Letter from the Executive Director: One Man’s Treasure

In the fall of 2021, a new building will open its doors on the Forty Acres: the Gary L. Thomas Energy Engineering Building. When you walk around a sprawling campus like ours, you walk by a lot of names etched in bronze, brass, or lit up brightly on a fancy digital display. But when I pass this particular man’s name in the future, I’m going to remember the feeling of overwhelming, unbridled envy I had when I walked into his garage.

“Garage” does not do it justice. “Museum” or “temple” is more like it. Thomas, who recently retired after an illustrious career in the oil and gas industry that lasted more than 40 years, owns one of the largest collections of Ford automobiles—and specifically one of the largest collections of the vehicle that makes red-blooded Americans of a certain age weak at the knees: the Shelby Mustang.

It’s an expansive, industrial place, and very clean, as an engineer would have it. As he gave me the tour and walked me by row after row … I imagined how exciting it would be to collect these cars, and how heartbreaking it would be to part with them.

Each one of his impressive cars has a story. He has restored them from forgotten metal left to die in a barn to the iconic pieces of machinery they were meant to be. And in addition to his commitment of $25 million to help fund that new engineering building, Thomas has vowed to auction off many of his precious cars to further support the university. You can read his remarkable story here.

He is an exceedingly humble man and not one to brag about his philanthropy. But I sure will. When we walked up to the one car I’ve dreamed of owning all my life, a black Shelby 289 Cobra, I turned to him and said, “Is this one going? You can’t let go of this!”

But his quiet smile made me realize he’d already said goodbye. This gorgeous vehicle will find a new home, a new enamored owner, and it will go on to help UT. It’s an extraordinary thing to give away something so personal and precious. The university must have really changed his life. Now I’m off to get a lottery ticket so I can take one home myself.

Hook ’em,

Chuck Harris, BBA ’86, Life Member 


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