Honoring B Rapoport

Center for Public Policy Priorities to recognize legendary Texas philanthropist

Former President Bill Clinton (l) will deliver the keynote address at the CPPP's dinner honoring Waco philanthropist Bernard Rapoport on May 19.
Former President Bill Clinton (l) will deliver the keynote address at the CPPP's dinner honoring Waco philanthropist Bernard Rapoport on May 19.

The rise of maverick insurance tycoon Bernard Rapoport from humble beginnings to public prominence is surprisingly similar to that of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, the Austin-based public interest research organization that will honor Rapoport – known to his friends simply as "B" – on Friday, May 19, at the Palmer Events Center. Former President Bill Clinton will deliver the keynote address, and CPPP executive director and former state district judge F. Scott McCown and Houston Mayor Bill White will recount the decades of philanthropy and political activism for which Rapoport is known.

Initially founded in 1985 by a congregation of Benedictine Sisters in Boerne, but independent since 1999, the center has expanded broadly beyond its first function of public advocacy for the Texas poor, particularly concerning health care. A nonpartisan operation that provides research and education to legislators and the public, CPPP still advocates for low-income families' access to health care, but has grown to argue on behalf of all Texans' rights to education, federal funding for social programs, and the legislative and tax policies that underlie all these programs. "We've been called 'the voice of the voiceless,'" said spokeswoman Lynsey Kluever.

Rapoport grew up in neighborhoods that would now be spoken for by the folks at CPPP. Born in 1917 in San Antonio, to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents, Rapoport remembers the Great Depression firsthand. His family was often without basic necessities, occasionally subject to eviction, and Rapoport worked for a living from the time he was very young. Hit by a car on his way home from Yom Kippur services at the age of 13, he was bedridden for more than a year and still has a limp. But he says he never gave in to despair, partly because his father would never let him. He attributes his philanthropy to his father's teachings: "My father taught me three important lessons: You have to read a book every day, protect your name … and fight against injustice." He eventually went on to found the American Income Life Insurance Co., the foundation of both his fortune and his second career as a philanthropist.

The Bernard and Audre Rapoport Foundation has a lengthy history of funding initiatives for education, the arts, health care access, and civic participation, including more than $18 million to UT-Austin, where Rapoport is an alumnus and was a regent under Gov. Ann Richards. This money has funded scholarships and underwritten faculty salaries, and it's hard to walk through the Texas campus without seeing something named after Bernard, Audre, or in honor of the Rapoports – including the newly opened Blanton Museum Grand Atrium. Rapoport's been named one of Fortune magazine's 40 most generous philanthropists and was the recipient of the Texas Civil Rights Project Award for Human Rights. CPPP is paying him homage as "a Texas Legacy."

Clinton, a longtime friend, has been scheduled to speak at this event for nearly a year. Rapoport described the friendship as "a very, very personal relationship." It's also a lengthy one. Rapoport has long been a major contributor to state and national Democratic Party candidates, and in 1974, when Clinton made his first unsuccessful run for Congress, Rapoport was his biggest contributor. "I gave him $250," he laughed. Their relationship has continued throughout Clinton's presidency and into Hillary's potential run for the same. As for other Democratic hopefuls, Rapoport said, "I tell each one of them, I will support you; unless Hillary runs. Then she has my total support."

For more on the Rapoport event, and the Center for Public Policy Priorities, see www.cppp.org.

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