AUSTIN, Texas — Billy Joe “Red” McCombs, an iconic larger-than-life figure who was pivotal in the growth of The University of Texas at Austin, died Feb. 19. He was 95. McCombs’ generosity was instrumental in elevating the UT business school and athletics programs, while also directly affecting students in need.
“We are saddened by the loss of Red McCombs, a true pioneer and legendary Longhorn, and extend our heartfelt condolences to his family,” UT President Jay Hartzell said. “From the business school that bears his name, to our athletics and student success programs, his entrepreneurial spirit, drive to win and commitment to excellence are reflected across the Forty Acres. His legacy of generosity will forever impact the lives of countless students who find inspiration in his story and go on to change the world.”
McCombs attended the UT business and law schools before launching his business empire. Half a century later, he gifted $50 million to the business school in 2000, which pushed the school onto the national and international stage. At the time, it was the single largest donation in UT history. McCombs said that, aside from his family, his gift was “truly the defining moment of my life.”
In return for such generosity, the university renamed the business school in McCombs’ honor. This transformational gift enabled the McCombs School of Business to expand star faculty hiring, increase resources for grants and top tier research, and attract and recruit more top students. His contribution and vision helped elevate the McCombs School of Business to among the highest ranking business schools in the country.
“The whole academic family at Red McCombs School of Business grieves his loss with his family and the San Antonio community,” Lillian Mills, dean of the McCombs School of Business, said. “His gift and support to Texas McCombs have transformed the lives of students, faculty, businesses and society. We will carry forward his legacy into our second century, driven to serve and focused on making a difference.”
McCombs also knew the importance of world-class athletics and helped the Longhorns become a national powerhouse. Red and Charline McCombs, who were married 69 years, made transformational donations to UT athletics. The Longhorns built a softball stadium in their name and kickstarted a major expansion of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Now, the north end zone is named after McCombs to honor the lifelong Longhorn. In 2010, the university erected a bronze statue of McCombs, which stands in the UT Athletics Hall of Honor with Red forever holding up his Hook ’em Horns hand sign.
“If there’s ever a phrase to describe the McCombs family and Red specifically, it’s that he led the great state of Texas,” UT Athletics Director Chris Del Conte said. “He is truly the epitome of a Texas legend. He was all about the great state of Texas.”
McCombs also played a key role in UT’s Center for Students in Recovery. It’s a place where students can find a supportive community and achieve academic success while enjoying a genuine college experience free from alcohol and other drugs.
McCombs will be remembered as a lifelong friend of the university and for the indelible mark he left on thousands who have benefited from his generosity.