John M. O’Quinn

The Consummate Cougar 1941–2009

by Marisa Ramirez (’00)

The capacity crowd at Robertson Stadium was quieted as the public address announcer spoke. His hushed tones conveyed the sobering news of the death of famed Houston attorney and UH alum, John M. O’Quinn. For a moment, the sea of red shirts was still, as were the voices that would soon cheer their team to victory.

John M. O’Quinn (’65, L.L.B. ’67, J.D. ’69 ), a man who was the consummate Cougar — frequently joining fans in the stands — had been killed on a rain-slicked Houston road.

John O'QuinnHis UH team kept him close in mind that afternoon. “JMO,” O’Quinn’s initials, adorned the playing field, flowers placed there in respect. Before the first kickoff that began the Cougars’ routing of Southern Mississippi, the crowd joined in one rousing cheer for John O’Quinn.

What does it mean to be a Cougar? For the late O’Quinn, it meant being dedicated, loyal and generous.

“He worked tirelessly on behalf of this university and was one of our most generous financial contributors,” UH President Renu Khator says.

“The O’Quinn Law Library and O’Quinn Field at Robertson Stadium are the most prominent examples of his philanthropy at UH, but they are by no means the extent of it. Over the years, he made numerous gifts, including significant donations to the UH Libraries and to the UH Spirit of Houston Cougar Marching Band. A good deal of this school’s success can be credited to John’s unflagging commitment to making UH a better institution,” Khator says.

The 1967, magna cum laude graduate remembered his home in the UH Law Center (UHLC) and generously contributed to its renovation. His gift made possible a three-year makeover that began with the top of the plaza’s roof, continued to the college’s entrance, and then inside to the many upgrades in communication and other technologies.

“John was one of those rare ‘larger-than-life’ lawyers who instantly commanded attention and respect in any gathering,” says UHLC Dean Ray Nimmer. “His generosity is recognized in our state-of-the-art John O’Quinn Library, and an endowed chair, the A.L. O’Quinn Chair in Environmental Law, named in honor of his father.”

All the UH Libraries benefited from his $1.5 million gift, as did the UH Honors College. O’Quinn’s gifts also support the arts, including the Moores School of Music, the UH Alumni Association, and many scholarships.

“In addition to his generous financial support, John also provided great leadership support to this university,” says Welcome W. Wilson Sr. (’49), UH System Board of Regents chairman. “He was so enthusiastic about the Tier-One initiative and was looking forward to the day this university would reach that status.”

O’Quinn’s name graces many UH buildings and halls, including the appropriately named Great Hall in the Athletics/Alumni Center.

Great was his passion. Great was his dedication. Great is the legacy of this great Cougar.


Cynthia Woods Mitchell

A Life of Creativity and Community 1922–2010

by Mike Emery

The University of Houston recently lost one of its most passionate supporters of the arts. Cynthia Woods Mitchell (’43) passed away Dec. 27 at age 87.

Mitchell was born in 1922 in New York City. She arrived in Houston in 1939 and enrolled at UH to study art, literature and psychology. Two years later, she met George Mitchell (HON ’84) on a train ride from College Station to Houston. That meeting led to marriage and a lifetime partnership fueled by their mutual dedication to the greater Houston and Galveston communities.

Cynthia Woods MitchellHer enthusiasm for the arts prompted her to make one of the largest individual grants in the university’s history — a $20 million gift to create the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts. The center cultivates collaboration among artists of different disciplines and forms an alliance of UH’s School of Art; Moores School of Music; School of Theatre & Dance; Creative Writing Program; and Blaffer Gallery, the Art Museum of the University of Houston. The center hosts public events, residencies and curriculum that unite renowned visiting artists with UH students in all artistic disciplines.

Following a renovation in 2006, the facility housing the Wortham Theatre and the School of Theatre & Dance was renamed the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts. The center has commissioned world-premiere performances and brought renowned artists to campus.

“She was a visionary philanthropist whose dedication to the arts was apparent in the founding of the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center,” says Karen Farber, the center’s director. “Mrs. Mitchell and her family’s generosity has made dozens of significant new art works possible and left a lasting legacy that will continue to infuse the entire university and city of Houston with creativity and innovation.”

Mitchell also has provided support for UH’s Immanuel and Helen Olshan Texas Music Festival. Each year, the event introduces audiences to student musicians through the Cynthia Wood Mitchell Young Artists Competition.

“The vision and generosity of the Mitchells have added so much to what the festival offers to its participants, and to Houston audiences each summer,” says Alan Austin, the festival’s general director.

Through a generous unsolicited gift, she also launched UH’s Distinguished Authors Program. Mitchell has provided support to the university’s Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture as well.

“Just as she lived a productive and creative life with extraordinary commitment to our community, she has left a legacy that will fuel creativity for future generations in our community and far beyond,” Khator says.