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The Chinese Cowboy

Giving News

UT gave this alumnus a nickname, launched a career, and sparked a lifetime of giving back.

By Angela Curtis

Julian Suez

Julian Suez at Rockefeller Center. Semi-retired, he lives in New York City.

Texas has always been a good fit for Shanghai-born Julian Suez, BS ’61. His older cousin, working toward a 1958 degree in mechanical engineering, suggested that Suez become a Longhorn, too. “To me that was an easy one,” he says. “And I never regretted it.”

Earning a mechanical engineering degree like his cousin, Suez followed that up with a master’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a five-decade career with IBM. He still works for the company a few hours a week from his New York City home.

Suez’s career at IBM isn’t the only part of his life that has spanned decades. So has his pattern of yearly giving to UT, which in recent years has grown to include major gifts to the Cockrell School of Engineering.

An outright gift will create the Z.F. How Lecture Hall, named for his maternal grandfather, in the Engineering Education and Research Center, scheduled for completion in 2017. He also has set up a charitable gift annuity that will create a scholarship in the Cockrell School after his lifetime.

“I think what makes this country so great is there is a spirit of giving back to society,” he says. “Growing up in China, you don’t see that.”

As far as deciding where to give back, UT again was the right fit. “I’ve always wanted to do something, and I thought of no better place than the University of Texas,” he says. “I really thought Texas gave me a head start.”

Suez considers himself fortunate to have found a university that suited him so well. “It’s just a combination of what Texas gave me and how I reacted in that environment,” he says. “The university gave me the opportunity to realize my potential.”

His grandfather co-founded the first modern publishing house in China in 1897 at age 26, and although he never received much of an education, he helped bring learning to others by publishing textbooks. The company, Commercial Press, is still in business, with offices in China and other countries.

Julian Suez getting award

Suez receives an award for outstanding mechanical engineering students in 1961.

Suez made the most of the opportunity his grandfather never had. At UT, he earned the American Society of Mechanical Engineering’s Hugh Scott Cameron Award, which recognizes outstanding ME students. And he found time for fun, too. Like many Texans, Suez spent the summer months looking forward to fall and football season.

“At first when I went to a football game I had no idea what was going on, but the spirit is definitely contagious,” he says.

Suez made his UT home at the university’s first co-op, the Campus Guild Co-op on Whitis Ave. During his years there the house was a lively place with plenty of pranksters, and Suez didn’t escape their attentions. He’d go to bed to discover he’d been short-sheeted. That was if he was lucky—sometimes the surprise in his bed was a snake.

Then there was the time he was paged over the house PA, only to be carried off and dumped into the Littlefield Fountain. When he asked a friend why his housemates teased him, he was told, “Oh, Julian, don’t worry. They like you. If they don’t like you, they leave you alone.”

By the time he moved to New York to work for IBM, he’d been away from Texas for a year getting his master’s at MIT. No matter—something about him telegraphed “Texas” to his IBM co-workers, who dubbed him “the Chinese cowboy.” He still doesn’t know which Texan traits earned him the nickname.

“Whatever I picked up I did unintentionally,” he says.

The Texas influence has stayed with him more than half a century. After working for IBM in Poughkeepsie and other locations, Suez settled in Manhattan in his semi-retirement. Still, it’s the Lone Star State he invokes when reminiscing.

“My life in a way is kind of simple,” he says. “It’s just Texas and IBM.”

Part of what made UT stand out for him, he says, was the teaching. “I had such good experiences with the professors at the university.”

He remembers two mechanical engineering professors in particular—Grady Rylander and Leonardt Kreisle—and a math teacher, Fowler Yett.

“What is unique about Texas is that I got a lot of encouragement to grow,” he says. “You can call it homey or you can call it whatever. To me it is very important to have that kind of spirit.”

This story originally appeared in Texas Leader, a magazine that highlights future-gift donors like Suez and ways to benefit UT through your estate.


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