They came by the hundreds to honor and remember Bernard Rapoport on Wednesday.
B, as his friends called him, passed away late last week at age 94. The son of Russian Jewish immigrants, B made his fortune in the insurance business and then set about giving away millions to causes he believed in: the University of Texas, scholarship funds, numerous nonprofits, many Democratic politicians, and the Observer.
Several hundred came to his public memorial service Wednesday at the cavernous Grand Mason Lodge of Texas in Waco to hear seven speakers offer touching tributes to B.
“He had unshakable confidence that he could change the world,” said his granddaughter Abby, a former Observer staff writer. She was joined on stage by her sister, Emily, who read a poem dedicated to B.
Abby recalled that B always kept up with what his granddaughters were learning and always had advice for what they should be reading. During her freshman year of college, Abby said her grandfather asked to look at her syllabi and, as the year went along, kept up with the reading himself. “His confidence and his big ideas made me think he could change the world,” she said.
And in many ways, he did. The number of people whose lives were touched or changed by B Rapoport is far too numerous to list. His donations to Democratic candidates made him a well-known political figure and welcome in many Democratic congressional offices in Washington. And Wednesday’s memorial was filled with anecdotes of B’s proximity to power. In their eulogies, both Ben Barnes and Bill Cunningham, a former UT chancellor, told of visiting the Clinton White House with B. (Politics never came before family, though. Former Congressman Chet Edwards remembered sitting in B’s office while Rapoport talked on the phone with President Clinton. Then another call came in, and B said, “Mr. President, I have to go. My granddaughter just called me.”)
His political donations helped make him famous, but B’s philanthropy likely effected many more lives.
“If you were in need, he was there for you,” said Lyndon Olson, a former ambassador to Sweden and B’s long-time friend, in his eulogy. “How many of us present here today did he help in some way? Big and small ways! He did that for the people here in Waco, Texas… in the State of Texas… in the nation… and around the world.
“Those who were less fortunate, who were in poverty, who were the victims of injustice, or were just in need due to some personal calamity had a champion in B.”
The Rapoport family has generously requested that donations be made in B’s memory to The Texas Observer, or to the Rapoport Scholars Program at the University of Texas.