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Jack Blanton and Harold Simmons Dead

By Richard Whittaker, December 30, 2013, 10:30am, Newsdesk

Philanthropic, political and policy life in Texas may have changed significantly over the weekend with the passing of two of the state's most noted philanthropists and political donors. In coincidental timing, Houston oilman Jack Blanton and Dallas-based billionaire Harold Simmons both died on Saturday.

Blanton, who passed away aged 86, is best known in Austin as the man after whom the Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art is named. However, the Louisiana-born oil tycoon was an institution in his adopted home of Houston, serving on museum and housing boards. Yet the UT Austin graduate was also a strong statewide advocate for the state's foremost institution of tertiary education, even serving as chair of the UT System board of regents during the late 1980s. In a statement released today, UT Austin President Bill Powers said, "Jack Blanton served UT in countless ways. He supported programs as varied as the law school, the Wildflower Center, British Studies, athletics, nursing and, of course, the Blanton Museum of Art. Moreover, for decades he contributed his time, energy and vision to UT. And he was a wonderful friend. I will miss him."

On the same day, Simmons died at aged 82 at the Baylor University Medical Center. His political legacy will probably be as one of the great Texas GOP sugardaddies, pumping fortunes into right wing campaigns and candidates such as Gov. Rick Perry and Karl Rove's American Crossroads superpac (locally, he dropped $6,000 into an unsuccessful 2006 attempt to defeat Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, in House District 48). He was extremely controversial with environmentalists because of his firm Waste Control Specialists' role in the nuclear waste industry. However, as Forbes notes in its obituary, Simmons was prepared to buck conservative orthodoxy, and was a donor to Planned Parenthood, and charities supporting the HIV-positive community.

Many Republicans will undoubtedly be publicly and privately mourning his death. However, there are also likely to be some campaign offices making serious recalculations today. Simmons is the second of the great GOP donors to pass away this year. In April his old friend and political ally, Houston-based home builder Bob Perry died at aged 80. Both achieved national notoriety as big funders of Swift Vets and POWs for Truth, the campaign hit group targeting Vietnam veteran and Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry.

Yet, as with Blanton, the UT System has lost one of its historically most generous benefactors. Between 2002 and 2008, Simmons donated $125 million to the UT Southwestern Medical Center, where the Harold and Annette Simmons Comprehensive Center for Research and Treatment in Brain and Neurological Disorders was named in honor of him and his wife.

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