In 1927, Dr. Harry Benedict was the first University of Texas graduate to be appointed its president. He served in that capacity for a decade, still the record for the longest sitting UT chief executive. Benedict’s involvement with the University was deep. He’d earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from UT (as well as a Ph.D. in astronomy from Harvard), then joined the faculty in 1899 to teach applied mathematics and astronomy. During his career, Benedict was chair of the Athletics Council, president of the University Co-op, and was twice elected president of the alumni association. He was the first Director of University Extension, and later served concurrently as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and as Dean of Men before the Board of Regents asked him to take on presidential duties.
Academically, Benedict’s interests were broad and varied. “Dr. Benedict can right now engage a specialist in any one of half a dozen different fields in conversation,” wrote good friend and Texas naturalist Roy Bedicheck. Benedict was well-versed in economics, sociology, anthropology, geology, and history, along with math and astronomy. He was an expert on Texas flora and fauna, collected bird eggs with a passion, and took fellow UT professors fishing and camping along Bull Creek in northwest Austin and in to the Texas Hill Country.
Benedict could also write, and as president enjoyed penning an annual holiday rhyme – from he and his wife, Ada – for his official UT Christmas cards. Because of his popularity on and off campus, the cards were often sent to faculty, staff, and alumni across the state. Here are a few samples, discovered several years ago at an Austin book and paper show. Peter Mansbendel created a UT presidents medallion of Dr. Benedict that still hangs in the Texas Union Presidential Lobby at UT. He also carved a mantle for Dr Benedict’s home. (See Buddington-Benedict-sheffield compound)
Several Christmas greetings, authored by UT President Harry Benedict and his wife Ada