WACO (April 6, 2012)—Bernard Rapoport, who grew up in poverty in San Antonio, worked his way through the University of Texas and founded an insurance company whose growth made him one of the richest and most powerful men in the country has died at the age of 94.
Family friend Bill Nesbitt said Rapoport was taken to a local hospital Wednesday and died in his sleep Thursday night.
A private family service will be held Monday and a public memorial service is planned for noon on Wednesday at the Masonic Grand Lodge at 715 Columbus Ave. in Waco.
Rapoport and his uncle founded the American Income Life Insurance Company in 1951 in Waco with a $25,000 loan and sold life insurance to union members.
Rapoport sold the company in 1994 for $563 million.
The late columnist Molly Ivins once quipped Rapoport was “richer than God.”
He was a loyal supporter of the University of Texas, a financial backer of numerous Democratic Party candidates on the state and national level, and a major benefactor of The Texas Observer, the Austin-based liberal political magazine, and of a wide range of global, national and local causes.
At the University of Texas, the Rapoport and his wife Audre established the Rapoport Endowment for International and Multidisciplinary Studies in the College of Liberal Arts, the Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice in the School of Law, and an endowed professorship in health and social policy in the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.
UT honored him with its Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1997.
“He changed the lives of countless students and he changed the university campus in countless ways,” University of Texas President Bill Powers said Friday.
"The University of Texas and our state have lost a great friend who was relentless in his support of education, democracy, the arts and creating opportunity for the people of Texas," Powers said.
The Texas Observer Friday described Rapoport as its “most generous and dependable financial supporter.”
“We really had a freedom of conscience at The Texas Observer, which was something new, and we had it because Barney was ready to stand behind a free press. For that I am very proud of the Observer, and very proud of Bernard Rapoport,” said Observer Founder Ronnie Dugger.
In 1986 Rapoport and his wife used $46 million of their own money to create the Bernard & Audre Rapoport Foundation, which has awarded more than $40 million in grants to groups here and around the world.
He was a supporter of Waco’s Rapoport Academy and Planned Parenthood of Central Texas, whose women’s health center is named in honor of Audre Rapoport.
The foundation donated $10,000 to the Valley Mills Library, and in April 2011, $1 million to McLennan Community College, the biggest single donation in the school’s history.
The $1 million grant will be awarded over five years to provide a permanent endowment for MCC’s First Generation College Student Initiative.
Rapoport also supported AVANCE , served as chairman of the San Antonio-based organization’s board and established AVANCE’s Waco program.
"Mr. Rapoport was our champion, and he was responsible for our agency becoming a national organization,” said AVANCE president and CEO Rick Noriega.
“Through his philanthropic endeavors, especially those that enrich the lives of disadvantaged children, his legacy lives on, he lives on through AVANCE, and we are forever grateful for his leadership and support."
Fortune Magazine named him one of the country’s 40 most generous philanthropists in 1998.
Rapoport, known to friends as “B,” remained an outspoken liberal throughout his life and became a major figure in Democratic politics.
Former President Bill Clinton called Audre Rapoport Friday after learning of Rapoport's death, former U.S. Ambassador Lyndon Olson, Jr., of Waco said.
Olson, who counted Rapoport among his closet friends, said a memorial service is planned next week in Washington, D.C., at which Clinton will deliver a eulogy.
U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was among those who praised Rapoport Friday.
"Few Americans did more to create a sustainable society and a just world than B. Rapoport,” she said.
“He loved and took great pride in his family. His causes were diverse; he loved his alma mater, the University of Texas, he was a stalwart supporter of Israel, and he was an unabashed liberal who worked for justice around the world. He was also my friend,” she said.
“Though he lived in a modest ranch home in Waco and drove an old car, he donated tens of millions of dollars to organizations large and small to improve our nation and our world,” she said.
Rapoport was born in 1917 in San Antonio and worked his way through the University of Texas during the Great Depression, graduating in 1939.
“During my childhood, my father taught me Marxism and hard work,” he once said.
“My mother taught me to love learning. To know these simple facts is to know much about who I am and why I have led my life the way I have,” he said.
In 1942, Rapoport met Audre Newman.
The two celebrated their 70th anniversary earlier this year.
The couple moved to Wichita Falls where Rapoport continued to sell jewelry until 1949, when he went to work for an insurance company in San Antonio.
Two years later he joined his uncle in founding American Income Life.
He served as chairman of the University of Texas Board of Regents, was appointed by former President Bill Clinton to the Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations, was a member of the Library of Congress Trust Fund Board, National Hispanic University Trustee Emeritus, Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, Economic Policy Institute, National Jobs For All Coalition, and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.