Posted: 1/02/22

First University President, Dr. Billy F. Cowart, Passes Away


Dr. Billy F. Coward
Dr. Billy F. Cowart  

Dr. Billy F. Cowart, the first president of the former Texas A&I University at Laredo, now Texas A&M International University (TAMIU), passed away December 25, 2021 following a brief illness at the age of 89 in Temple, TX. 

TAMIU president Dr. Pablo Arenaz said Dr. Cowart’s hand in the University’s story was beyond historical, and his campus model was duplicated across the state and nation.

"Dr. Cowart truly planted the seed for the 300-acre campus and expansive mission we enjoy today. He began to build this University from within a small study carrel at then-Laredo Junior College.  He developed an innovative hybrid, the upper-level senior institution, which was embraced by others seeking to bring higher education to their communities. His strategic use of community engagement, which we follow today, helped the University to create and implement programs that advanced our community and region.  We will be forever indebted to his leadership and vision that helped create the remarkable campus reality we see today," Dr. Arenaz said.

Dr. Cowart was born in San Benito, TX on August 5, 1932, to Tom and Gladys Cowart.

He graduated from San Benito High School and received his undergraduate degree in Agricultural Education at Texas A&I University in Kingsville where he was the president of the Student Body in 1954. He entered the U.S. Army and served in Nuremburg, Germany for two years.  While stationed there, his son Rick was born.  Returning home, he worked for the family cattle business for three years, while attending Stephen F. Austin University and earning his M.S. degree, followed by his Doctor of Philosophy degree, from The University of Texas.

Cowart began his university-level career at Texas A&I in Kingsville as assistant professor in the field of Secondary Education. In 1969 he established the Texas A&I University Center at Laredo and served as its first president for 15 years. He led its transition to Laredo State University.  His tenure saw the University weather many storms that threatened to dampen its future, as outlined in Challenge and Triumph: The First 20 Years of Laredo State University, by University Regents history professor Dr. Jerry Thompson.

Cowart’s pivotal role in guiding the University’s growth and success was recognized by The Texas A&M University System Regents in 2002 with the naming of Dr. Billy F. Cowart Hall on campus.

After leaving Laredo, Cowart accepted a position as Provost of Western Oregon State College and served as Interim President for one year prior to retiring in 1995.

He had a passion for music and loved singing and playing the guitar. At large reunions, the entire family would join in, singing folk songs and church hymns.  He was an avid golfer and enjoyed many years on the course in his retirement.

Cowart was a kind and compassionate man who cared, not only for his beloved wife and son, but also for his colleagues and the many students he taught and mentored throughout his career.  Cowart’s commitment to education was demonstrated throughout his life. A soft-spoken man with very strong principles, he was loved deeply by his family, friends, and colleagues.

He was preceded in death by his beloved wife Janet. They enjoyed 65 wonderful years together.  He is also preceded by sisters Merle and Beth, brothers Ray and T. W., and parents Tom and Gladys Cowart.

Surviving him are his son Rick Cowart and wife, Nickie of The Dalles, OR, three sisters, Wanda Junek (Al) of Hendersonville, NC, Nena Mayo of Spring, TX, and Donna Beth Thompson (Jim) of Kaufman, TX; four grandchildren, Caitlan, Kelsie, and Thomas Cowart, and Kim Thomason (Matt) of Orange, CA; three great grandchildren, Austin, Addie and Ashton Thomason, and numerous cousins, nieces and nephews and extended family members.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Dr. Billy F. Cowart Educational Scholarship Fund at Texas A&M International University at https://bit.ly/3cVSlzP