A successful businessman and world-renowned philanthropist who returned the National Football League to Houston and long-championed Sigma Chi’s excellence in leadership education, Significant Sig Bob McNair, SOUTH CAROLINA 1958, entered Chapter Eternal Friday after a courageous battle with cancer.
“We are saddened to learn of brother McNair’s passing,” said Sigma Chi Foundation President and CEO Ashley Woods, EAST TENNESSEE 2000. “He was not only one of the foremost business leaders in our country, he was a dedicated Sigma Chi and, along with his sweetheart, one of our most supportive brothers.”
“Brother McNair’s support was instrumental in the development of Horizons, which set the standard for leadership programming within all Greek-letter organizations,” said Sigma Chi Executive Director Mike Church, ILLINOIS 2005. “He was a proud and dedicated Sigma Chi. All honor to his name!”
Along with his beloved wife Janice, McNair and his charitable foundations gave more than $500 million to a wide array of scientific, literary, educational and faith-based organizations.
As a member of the Sigma Chi Foundation Board of Governors during the late 1990s, McNair and other alumni, including Order of Constantine Sig and Significant Sig Jim Morris, MINNESOTA 1950, wanted to shift the focus of undergraduates from the social aspect of fraternities toward the importance of leadership development.
McNair accomplished that goal by funding the development and inaugural session of Sigma Chi Horizons.
“I saw a real threat to the existence of fraternities if we didn’t do something that would give meaning to our existence,” McNair said in a 2012 interview. “My feeling was (that) we ought to use the Fraternity as a learning experience to develop leaders.”
One week of Horizons, now known as the Huntsman Horizons Leadership Summit, has been sponsored by McNair since its 1999 debut.
“It’s one of the best investments I’ve made,” said McNair. “I really think it’s been very worthwhile. (The participants) talk about how Horizons has changed their life and opened their eyes and been the most meaningful experience they’ve ever had.
“Sometimes, it brings tears to your eyes when you read what some of these young brothers have to say about the impact Horizons has had on their lives.”
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McNair was a leading businessman and sportsman in his home of Houston, where he returned professional football in 2002 with the Texans organization — six years after the Oilers franchise were moved to Tennessee by late owner, Order of Constantine Sig and Significant Sig Kenneth “Bud” Adams Jr., KANSAS 1944.
His influence and leadership brought two Super Bowls to the city, and he was actively involved in league affairs including service as chairman of the NFL’s Finance Committee.
Professionally, McNair was founder of Cogen Technologies, the largest privately-owned cogeneration company in the world, and served as senior chairman of McNair Interests, Palmetto Partners, Ltd. and RCM Financial Services.
His philanthropic efforts reached deep into the Houston community where he and his wife funded the Baylor College of Medicine’s McNair Campus, the Houston Zoo’s Elephant Habitat, the United Way Computer Training Center and the McNair Hall and Plaza at Houston Baptist University, among others.
He has been honored for his devotion to supporting the education of inner-city and underprivileged youth, and donated over $100 million to help build and support the McNair Scholars Program, which recruits and deploys world-class physicians and research scientists in the fields of diabetes, cancer and neurosciences.
“The Fraternity really got me started on a leadership path,” McNair said about his days as an undergraduate member. “(Sigma Chi) really put me into a position to gain some valuable (leadership) experience that I doubt I would have gained otherwise.”
McNair is succeeded by his wife, Janice, sons Cal and Cary, daughters Ruth and Melissa, 15 grandchildren and two great grandsons.