Legacy Award: Richard and Pat Lawson
Richard (66) and Pat (Davidson 67) Lawson are the benefactors behind a gift to Oklahoma Christian that was one of the largest in the university’s history.
They are active in OC’s growth and success through Richard’s roles on the Board of Trustees and Business Advisory Council, and Pat’s roles with the North Texas Alumni Association and on the National Alumni Council.
And they are the cornerstones of OC’s vibrant relationship with the country of Rwanda.
The Lawsons got to know Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, when Richard’s company, Lawson Software, hosted President Kagame in St. Paul, Minn.
“Since education was such an important issue to Rwanda, especially after the genocide, we thought that possibly there was a role Oklahoma Christian could play in reaching out to Rwanda,” Richard said.
They connected OC president Dr. Mike O’Neal and his wife Nancy with the Rwandan government, and the rest is history.
Dr. O’Neal worked with the Rwandan education ministers to establish the criteria and structure a program that has brought 85 Rwandan Presidential Scholars to the United States to pursue their education at Oklahoma Christian thus far.
“The Rwandans have been blessed by the opportunity, but interacting with other students, I see that OC has been truly blessed by their presence,” Richard said. “Pat and I are awed by how much credit we get for just hooking up somebody, but I guess that’s the way God works. He basically said, ‘Bring along Mike and Nancy and I’ll take it from there.’”
Those themes of connection and community run throughout the Lawsons’ long relationship with Oklahoma Christian. It’s as if God said, “Bring along Richard and Pat, and I’ll take it from there.”
Pat’s mother was dead-set on Pat going to Oklahoma Christian after she graduated from tiny Velma-Alma High School, two hours away near Ardmore.
“It was a place that was safe to her. She felt that it was a place where I could grow,” Pat said. “Coming from a small high school, she knew I’d be overwhelmed at a big state university. She’d heard good things about OC and knew that’s where she wanted me to go.”
The Davidson family influence also encouraged Pat’s uncle and aunt, Dub and Barbara Erwin, to send their children Connie Bettes, Cathy Tyler, Carma Weymouth and Cristy Swope (91) to Oklahoma Christian. Some of the Erwins’ grandchildren also have attended OC.
On the Lawson side of the family, Richard’s cousin, Kay (Brundege 56) Villines, and his older sister, Naomi (Lawson 56) Patton, attended Central Christian College in Bartlesville. Richard and his younger sister, Greta (71), followed in their footsteps, coming to Oklahoma Christian from Wichita, Kansas.
“I came from a high school that was much larger than OC,” Richard said. “That was really nice because it gave me even more of a sense of community and intimacy with the other students and with the professors.”
Professors like Dr. Darvin Keck, Dr. Raymond Kelcy, Dr. Hugo McCord and Dr. Stafford North made a lasting impact on Richard and Pat because of their accessibility and acumen.
And professors like Joe Bryant, Hugh McHenry and Aubrey Woods put Richard on the path that would change his life. Bryant and McHenry taught in Richard’s major, mathematics. Woods, a customer engineer at IBM, volunteered to teach Oklahoma Christian’s first computer science class.
Not too many schools, especially schools of OC’s size, offered computer courses in the mid-60s.
But that foundation in math and computer science put Richard a step ahead in his master’s work at Purdue University … and sowed the seeds of Lawson Software, a company that was recently acquired for $2 billion.
“What sets apart a school like Oklahoma Christian is the community – the professors, the administration, the church and the students,” Richard said. “As a parent, I wanted that to be the experience for my children, too. You can get the finest education at Oklahoma Christian, but it’s supplemented with the spiritual side, the caring side and the relationship side, and I think that’s unique to a school like Oklahoma Christian.”
Those relationships drove the Lawsons to get involved on the front lines of alumni activities on campus and in north Texas over the past decade.
Pat said that fellow graduate Alan Phillips (76) was the driving force in getting OC’s North Texas Alumni Chapter off the ground, and many alumni in that area have helped raise more than $100,000 in scholarship funds for the university.
“There were a lot of people in the Dallas-Fort Worth area who were OC grads, but were not in contact with each other,” Pat said. “Alan and I got to talking; we felt like we needed to start an alumni group and give back to the school. We have a lot of fun doing a lot of events and helping find prospective students. It’s been work, but it’s been a lot of fun in the process – and we’ve reconnected with a lot of people.”
Richard and Pat also reconnected with old friends when their children, Ricky (92) and Lance, became OC students. They’re helping continue the family’s legacy by leading a fundraising drive to build a first-class softball stadium on campus.
The Lawsons’ philanthropy reflects their philosophy: “It’s God’s money, not ours.”
“Things change, society changes, issues change. I think, at its core, Oklahoma Christian needs to stay the same, which is a student-oriented university with a quality education and the spiritual component,” Richard said. “Without the spiritual component, without the belief system that we have in the church of Christ, without our belief in God and Jesus, we could be any university that doesn’t make any difference in the spiritual lives of students. So I just want OC to be on the right financial foundation and maintain its uniqueness in the way it’s delivering its education.”
The Lawsons are passionate about the university, and just like her student days as a cheerleader at Oklahoma Christian, Pat continues to “rah-rah” for her alma mater.
“I want students to go to OC because I had a great experience there and I think they can have a good experience at OC,” Pat said. “That is the thing that excites me – to get them there, then once they’re there, to watch them blossom and watch them grow. Our hope is that wherever they go they will have that sense of, ‘I went to OC, I had a great experience, I got a great education and I made wonderful friends,’ and that they will repeat that whole process.”
View more stories from the Fall 2011 issue of Vision magazine.