not-yet-married couple were in charge of organizing Texas for the 1972 Democratic presidential ticket of George McGovern and Sargent Shriver.
B’s friend, the late Gov. Ann Richards, elected governor in 1990, appointed Rapoport to the UT board of Regents in 1991. He spent six years on the board, the last four as chairman.
B’s death “is a huge loss, period,” said Lyndon Olson Jr., a friend and confidant from Waco.
Olson, a former state representative from Waco who became chairman of the State Board of Insurance, was later named ambassador to Sweden by President Clinton.
Olson and B had grown very close over the years.
“He was quite a human being,” Olson told the Waco Tribune-Herald. “I’ve never met anybody more gracious and kind.”
Olson said that before Rapoport checked into Waco’s Providence Health Center days before his death, he had often put in full days at the Rapoport Foundation, the charitable institution he founded. Known for his quick wit, B the week before his death was still cracking jokes and telling about big ideas he had, Olson said.
“He was Bernard Rapoport right to the end,” Olson said.
Contact McNeely at email@example.com or (512) 458- 2963.