In Memoriam: Bernard “B” Rapoport, 1917-2012
The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin mourns the death of Texas philanthropist and entrepreneur Bernard Rapoport, Founder and Chairman Emeritus of the American Income Life Insurance Company. Rapoport passed away at the age of 94 on April 5, 2012, in Waco, Texas.
“I am deeply saddened by the news of the death of my dear friend B Rapoport,” said Briscoe Center executive director Don E. Carleton. “B was a talented and successful businessman, an intellectual, a keen and insightful analyst of our political system, a devoted supporter of education, and an incredibly generous philanthropist whose gifts were always aimed at helping those who were most in need. It was my great good fortune to serve as B’s partner in the writing of his memoir, which was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. He was truly one of a kind, and I will miss him dearly.”
Born in San Antonio on July 17, 1917, Rapoport learned from an early age the importance of family, community, generosity, and political freedom. His parents David and Riva Rapoport had fled Russia following their participation in the revolution of 1905. Rapoport worked his way through the University of Texas during the Great Depression, graduating with a degree in economics in 1939 and marrying Audre Newman three years later.
In 1951, Rapoport and his wife’s uncle Harold Goodman founded the American Income Life Insurance Company (AIL) in Indianapolis, Indiana with $25,000. They eventually moved the headquarters to Waco in 1958. Under Rapoport’s leadership, the company spread into labor and credit union markets, became one of the first Union Label insurance companies, and grew into a multi-million dollar company at the time of its acquisition by the Torchmark Corporation in 1994.
Rapoport was a life-long supporter of the Democratic Party, starting with Homer Rainey’s gubernatorial campaign in 1944. He later supported Ralph Yarborough, Frances “Sissy” Farenthold, Ann Richards, Ted Kennedy, Alan Cranston, and George McGovern, during whose campaign in 1972 Bernard met Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton. From 1974 onward, Rapoport donated to every one of Clinton’s campaigns and served as fundraiser for both of his presidential bids.
The Rapoports founded the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Foundation in 1987. Annual contributions supported the state of Israel, the University of Texas at Austin, the Waco community, and other worthwhile projects, including the Jerusalem Foundation, Planned Parenthood, the Institute for Policy Studies, the Texas Observer, and Paul Quinn College. The Rapoport Academy in the Waco Independent School District and the Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice at the University of Texas are named in honor of Bernard and Audre’s support.
Bernard Rapoport’s time at the University of Texas (UT) greatly influenced his success in life, and his pride in his alma mater resulted in both financial and service contributions to the University. In 1991, Ann Richards appointed Rapoport to the UT System Board of Regents, on which he served as chairman from 1993 until his retirement from the board in 1997. Rapoport also established or contributed to numerous endowments for scholarships and chairs in economics and the liberal arts.
Bernard Rapoport first became associated with the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History in 1992, when he donated his papers. The Bernard Rapoport Papers document his career at the American Income Life Insurance Company, his participation in Democratic politics at the state and national levels, and the philanthropic activities of the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Foundation. Composed of over 200 feet of archival material spanning nearly 100 years, the collection contains correspondence, diaries, college papers, political files, photographs, newspaper clippings, printed material, audiotapes, videotapes, and DVDs. Prominent correspondents represented in the Rapoport Papers include Bill and Hilary Clinton, Ted Kennedy, Ann Richards, Tom Daschle, Ralph Yarborough, Bill Moyers, John Henry Faulk, Lloyd Bentsen, and Molly Ivins.
In 2002, the University of Texas Press in the Briscoe Center’s Focus on American History Series published Rapoport’s memoir, Being Rapoport: Capitalist with a Conscience, as told to Briscoe Center director Dr. Don Carleton. In it, Rapoport recalls a life of hard work and a philosophy of giving that made him a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist. He explains how his early experiences of poverty and his youthful acquaintance with Marxists and New Deal economists shaped him into a capitalist with a conscience.
The Rapopport Foundation, the Briscoe Center, and UT Libraries instigated a project to preserve the legacy of Bernard Rapoport in 2011. The three-year, collaborative project will create a publicly accessible, enhanced digital edition of Bernard Rapoport’s memoir that will link the memoir with 1500 historical documents and photographs selected from the Bernard Rapoport Papers and from other Briscoe Center collections. These links will encourage the online reader to explore Being Rapoport and gain a deeper understanding of Bernard Rapoport’s message and philosophy of service.
Dr. Carleton and the entire staff of the Briscoe Center extend their sincere and heartfelt condolences to the Rapoport family.