Richard Rainwater, a Fort Worth native who managed money for the Bass family and went on to become a billionaire investor, died Sunday. He was 71.
His family released a statement Sunday evening that said, in part, “We are relieved that his passing was peaceful and painless.” Mr. Rainwater had been suffering since 2009 from progressive supranuclear palsy, a rare, fatal brain disease.
“He was a beautiful mind, a beautiful person, a great friend to many,” said John Goff, a Fort Worth businessman who knew and worked with Mr. Rainwater for decades.
“He started with nothing, grew up in a very humble upbringing here in Fort Worth,” Goff said.
Mr. Rainwater was born in Fort Worth on June 15, 1944. His father was in the wholesale business and his mother worked in boys’ clothing at J.C. Penney for some 25 years, according to a 2011 article in Fortune magazine.
He attended public schools and earned a degree in mathematics from the University of Texas. Mr. Rainwater then earned a master’s of business administration on a scholarship to Stanford Business School.
A success story
“He worked hard in school and it really paid off,” Goff said. “It’s a great success story for other young people to look at and examine, because he did it on his own.”
After he graduated, former classmate Sid Bass asked Mr. Rainwater to manage the wealthy Fort Worth family’s oil fortune. Among the investments he led was a stake in The Walt Disney Co. that turned the Bass family’s millions into billions.
“It was just a very unique combination, Sid Bass and Richard, just a powerful combination that will never be repeated,” Goff said. “And I think that combination worked magically for many, many years.”
Todd Rainwater, Mr. Rainwater’s son, said his father was unusual in the business world.
“My dad was a lot different than your typical businessman,” he said. “He did not like to dress up. He did not like to go to formal functions ... He liked to have fun. If somebody came in for an interview, he’d take them to a baseball game, play ping pong, take them to a car race.”
Both Todd Rainwater and Goff said Mr. Rainwater’s greatest gift was spotting talent. He parlayed that into a long string of successful business ventures.
“One of Richard’s primary talents was his ability to recognize talent — he could recognize talent better than anyone I have ever seen. When he saw talent, he would try to find a way to get in business with it,” Goff said.
Among those who benefited from Mr. Rainwater’s guidance was George W. Bush, with whom he became a part owner of the Texas Rangers.
Bush released a statement Sunday evening that said, in part: “I was so saddened to learn that my friend Richard Rainwater died this weekend. Richard had a brilliant mind and a generous heart. He was a lot of fun, inspiring to be around and generous and courageous to the very end.”
Businesses Mr. Rainwater started include Columbia/HCA Healthcare, Crescent Real Estate and Pioneer Natural Resources.
“He was able to see around corners, he was able to see big trends in those industries,” Goff said. “He was remarkable at that.”
Todd Rainwater said his father was good at finding the “Michael Jordan of an industry that was suffering,” putting that person in charge and then backing off.
Last year, Forbes magazine estimated his net worth at $2.7 billion.
Giving back to the community
Mr. Rainwater set up the Rainwater Charitable Foundation in 1991 to help impoverished children. He gave more than $265 million to organizations helping at-risk children, higher education and mostly recently, research on degenerative neurological diseases, according to http://www.rainwatercharitablefoundation.org.
Among the organizations the foundation funds are REAL School Gardens, which builds learning gardens at schools in urban communities and Zero to Five Funders Collaborative, which helps with early childhood education in low-income neighborhoods.
After his diagnosis in 2009, Mr. Rainwater started the Tau Consortium, a group of leading scientists working together to seek treatment for progressive supranuclear palsy, or PSP. The foundation has put more than $50 million into the effort, and planned to provide $15 million for research this year.
“I think he believed in trying to make sure others didn’t go through the suffering he was going through and he really tried to advance the science behind the disease,” Goff said.
The project is named after the tau protein, believed to be at the core of various brain diseases, including Alzheimer’s.
Todd Rainwater said, “Whatever treatment and insights we gain into tau for PSP will most assuredly help with Alzheimer’s.”
The family statement says the work will continue.
“We’ve brought together some of the most talented and hardworking scientists in the world, and we are all more dedicated than ever to finding a treatment for these terrible brain diseases as quickly as possible,” the statement says. “There are many other families who are counting on us, and we will do our very best to help them.”
Mr. Rainwater is survived by two sons, a daughter and his wife, Darla Moore. Todd Rainwater said plans for services had not yet been determined Sunday.
This report contains material from the Star-Telegram archives.