The Quiet Friend
By Jamey Smith
A surprise $35 million bequest changes the equation for Texas’ top engineering students.
Something of an enigma during his life, T.W. “Tom” Whaley, PhD ’68, revealed his true nature with what he left behind. The Waco resident who died last year left more than $35 million for scholarships with the goal of bringing the state’s highest achievers to UT. His legacy will be the generations of Texas students who follow in his footsteps to become engineers.
Born in Lorena, Texas, in 1935, Whaley spent his childhood moving from place to place during the last years of the Great Depression. Adopted at age 15, he was given a fresh start by his new mother, a teacher, and father, a banker, who made education a priority. After attending the Allen Academy in Bryan and serving in the Army in Europe, he earned two degrees at Texas A&M and took a job at General Dynamics working on the F-111 aircraft. Ready for more challenges, he arrived at UT’s Cockrell School of Engineering in the mid-1960s.
Leaving Austin with his newly minted doctorate in electrical engineering at the height of the Cold War, Whaley was recruited by the CIA for his expertise in antenna technology. He traveled the world for years putting his know-how to use for the government before returning to Texas to help his ailing father manage the family farm.
Friends in later life had no idea that Whaley, an intensely private man, had earned a PhD or even attended UT, but the university clearly made an impression on him. He was a charter member of Friends of Alec, the Cockrell School’s annual giving program to support future engineering leaders. The program is named for the school’s plucky patron saint and mascot, whose legend dates to 1908.
“Education was very important to him and his family,” says Whaley’s attorney and friend David Anderson, who as executor of Whaley’s estate is fulfilling his vision of helping UT students. “That was something that really motivated him. He left behind a home filled with books and his family mementos included a carefully preserved letter from his father about the value of a college degree.”
After contributing to Friends of Alec for many years with a request for anonymity, Whaley, who had no children and whose wife died in 2000, surprised UT leaders by bequeathing his entire estate to endow the T.W. Whaley, Jr. Friends of Alec Endowed Scholarship.
It was news to others as well. Ann Anderson, David’s wife, runs a Falls County title company with him and knew the matter-of-fact Whaley for decades through their business dealings. “When I heard Friends of Alec,” she says, “my first question was, ‘Who is Alec?’”
As Baylor graduates the Andersons can be excused for not knowing the finer details of UT lore. But their daughter, Amy Anderson Lopez, BS ’97, son, Matt Anderson BS ’03, and his wife, Alora Anderson, BBA ’04, make it a burnt orange family.
Matt, whose major was aerospace engineering, works for NASA and is part of Mission Control in Houston — a position that grew from a coveted internship through the Cockrell School’s Cooperative Engineering Education Program, which integrates work experience with on-campus study. Unknowingly, he may have played an important role in Whaley’s decision to leave everything to the school.
“Dr. Whaley would ask, ‘How’s your son doing?’” David Anderson says. “I told him about the wonderful help Matt received from the co-op office in his quest to work at NASA. I had thought when he went down to this large university that he would just be a statistic. But the faculty and staff really took time to help Matt. And Dr. Whaley’s only comment was something like, ‘Well, that’s good to know.’”
Despite his PhD, his CIA background, and his wealth, Whaley chose to live a quiet, modest lifestyle. His wealth originated from numerous oil and gas royalties and the 4,000 acres of land he partially purchased and partially inherited from his parents. The fortune grew as he accumulated and oversaw a substantial portfolio of stocks and bonds.
Those who knew him never suspected he was “the millionaire next door.” Though he was a lifelong recreational pilot — and a member of the Longhorn Flying Club while at UT — he drove a no-frills, 15-year-old Oldsmobile and owned a modest home. He enjoyed and closely followed the farming and ranching activities on his land.
With the recent rise in drilling productivity from hydraulic fracturing and other technological advances, Anderson believes the university can expect much more to come.
“I really think that in the long run, there will be far more continuing income from the mineral rights,” he says. “There are 700 mineral interests in 10 states, and Dr. Whaley’s annual mineral income was typically in the neighborhood of $300,000 to $500,000. But there have been years when it was as much as $1.8 million.”
UT President Bill Powers applauds Whaley’s foresight in leaving behind an investment that will help future generations launch far-reaching careers. “His vision will be achieved time and time again,” Powers says. “His bequest will provide incredible opportunities for some of Texas’ most talented young people.”
A Texas-Size Legacy
The T.W. Whaley, Jr. Friends of Alec Endowed Scholarship is projected to provide about $1.6 million in annual merit scholarships, and that’s before any oil and gas revenue is added in coming years. To put that sum in perspective, last year the Cockrell School awarded just shy of $6 million. So the gift has instantly grown the school’s scholarship program by more than 25 percent.
“With his generosity, Dr. Whaley has forever changed the school, and our Whaley Scholars will benefit long after they graduate,” says Cockrell School Dean Sharon L. Wood. “His commitment is a testament to the strength of Texas engineering and to our ability to develop future leaders.”
The freshmen selected as the first Whaley Scholars are top performers from throughout Texas. It is tempting for young people of this caliber to leave the state to attend other prestigious institutions, which often provide them with full-ride scholarships. So when 10 of 14 UT prospects accepted the large, multi-year Whaley Scholarships the Cockrell School offered this first year, it was a solid endorsement of the school’s quality and growing national reputation. It also fulfills Whaley’s wish for the best students from Texas to become engineers in their home state.
Freshman Marshall Tekell is from Whaley’s hometown of Waco. “Receiving the Whaley Scholarship changed my life in a radical way,” says the chemical engineering major.
“Not only does it remove an enormous burden from my family, it allows me to envision my education far into the future. Dr. Whaley essentially gave me the freedom to follow his example, and to hopefully make the world a better place.”
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