Former OU president William Banowsky dies at 83

William Banowsky, former president of OU and Pepperdine University, grew up in Fort Worth. He passed away on April 28. He was 83.
William Banowsky, former president of OU and Pepperdine University, grew up in Fort Worth. He passed away on April 28. He was 83. Courtesy of The Banowsky family

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to say the funeral service will be held Sunday.

William Slater Banowsky is described as person who left an impression everywhere he went — from Fort Worth to California to Oklahoma.

Banowsky, a former president of the University of Oklahoma and a graduate of Fort Worth Carter-Riverside High School, could inspire young men to want to be preachers, fill classrooms that delved into the psychology of religion and convince a skeptical citizenry to invest in public higher education.

Banowsky died Sunday. He was 83.

“He was one of the most dynamic individuals that I have ever known,” said R. Gerald Turner, president of Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Turner considered Banowsky a close colleague. The two worked together at Pepperdine University and OU.

Turner said Banowsky was a leader and his friend.

“I’ve lost a dear, dear friend,” said Turner, who is giving Banowsky’s eulogy at a funeral service Sunday in Dallas.

Banowsky will be interred in the Banowsky Family Memorial Gardens at Bluebonnet Hills Memorial Park in Colleyville in a private ceremony following the funeral service.

Banowsky was born on March 4, 1936, in Abilene. He was raised in Fort Worth. His family attended the Church of Christ, according to his obituary.

Banowsky was already a leader in high school, according to the Fort Worth school district’s Billy W. Sills Archive Center. He graduated from Carter Riverside High School in Fort Worth in 1954. There, he played football and was captain of the high school baseball team. He was also the senior class president.

In 1983, the school district named Banowsky a distinguished graduate. His portrait is on display at the district’s administration building.

Banowsky earned a baseball scholarship to David Lipscomb College in Nashville. There, he majored in history and minored in speech communications, and met and married his wife, Gay Constance Barnes.

Banowsky began a preaching career in 1958. It was a natural move for the son and grandson of ministers. Banowsky’s preaching style was highly touted as he was able to touch people with the power of his words.

David Michael Barnett, who grew up attending the Church of Christ in Fort Worth, said he enjoyed listening to Banowsky preach. At age 8, Barnett said he was “mesmerized” by one of Banowsky’s sermons.

“He was so different than the preachers at the time,” said Barnett, a retired school teacher who lives in Katy. “His style of communication was as if he were talking to you personally.”

Barnett was among Banowsky fans who posted about his death on social media.

After leaving Fort Worth, Banowsky spent much time in California and Oklahoma, leading Pepperdine University from 1971-78 and Oklahoma from 1978 until about 1985, Turner said.

Turner said Banowsky’s unique charisma connected with people in higher education circles. While heading the universities, he lectured and spoke publicly on many topics, including economic growth and investing in higher education.

When Banowsky became the head of OU, he worked to bridge lingering social rifts that developed between the campus and the community during anti-war protests in the 1960s.

Banowsky also asked the community to support OU through fundraising.

“In Oklahoma, that was a new idea,” Turner said, adding that he raised millions of dollars for scholarships, buildings and faculty positions.

Banowsky was also involved in the legal fight against the NCAA to free up control of broadcasts of college sports. Oklahoma and the University of Georgia led in a fight that reached the Supreme Court.

Turner said that Banowsky had lived in Dallas for the past 20 years. During that time, Turner has invited him to give talks and teach at SMU.

“He is such a great communicator and incredibly well read,” Turner said, explaining that his classes at SMU were popular. “We would have to cut off the class in terms of enrollment.”

Banowsky is survived by his wife, Gay; sons David, Britton, William, Jr., and Baxter; his daughters in law, 15 grandchildren and three great grandchildren.