Former Board of Regents Chair Welcome Wilson, Sr. Shares Story, Memories with Bauer Alumni
Both the University of Houston and noted alumnus Welcome Wilson, Sr. were born in 1928 and have seen the city change and grow over the years. Wilson provided a history of UH and Houston business as the featured speaker of the October Bauer College Alumni Association networking breakfast.
“I started attending UH when I was 19 years old as a junior, and the university itself was also 19 years old,” Wilson said. “Now, we are both 87 years old, and it’s like we’ve grown up together since the beginning.”
During his time as a student on campus, Wilson (BBA ’49) performed at Frontier Fiesta in the 1940s, lived in the makeshift “Veterans Village” on campus after World War II and attended classes in only one of three buildings on campus.
He is now chairman of GSL Welcome Group and UH’s Political Action Committee. He also led the UH System Board of Regents and received an honorary doctorate in 2013 from the university for exemplary service.
UH has become a recognized global leader in education, Wilson said, but when he arrived on campus as a student with his brother Jack, both the city and the university were only beginning to show potential.
“My father told us, ‘If you need anything, call me, and I’ll explain how you can get by without it,’ and that was the only assistance he gave us. I started out selling advertisements in the Cougar newspaper for 20 percent commission,” he said. “After graduating, I learned things were simple in those days if you knew the right people.”
Under the guise of “calling on behalf of the mayor” as part of the fundraising committee, by age 25 Wilson was able to gain lucrative business acumen and seal significant deals, usually in the way of securing loans, with Houston’s major business players at the time — Gus Wortham, George R. Brown, Jesse H. Jones, James A. Elkins, John W. Link, Bob Smith and Walter Mischer.
The university grew over time in a similar way, Wilson said. During the spring semester in 1946, approximately 3,000 students attended UH, but by the fall semester, more than 10,000 students showed up for registration, mostly GIs returning from war. Wilson said at that time, the university had no rules, no traditions and much like he started out in the business world, the students “made it up as they went along.”
“Today at UH, there are now eight applicants for every slot in the freshman class,” Wilson said. “At the end of the last fiscal year, UH’s income in patents totaled $24 million. That’s something.”
After returning to Houston from the Korean War, Wilson served as director of the UH Ex-Students Association, making it his mission to seek out alumni who were prominent in Houston’s business scene and could bolster the university’s presence in the city. Years later, he was appointed by Texas Governor Rick Perry to the Board of Regents and was part of the group that ultimately hired UH System Chancellor UH President Renu Khator.
“She was the last person to interview, and when she finished, she turned around, looked at me and said, ‘Mr. Chairman, I’ve got fire in my belly.’ We knew she was who we wanted to hire,” Wilson said. “She has electrified the University of Houston and unified everyone on campus along with the entire Houston business community. She is taking the University forward at warp speed.”
Wilson received the University of Houston’s Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1970, as well as the C. T. Bauer College of Business Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1996. In 2010, he was named chairman of UH’s Tier One campaign.
Wilson served in the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations as a five-state director of Civil and Defense Mobilization, a division of the Executive Office of the President. He also had responsibility for what is now known as FEMA. In 1966, he was appointed Special Ambassador to Nicaragua by President Lyndon B. Johnson. He was a witness to the Atom bomb tests in Nevada in 1954 and the Hydrogen bomb test at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean in 1956.
The Texas Business Hall of Fame named Wilson as a Legend and Honoree in 2011. The same year, Wilson was named “Entrepreneur of the Year” by the Houston Technology Center.
“You don’t have a better alumni out there than Welcome,” said Kevin Bates (BBA ’07), a member of the Bauer College Alumni Association who organizes the breakfast series.
By Danielle Ponder
Preview: Welcome W. Wilson, Sr. Speaks to BCAA
On October 16, Bauer College Alumni Association (BCAA) hosted a discussion on the University of Houston and Houston business history with GSL Welcome Group Chairman Welcome W. Wilson, Sr. (BBA ’49).