By Joshua Benton
Eighty-eight-year-old John “Jack” Jackson never had children, but his generosity will help generations of Texas young people.
The University of Texas will announce Saturday that Mr. Jackson, a retired Dallas oilman, will give at least $150 million to improve UT’s program in earth and environmental sciences. It is the largest gift to an individual public university in history.
“Jack has characterized this gift to me as an investment in the future of Texas,” said Larry Faulkner, UT’s president. “He believes in the land of this state and what it means to the future of people here. This is a gift to all the people of Texas.”
The donation will be turned over to UT upon Mr. Jackson’s death. Mr. Jackson’s longtime accountant, Jim Langham, described the gift as “the residue of his estate when he dies.”
The exact amount can’t be determined until then, but UT officials estimate it is between $150 million and $200 million. He already had been a generous donor to the university, having given $40 million over the last two years.
Mr. Jackson has been ill for several months and will not be able to attend Saturday’s announcement. Mr. Langham said the donation shows the depth of his feelings toward the university.
“Other than his wife, I think he thought the greatest thing that ever happened to him was to go to Texas,” he said. “That was the foundation that allowed him to make this fortune.”
When Mr. Jackson first tried to enroll at UT, university officials told him to look elsewhere.
“They told him that he didn’t have what it took at that time,” said Ed Fjordbak, president of the Communities Foundation of Texas, which has channeled some of Mr. Jackson’s philanthropy. “He was told to go to Temple Junior College and study there until he was prepared to handle UT.”
He followed the suggestion and graduated from UT with a degree in petroleum geology in 1940.
Mr. Jackson discovered oil fields in Wise County and parlayed those findings into substantial wealth. He then used that money to purchase tracts of farmland north of downtown Dallas and stretching up to Frisco. Much of that land was eventually purchased for construction of the Dallas North Tollway and surrounding development.
Mr. Jackson’s gift is not the largest in public higher education. Last year, a Silicon Valley couple pledged $250 million to the entire University of Colorado System, which includes four campuses. And there have been several larger gifts made to private universities, led by a $600 million pledge to the California Institute of Technology by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore.
In 2000, Mr. Jackson and his wife gave $15 million for the renovation and expansion of the geological sciences building on campus. Last year, Mr. Jackson gave another $25 million to endow the John A. and Katherine G. Jackson School of Geosciences.
Mr. Jackson has long credited UT with his success in the oil industry.
“My education at UT-Austin helped launch and sustain my career,” Mr. Jackson said last year after his $25 million gift. “Now I want to help others get the best education possible.”
Much of Mr. Jackson’s philanthropy has been aimed at education. Along with UT, he has been a major donor to Texas Lutheran University, Austin College and Temple Junior College.
He’s also the largest donor in the history of Presbyterian Healthcare System, having given more than $14 million and the land Presbyterian Hospital of Plano sits on. The Jackson Building at Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas is named for him.
He helped finance the creation of the Dallas Blue Foundation, which assists the relatives of police officers hurt or killed on duty, and he has helped to support the Press Club of Dallas. The Katie Awards, the region’s top journalism prize, are named in his wife’s honor.
Many of his donations have been made in the name of his wife, whom he met at junior college. His philanthropic foundation is the Katie Foundation; he named his oil company Katie Petroleum. Mrs. Jackson died a year ago. The couple had no children, no nieces and no nephews.
“He doted on Katie because he loved her intensely,” Mr. Fjordbak said. “When Katie became ill, he hardly left her side for two years, insisting on a double-bed hospital room so he could sleep with her and make sure her every need was met.”
Mr. Jackson’s donation will be used to expand the endowment of his namesake geosciences school. But Dr. Faulkner said Mr. Jackson wants the money to be used for broader purposes within the earth sciences, including environmental and water-quality issues.
“The resources of the earth have been important to me and to what Katie and I have been able to achieve,” Mr. Jackson said in a statement.
Despite his enormous wealth, friends say Mr. Jackson has lived a frugal life, trading extravagant spending for giving. “He once told me that money’s not important,” Mr. Fjordbak said. “‘People try too hard to earn it, to become somebody. But money is only good for helping build things for others.'”