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Businessman, philanthropist Bright dies

Published: Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 23:07

No better words could have characterized the life and career of Harvey "Bum" Bright than the ones on his welcome mat, "Beware of Owner," characterizing his love for his dogs.

Bright, the former owner of the Dallas Cowboys, a businessman and philanthropist, died in his home in Highland Park Dec. 11, leaving behind a legacy that was as often admired as debated.

Bright graduated from Texas A&M in 1943 with a bachelor's degree in petroleum engineering. He then enlisted in the Army and was deployed to Europe as a member of the Army Corp of Engineers. After obtaining the rank of captain and leaving the Army in 1946, Bright built a large fortune in over 100 businesses in the oil, freight, real estate and investment industries.

Bright was perhaps best known for his ownership of the Dallas Cowboys from 1984 to 1989. He purchased the franchise from Clint Murchison and effectively kept the team in Texas, following rumors that the Cowboys would be moved out of state. His years of ownership saw mediocre performance from the team, and financial difficulties prompted him to sell the team to Jerry Jones in 1989.

During his career, Bright earned much respect and criticism for his style of business practice. He was sometimes seen as an intimidating figure and was involved in one of the most infamous political episodes of Texas history.

On Nov. 22, 1963, the day of the John F. Kennedy assassination, a full-page advertisement that Bright co-sponsored ran in the Dallas Morning News, criticizing Kennedy's domestic and foreign policies. To his friends, however, Bright was intimidating in a very different way.

Robert Walker, Vice President of Development at A&M and a close friend of Bright, said the first time he met Bright was when he asked him to sponsor a scholarship.

"We started talking, and he had this graph paper and was taking notes. I was dumbfounded when he did that," Walker said. "I was intimidated, and Bum tells me, 'I do that because I have a short memory. I knew you had something important to say.'"

Walker said Bright also had a wonderful sense of humor.

"When I visited (Bright) in his office, he would jump out from behind the doors to scare me," Walker said. "He thought it was funny."

Walker said Bright would introduce himself as Bum and would even get angry when some would shy away from calling the millionaire by such a name.

"Bum Bright was a great Texan and an important member of the Dallas Cowboys family," said Cowboys owner Jerry Jones in a statement in December. "He was a close friend and a businessman that I respected and admired tremendously. Our agreement on the purchase of the Dallas Cowboys was finalized with a few notes on a napkin and a handshake."

Regardless of how he was perceived, Bright's passion and devotion to A&M lies unquestioned, and two prominent buildings on campus bear his name.

Bright's biggest contribution was an unprecedented $25 million unrestricted donation to A&M.

"I don't think it appropriate that anyone should try to rule from the grave," Bright said at the time of the gift. "I can think of no person with more knowledge of the needs of a school than the president."

Bright recently made a $5 million contribution to initiate the construction of an athletic complex, later named the Bright Complex.

"He loved Texas A&M athletics, and wanted them to be the best," said Miles Marks, executive director of the 12th Man Foundation. "When we needed the money, he stepped up."

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