Robert C. McNair (Jan. 1, 1937 – Nov. 23, 2018), a leading businessman, sportsman and philanthropist in Houston, Texas for more than 50 years, was the founder, senior chairman and chief executive officer of the Houston Texans National Football League team.
Robert C. McNair (Jan. 1, 1937 – Nov. 23, 2018), a leading businessman, sportsman and philanthropist in Houston, Texas for more than 50 years, was the founder, senior chairman and chief executive officer of the Houston Texans National Football League team. McNair was perhaps best known in the business community as the founder of Cogen Technologies, which became the largest privately owned cogeneration company in the world with an aggregate capacity of 1,400 megawatts. In 1999, he sold the company while retaining ownership of power plants in New York and West Virginia, until 2017 and 2018 respectively.
McNair served as senior chairman of McNair Interests, headquartered in Houston, Texas where he oversaw an investment portfolio. McNair owned Palmetto Partners, Ltd. and RCM Financial Services, L.P., private investment entities that managed the McNairs’ private and public equity investments. In 1997, he was inducted into the Texas Business Hall of Fame and in 2010, the Houston Hall of Fame.
Committed to bringing an NFL team to Houston, McNair formed Houston NFL Holdings in 1998. On October 5, 1999, the NFL awarded him the 32nd NFL franchise, returning professional football to the City of Houston in 2002. McNair’s influence and leadership also brought two Super Bowls to Houston’s NRG Stadium: Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004 and Super Bowl LI in 2017.
McNair’s Texans won their first AFC South title in 2011 and gave Houston its first NFL playoff game in nearly 18 years after a 31-10 win against Cincinnati in the Wild Card round on January 7, 2012. The Texans then claimed their second-consecutive AFC South title in 2012 and finished the regular season 12-4, matching the most regular season wins in the City of Houston’s NFL history.
McNair hired Bill O’Brien as the third head coach of the franchise in January 2014, ushering in a new era of Texans football. In 2016, the Texans enjoyed the distinction of their third straight winning season for the first time in franchise history and won their second consecutive AFC South Division championship for the second time under McNair. In 2016, Houston advanced to the AFC Divisional Round for the first time since 2012 and finished the year with the NFL’s top-ranked defense for the first time in franchise history. The team also posted a 7-1 record at home during the regular season, which set a single-season franchise record and tied for the best home record in the NFL in 2016.
McNair was actively involved in NFL affairs including serving as chairman of the Finance Committee. He was also a member of the Audit, Compensation and Chairman’s Committees.
As founder and chairman emeritus of the Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl, McNair revived Houston’s collegiate bowl game on December 28, 2006. The game now features teams from the Big 12 and SEC conferences and boasts an average attendance of more than 70,000 fans a year, ranking fourth among all Bowls trailing only the Rose, Cotton and Peach Bowls since 2014. In 2006, McNair selected the DePelchinChildren’s Center as the bowl game’s charitable beneficiary. DePelchin has since received more than $1.4 million in direct financial support and millions more in promotional support from the Texas Bowl partnership.
Stonerside Stable, a major Thoroughbred horse farm in Kentucky, was also among McNair’s successes. A 1,947-acre Thoroughbred horse farm and racing stable, Stonerside was home to more than 275 racehorses, broodmares, yearlings and weanlings. From its inception in 1994, Stonerside won 72 Graded Stakes races including Grade l wins in the Belmont, Breeders’ Cup Mile, the Travers, the Haskell, the Hollywood Gold Cup, the Cigar Mile, the Carter, the Swaps, the Wood Memorial, the Matriarch and the Oak Leaf Stakes. Stonersidehas also finished second and third in the Kentucky Derby and was the co-breeder of Fusaichi Pegasus, winner of the Derby in 2000. Stonerside has bred the winners of more than $50 million, including the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Raven’s Pass and 2008 Champion American Juvenile colt Midshipman, the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Stonerside was named Breeder of the Year in 2007 and 2008 by Kentucky horsemen.
McNair served on the boards of the Breeders’ Cup and Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and was awarded the Allan Bogan Memorial Award for outstanding services to the Texas Thoroughbred Association. He was a member of the prestigious Jockey Club, which governs the sport of Thoroughbred racing. In October 2008, McNair sold Stonerside Farm and Racing Stable.
McNair chaired The Robert and Janice McNair Foundation, the Houston Texans Foundation headquartered in Houston, Texas, and The Robert and Janice McNair Educational Foundationwhere he grew up in Forest City, N.C. For over 25 years, the McNairs and their foundations gave generously to a wide array of charitable, scientific, literary, educational and religious organizations including the Baylor College of Medicine’s MD/PhD Program, and scholarship initiatives at the University of South Carolina, Rice University, Columbia College, Newberry College, Austin College, Virginia Tech and Houston Community College.
The McNairs’ passion for education included the Houston Independent School District’s Fine Arts Program, Project GRAD Houston, Teach For America, the Neuhaus Education Center and the Houston-area charter schools initiative. At the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, they endowed the Robert and Janice McNair Public Policy Chair; a position held by the Institute’s founding director, Ambassador Edward P. Djerejian. The McNairs’ love of community isevident throughout the City of Houston and includes the Houston Zoo’s McNair Asian Elephant Habitat, the jogging trail at Discovery Green, the San Jacinto Girl Scouts Equestrian Center, the McNair Cub Scout Adventure World, the United Way Computer Training Center, and the McNair Hall and McNair Plaza at Houston Baptist University. They also sponsored community outreach programs for the Houston Symphony, Houston Grand Opera, Houston Museum of Fine Arts and Young Audiences of Houston. In addition, McNair was a founding member of the Cotswold Project, a revitalization project in downtown Houston.
In 2007, the McNairs turned their primary philanthropic focus to medical research. They established the McNair Medical Institute and provided a transformational gift to the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. The McNair Scholars Programsoon followed to recruit and deploy world-class physicians and research scientists in the fields of Type 1 diabetes, cancer and neurosciences. In addition to Baylor College of Medicine, McNair Scholars are located across Houston’s acclaimed Texas Medical Center including MD Anderson, The Menninger Clinic, Texas Children’s Hospital and the Texas Heart Institute.
In 2013 and 2014, the McNairs provided major gifts to Houston’s AD Players Theater, Houston’s United Way 2-1-1 Capital Campaign, the Star of Hope Family Place, Houston Parks Bayou Greenways 2020 and the Houston Zoo’s Phase II African Forest campaign. Honoring the fruits of American entrepreneurism, in 2015 the McNairs began establishingMcNair Centers for Entrepreneurism and Free Enterprise at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, the University of St. Thomas Houston, the University of South Carolina, Columbia College in Columbia, South Carolina and Northwood University in Midland, Michigan. In 2016, they added a McNair Center at Houston Baptist University. When Hurricane Harvey hit their hometown and surrounding area in 2017, the McNairs stepped forward immediately and gave $3 million to the United Way of Greater Houston for relief efforts.
Janice and Bob McNair’s philanthropic leadership wasrecognized far and wide. In 2003, the Association of Fundraising Professionals honored their namesake foundation, The Robert and Janice McNair Foundation, with their 2003 Outstanding Philanthropic Foundation Award. In November 2004, the Houston Independent School District followed with their Hall of Fame Award, and in 2008, Young Audiences of Houston bestowed their Houston Community Arts Partner Leadership Award. In 2012, the Neuhaus Education Center applauded the Foundation for 15 years of loyal support, and in May it was recognized at the Mayor’s Literacy Leadership Breakfast. In 2013, during their “Hats in the Park” luncheon, the Hermann Park Conservancy honored the Foundation for supporting Centennial Gardens.
Bob McNair was the recipient of numerous awards including the Anti-Defamation League’s Torch of Liberty Award, Northwood University’s Outstanding Business Leader Award, the Association for Private Enterprise Education’s Herman W. Lay Memorial Award, the Houston Chapter of the National Football Foundation’s Distinguished American Award, the Houston Rotary Club’s Distinguished Citizen Award, the South Main Center Association’s City Builder Award, the Houston Advertising Federation’s Annual Trailblazer Award (for significantly enhancing the overall image of Houston both locally and globally), the Sam Houston Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America Distinguished Citizen Award, the Texas Heart Institute’s Denton A. Cooley Leadership Award, the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge National Award for Outstanding Patriotism, Responsible Citizenship and Community Involvement, and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes President and Mrs. George H. W. Bush Community Impact Award.
In June 2005, Rice University’s board of trustees named their 167,000-square-foot Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Management, “Janice and Robert McNair Hall.” In October 2007, the Baylor College of Medicine presented their first Pink Ribbon Hero Award for Ambassadorship to the McNairs for their support of past Pink Ribbon Houses and for their commitment to fight cancer. In April 2009, the KIPP Academy honored the McNairs for their devotion in supporting the education of inner city and underprivileged youth. In May 2009, Bob McNair was named “Entrepreneur of the Decade” by the Houston Technology Center. In November, he was awarded the James A. Baker III Prize for Excellence in Leadership, an honor that recognizes nationally and internationally renowned leaders for excellence in public service and civic life. That December, McNair received the inaugural Rotary Lombardi Humanitarian Award, followed by the Houston Independent School District presenting him with their Encore for Excellence Award. In April 2010, the DePelchin Children’s Center presented Janice and Bob McNair with their Kezia DePelchin Award in honor of their long-standing support of the DePelchin Children’s Center.
Bob McNair was inducted into the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame in May 2010. In November, the Association of Fundraising Professionals presented Janice and Bob McNair with their Maurice Hirsch Award for Philanthropy, the highest recognition given to an individual or family for exceptional generosity and outstanding civic and charitable responsibility. In 2012, Rice University again honored the McNairs during the 10th anniversary of McNair Hall, and in 2013, they were the recipients of the Texas Association of Partners in Education Award for the Texas Outstanding Sports Partnership.
In 2014, the McNairs received UNICEF’s inaugural Margaret Alkek Williams Humanitarian Award, and Houston Baptist University’s Spirit of Excellence Award. They were honored by the Houston Zoo, the Souper Bowl of Caring, and in 2011, Bob McNair was honored by the Junior Achievement of Southeast Texas as a Class of 2011 Laureate, and the JA Hall of Achievement. In September 2011, Texas Children’s Cancer Center honored the McNairs as their 2011 Community Champions. In April 2012, the Escape Family Resource Center honored them as headliners for their annual Celebrity Serve benefit.
Bob McNair was selected as one of Texas Medical Center’s 2013 Men of Distinction, and Janice and Bob McNair were Honorary Co-Chairs for Impact a Hero’s 2013 Gala. They chaired the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge Houston campaign, and were honored as Community Partner Honorees, along with the Houston Texans, at the Houston Symphony’s Centennial Opening Night in September 2013. In November 2013, the McNairs were selected by the DePelchin Children’s Center to serve as Honorary Event Chairs at their Children’s Center Gala. In February 2014, Janice and Bob McNair received the Houston Community College’s Crystal Eagle Award. In November 2015, MD Anderson and NBC’s Tom Brokaw honored Bob McNair as MD Anderson’s “Living Legend”.
In March of 2016, Janice and Bob McNair were selected as Honorary Chairs of the Texas Children’s Hospital Promise Campaign. In February 2017, the Lombardi Honors and Awards program awarded Janice and Bob McNair with their 2016 Lombardi Fellows and Humanitarians of the Year awards. In May, the Newberry College John Bachman Society presented the McNairs with their “Distinguished Members for 2017” Award. In September 2017, Rutherford County N.C., where Bob McNair grew up, inducted him into their inaugural Sports Hall of Fame class, and in 2018, McNair become the sixth recipient of the Texas Sports Hall of Fame’s Lamar Hunt Lifetime Achievement Award.
Bob McNair was a member of the Board of Trustees for numerous institutions including Rice University, Baylor College of Medicine, the Texas Heart Institute, Houston Grand Opera, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the Greater Houston Partnership, the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Free Enterprise Institute, the Sigma Chi Foundation, the Federal Reserve Banks of Dallas and Houston, and the Young Presidents’ and World Presidents’ Organizations.
Bob McNair was born in Tampa, Fla. He and his wife, Janice Suber McNair, were residents of Houston since 1960. McNair graduated from the University of South Carolina in Columbia, S.C. in 1958 with a Bachelor of Science degree. In 1999, Mr. McNair received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the University of South Carolina. In 2010, he received an Honorary Doctor of Humanities in Medicine from Baylor College of Medicine. Janice McNair graduated from Columbia College in Columbia, S.C. in 1959. In 2015, she received an Honorary Doctor of Humanities from Columbia College.
McNair is survived by his wife, Janice, sons Robert Cary McNair Jr. and wife Kate, Daniel Calhoun “Cal” McNair and wife Hannah, and daughters Ruth Smith and Melissa McNair, ten granddaughters, five grandsons and two great grandsons. He was preceded in death by his parents, Ruth Adair McNair and Ruse Foster McNair, and two brothers Ruse Foster McNair Jr. and John McNair.