Former UT President Bill Powers was honored at a memorial service Friday afternoon with speeches from current UT President Gregory Fenves and Powers’ friends and colleagues. Powers died March 10 at the age of 72 after complications from a fall combined with oculopharyngeal muscular dystrophy, a rare muscle disorder.
Kenneth Jastrow, a friend of Powers and chair of the UT Austin Campaign for Texas, spoke about Powers’ accomplishments during his time as president. The Student Activity Center, the Bill & Melinda Gates Computer Science Complex and the Biomedical Engineering Building were all built while Powers served as president. Beyond these, Jastrow said Powers’ most transformational contribution to the University was establishing the Dell Medical School.
“Bill was a leader who had the courage to say yes,” Jastrow said at the service. “To him, there was more possibility in ‘yes.’ He’d rather say yes and risk failure than say no and never know what might have been.”
Fenves said he is grateful for what the late president taught him and for his dedication to UT as president and as a teacher. As president, Powers taught a freshman course called “What Makes the World Intelligible,” and upon
stepping down in 2015, returned to teach at UT Law.
“There’s nothing Bill prized more than knowledge, learning and teaching,” Fenves said. “Even as president, he would make it clear that he was a teacher first. He was the best teacher anyone hoping to lead this great institution could ever have.”
A common thread among the tributes was how Powers interacted with students on campus.
“It was really cool to hear people who knew President Powers on a more personal level,” said Greyson Rubin, a Plan II and architecture senior who attended the service. “He was definitely a mentor to me when I was on campus my first few years here.”
Keshav Rajagopalan, student body president from 2008–2009 recalled seeing Powers help move freshmen into their dorms and lead The Eyes of Texas with the Longhorn Band. Rajagopalan said Powers recognized students as the heart of the University.
“Bill was never more himself than when he was around students,” Rajagopalan said. “He told me numerous times that without (students), there is no UT. To him, students always came first.”