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Rice engineering loses a friend in Hershel Rich

2012-02-27

Hershel M. Rich, ’45 and ’47, a native Houstonian, businessman and longtime supporter of Rice University, who for decades shared his good fortune with the world, died on Feb. 17, less than two weeks before his 87th birthday.

Rich and his wife of 64 years, Hilda ’48, are perhaps best remembered on campus for establishing Leadership Rice, dedicated to preparing students for lives of service. Seed money from the Riches supported the program in its early, experimental stages. Once Leadership Rice was established, the Riches pledged $1 million in endowment to assure its long-term success.

“Hershel was a delightful, fascinating man without pretension who had a great love for Rice. It was always interesting to talk with him. The annual prize and the Leadership endowment he established for innovation at Rice raised our students' level of interest in invention. He was ahead of his time in encouraging entrepreneurship,” said Michael Carroll, the Burton J. and Ann M. McMurtry Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, who came to know Rich while he dean of the George R. Brown School of Engineering.

In recognition of the couple’s contributions, Rice named Hershel Rich as a Distinguished Alumnus in 1994.

Rich’s first B.S. from Rice was in electrical engineering, the second in mechanical engineering. His wife graduated with distinction, majoring in philosophy. After graduation, Rich joined his father in the new Phil Rich Fan Manufacturing Co.,which made Windmaker Fans. He became president of the company in 1956, and sold it to Sunbeam in 1981.

After the sale, Rich started a computer software company and the real estate development firms HR Land Company and HMR Construction Inc. Later he became director of Friedman Industries, president of HMR Consultants and managing partner of several family businesses.

The Hershel M. Rich Invention Award is given annually to Rice faculty members or students for an invention that demonstrates their creativity and originality.The Rice Engineering Alumni coordinate the selection of the recipient of the $5,000 award, which will be divided equally among the recipients.

Rich was a Rice University Associate and shared with his wife its highest honor, the Gold Award, in 2002.

After the death of their son, Morton ’73, in 1993, the Riches established the Morty Rich Service Award, given annually to Rice students who have distinguished themselves in community service.Through their Hilda and Hershel Rich Philanthropic Fund, they established the Hershel Rich Best Invention Award to encourage creativity in students, and the Hilda Rich Scholarship Fund.

“Hershel was a strong supporter of engineering at Rice over many years.  He was particularly supportive of innovation and invention, which he considered the highest form on engineering. We miss him greatly,” said C. Sidney Burrus, the Maxfield Oshman Professor Emeritus of electrical and computer engineering.

Hershel served on the International Board of Governors of Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, and was regional chairman and a national board member of the American Society for Technion. He created the prestigious Hershel Rich Technion Innovation Award given to researchers for outstanding innovative projects with commercial potential, and helped start a jobs program for students on campus.

In 1995, Technion presented Rich with its highest honor—the Albert Einstein Award. He received an honorary fellowship and, in 1998, an honorary doctorate.

In 1984, Rich took on the challenge of adult illiteracy by founding the Houston READ Council (now the READ Commission), the largest urban literacy coalition in the nation. His wife served on the boards of many Houston civic institutions, including Houston Metropolitan Ministries, and on the national boards of organizations such as the Brandeis University Women’s Division and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

For their services to the community, the couple has been honored by the City of Houston, which has four times declared “Hershel Rich Day.”

The Riches have two children: Renie, a Wharton School of Finance MBA, and Sharon, an E.E.D. graduate of Harvard University, and five grandchildren.