The Laredo Rotary Club Dinner Naming David W. Killam a Paul Harris Fellow
Tonight we honor a man whose story is rooted in a family, a family animated by two salient characteristics: imagination and action. For those of us in South Texas, the story begins with O.W. Killam, David's grandfather, and his decision to move his family from Oklahoma to Texas. Mr. Killam combined courage and intelligence with a wise sense of immense potential in South Texas. The Mirando City wells he drilled came a decade ahead of the great East Texas boom centered around Kilgore. That uncanny sense of what the future might hold, of how we align the present to realize lofty aspirations, was most certainly passed to his son, Radcliffe Killam. Deeply embedded in our community, in healthcare and in education, are his dreams, his ideas, his visions for tomorrow.
What Radcliffe Killam understood with stark clarity was the often overlooked, yet inevitable link between what we do now and what we can expect tomorrow. Dramatic change is necessary for our region, he believed, and education is to be the engine of that change. In providing the land for Texas A&M International University, Sue and Radcliffe Killam and their family turned many decades of dreams and talk into action.
"When the history of the 20th century in Laredo is written," Mr. Killam often observed, "it will be said that the founding of Texas A&M International University was the most significant act of those 100 years." Radcliffe Killam looked with equal ease backward into history and forward into time, his plans for the present the fruit of his Janus-like comprehension.
In spite of enjoying the perspective of almost a century of life, Radcliffe Killam did not wait patiently for the tree to bear fruit. His frustration was often laced with humor. During the construction of the Western Hemispheric Trade Center, a project we were able to undertake because of a gift from the Killam family, work suddenly stopped. I don't remember the reason, only that with all our buildings in the construction phase; something unforeseen forced a revision of our plans. For what seemed a long period of time, nothing happened at the construction site. One day, in his office, looking out the window toward the University, seeing the building half-finished and no one in sight on the job, he commented: "You know, my hearing has gotten rather bad. At this point, though, I would be content just to see a little activity on that building even if I can't hear anything happening!"
This anecdote captures another important truth about the Killam family. Radcliffe Killam wanted the world to see the product. He was not concerned that it was he who made the dream come about. Though both he and Sue have made many, many gifts to the University, covering a wide variety of programs and initiatives, neither has ever been especially interested in having their name publicly attached to the gift. "If it will help the University to publicize this, do so," he told me often, "But we are certainly not seeking public recognition."
David Killam now assumes the mantle of progress, worn by both his father and grandfather, for the benefit of this region. And his ability to see into the future is abundantly evident. David and Hayley together have supported the evolution of our athletic program at the University, an especially important decision, because the State of Texas will not fund athletics, in spite of the fact that we all recognize athletic programs as an integral part of higher education. TAMIU cannot become the University we are meant to be without a strong athletics program, and the Killams understand that and have provided crucial resources not available from any other source.
Let me offer one other extremely important example. In 2004, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, expressing national frustration with the generally disappointing academic output from America's high schools, launched nationwide the Early College High School initiative. The Texas A&M University System invited TAMIU to become a site for the new school.
We held a meeting of interested participants, and at the end of the meeting David said to me: "Ray, this needs to happen. We need to see this happens." And now, Early College High School is about to build on land adjacent to the University, a dream which began with the Gates in Seattle, Washington, now taking root in Laredo, Texas in part because David Killam believes in dramatic action to improve education. The Early College High School remains, since its inception, the only high school in Laredo rated exemplary by the Texas Education Agency. David, Early College High School has proved worthy of your initial, positive impulse.
Education, future hope, action now. That is the legacy David inherits, and continues to provide our community.
Finally, what would we list as the essential qualities possessed by a great man or a great woman? What does it mean to be great? I have sat through many seminars—in literature, philosophy, management, development—in which the presenter or author has a go at defining "greatness." Is it mere moral strength? The ability to persuade others to follow? The knack for amassing power and using it? Does it require charisma? If so, of what sort? How much?
I have come to believe that a great man or a great woman possesses, above all else, the capacity to see into and therefore to imagine accurately the future. Abraham Lincoln certainly had that quality, Robert E. Lee did not. George Washington had it, Douglas MacArthur did not.
Lee and MacArthur are immensely admirable Americans, but each pressed for what we now know would have set a ruinous course for our nation. Washington and Lincoln cut new paths through alien terrain, and yet each left us in the best possible position to face the future.
The Killams, for three generations of Laredoans, have been our visionaries. They have seen into the future, accurately, and pressed the rest of us to follow. David, we now salute you and thank you for always insisting that we can do it, and we should do it better.