The University of Texas at Austin — Main Mall
Friday, April 12, 2019, 3 p.m.
This is the speech President Fenves gave during the memorial ceremony for the 28th President of UT Austin, Bill Powers.
Welcome and Remembrance
My name is Greg Fenves, and I’m the 29th President of The University of Texas at Austin.
Today, we come together — as a Longhorn community — to celebrate the life and legacy of the 28th President of The University of Texas at Austin, Bill Powers.
When you try to use words to describe Bill Powers — a man who commanded language with such grace and precision — you invariably come up short. You’re reaching to describe something far beyond words. A life that cannot be captured in a sentence. A presence so grand, warm, and magnetic that it defies a simple turn of phrase. A leader unmatched, unparalleled in his dedication to The University of Texas.
How do we speak about such a man? How do we remember him?
A poet can help.
Of remembrance, William Carlos Williams wrote:
“No wreaths please —
Especially no hothouse flowers
Some common memento is better,
Something he prized and is known by:
His old clothes — a few books perhaps.”
A few books perhaps …
There is nothing Bill Powers prized more than knowledge, learning, and teaching. Even as President, he would make it clear that he was a teacher first, a teacher at The University of Texas.
UT was his home. He lived for this university.
And if you doubt what I’m saying, then you clearly never went to a UT football game with Bill.
You never watched as famous alumni, politicians, and titans of industry vied for his attention and failed to get it — until the final whistle.
You never sat in the passenger seat after a loss in the Red River Showdown and had to endure four hours of silence as Bill drove us home down I-35.
Each of you has your own memory of Bill. An image of him. Something he said. Something he did. What he meant to you. What he meant to UT.
And those memories are what brought you here this afternoon.
And I have my memories, ones that most people did not witness but are etched in my mind forever. I am and will always be grateful to Bill Powers — for bringing me to UT and giving me the opportunity to learn and work at his side. He was the best teacher anyone hoping to lead this great institution could ever ask for.
Bill spent years fighting for the soul of our university. He challenged a narrow view of higher education. A view that would have compromised UT and the future of our students and this great state. And, he risked his career in that fight.
In 2014 — after the July 4th holiday — when it was clear that Bill would be UT President for one more year, he told me — as Provost — to go downstairs to an emergency meeting called by the Faculty Council and deliver the news.
Let me pause for a moment. The UT faculty called an emergency session — in the middle of summer — just to support their President. The professors, teachers, and researchers at UT respected Bill that much and felt compelled to express their views.
The scene was cinematic.
Hundreds of people were packed into Main 212, the room right above me. TV cameras lined the back of the room. Photographers snapped pictures. The energy was intense.
And after a few fiery speeches, the faculty heard the news they’d been waiting for — Bill Powers would still be the President of UT. As soon as those words came out, a roar filled the room — cheering and applause, thunderous applause that seemed to rattle the walls and the lights and the windows.
That was the sonic expression of what Bill Powers meant to The University of Texas. It was something far beyond words.
And seeing Bill moments afterwards, and witnessing his profound joy and the deep emotion he felt for this university, is something I will remember forever.
We’ll remember him, forever, at The University of Texas.
I want to thank everyone for joining us this afternoon to celebrate the life of Bill Powers.
The First Lady of Texas, Cecilia Abbott, is here, and I want to thank her for her incredible support and public service.
The Chairman of the UT System Board of Regents, Kevin Eltife, is here, and I’d like to thank him for his leadership and for recognizing Bill Powers’ legacy at UT.
Thank you to all of Bill’s friends, former students, and colleagues for traveling to Austin — some from very far away — to honor your teacher, mentor, and dear friend.
And most of all, I want to thank Kim and the entire Powers family for sharing their husband, father, and grandfather with us for over 40 years. Our hearts are with you today.
As we conclude this celebration, I’d like to invite all of you to stay awhile longer and enjoy a reception here on the Mall. Please gather with friends to continue celebrating Bill and all he meant to our great university. Tonight, we’ll light the Tower orange in his honor.
And now, please rise for “The Eyes of Texas.”