Pat Neff: Governor, president, and Baylor legend
On November 26, 1871, the only man to ever have served as both governor of Texas and president of Baylor University was born.
This week marks the 145-year anniversary of the birth of Pat Neff, AB 1894, AM 1898, whose name remains familiar to the Baylor family and whose contributions to the university go far beyond recognition on the campus’ most iconic building.
Neff was born on a farm about 30 miles outside Waco and enrolled at Baylor in 1889, just three years after the university’s move to Waco from Independence. After graduating in 1894, he taught for two years in Arkansas and earned a law degree before returning to Waco to start a law practice (and earn a master’s degree from Baylor, in 1898).
Neff’s political career began as Waco’s representative in the Texas House of Representatives, where he quickly ascended to the rank of Speaker of the House. In 1920, he was elected as the 28th governor of Texas, and he was re-elected two years later (terms only lasted two years then). His gubernatorial legacy includes the formation of the Texas State Parks System and the founding of Texas Tech University).
The second phase of Governor Neff’s career began in 1932, when he became President Neff at his alma mater. Baylor, like the rest of the nation, was deep in the throes of the Great Depression, and unsure of what the future held. In the first few years of his Baylor presidency, Neff juggled loans and cut costs to help keep the university afloat financially. These moves helped stabilize Baylor until both the Depression and World War II ended, which brought a dramatic and welcome uptick in enrollment.
By the time Neff’s presidency concluded, the student body had nearly doubled in size, and plans were at least underway (if not already completed) for such iconic Baylor facilities as Tidwell Bible Building, the Bill Daniel Student Center, and an administration building that we know today as Pat Neff Hall.
Since Baylor’s founding, a state-record five Baylor alumni have served as Texas governor, and 14 have served as president. But only one can claim both the highest office in the state and on our campus.
Sic ’em (and happy birthday), Pat Neff!