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The University of Texas at Austin


In Memoriam: Jess Hay

The Briscoe Center is saddened by news of the death of Jess Hay, who passed away at home in Dallas, Texas, on April 13. He was 84 years old.

"To quote his close friend, Governor Dolph Briscoe, Jess Hay was a man of 'absolute integrity'" said Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center. " We have lost a dear friend. Jess actively supported the Briscoe Center and he was my wise and sagacious advisor on matters too numerous to list. Jess was instrumental in helping us to secure financing for our award winning historical documentary When I Rise. He also successfully advocated for an archival position for the Center's ExxonMobil Historical Collection. Jess will be long survived by his reputation and his generosity."

From 1977 to 1989, Hay served on the Board of Regents for the University of Texas System, acting as chairman from 1985 to 1987. A successful businessman and political fundraiser, Hay was a confidant to many Texas politicians in the 1970s and 1980s. His time of service included controversies related to South African divestment and university funding cuts, as well as initiatives to invest in supercomputing at UT Austin.

"Jess Hay was a magnificent public servant," said Dr. William H. Cunningham, former chancellor of the University of Texas System, in Hay's official obituary. "He adopted The University of Texas System and all of its component institutions when he joined the Board of Regents in 1977. During his tenure as Chairman, he single-handedly through the power of his personality was able to create a coalition consisting of all of Texas' major universities and junior colleges. The coalition spoke with one voice to the Legislature and state-wide elected officials about the need to fund higher education."

Jess Hay was born in Forney, Texas, on January 22, 1931. In 1952 he married his wife of 53 years, Betty Jo Peacock Hay, with whom he had two daughters. Hay received his law degree from Southern Methodist University in 1955, practicing until 1965, when he became chief executive officer of Lomas Financial—a position he held until he retired in 1994. At the time of his death, Hay was chairman of the Texas Foundation for Higher Education.

In 2006, Hay was interviewed as part of the University of Texas Oral History Project. The three-year project documented the history of UT Austin, creating an archive of interviews that captured the experiences, insights and spirit of those who have shaped the university.

You can watch excerpts from Jess Hay's interviews here: