Governor Bill Daniel and Baylor University
A White Suit and a Cowboy Hat: Governor Bill Daniel & Baylor University
Picture a man in a white suit, baby blue shirt with white collar and cuffs, black bow tie, white felt cowboy hat, white dress shoes, white leather belt, tribute belt buckle, and a tight rose bud fixated on the lapel. This extensive list of clothing describes how the iconic Governor Bill Daniel could be seen when on the Baylor campus, or in the general public. However, Daniel, the infamous, over-the-top, Texas trial lawyer, former Governor of Guam, and Texas House Representative and Senator was not just an eccentric figure; he was very generous and always looking to give back in any way he could, especially to his alma mater, Baylor University. Stemming from Governor Bill, the entire Daniel family has made a significant impact here at Baylor University, and that impact has lived on into the current student body. Their contributions, both in time and money, have helped make Baylor, and its students, simply outstanding.
Born into a very wealthy, well-known, and prestigious family, Daniel had it set in his mind as a child to attend Baylor University. He was born in the small town of Dayton, Texas on November 19, 1915. From an early age, Daniel was strongly influenced by his father, M.P. Daniel, to attend Baylor; however his father did not go there. Despite this fact, that didn’t stop M.P. from giving a majority of his estate to Baylor when he passed in 1937. This was because Pat Neff and M. P. were very good friends. M. P. stipulated that any profit generated off the land will be used for scholarships.This was only the beginning of the strong tie the Daniel family would start to form with BU. Upon his high school graduation in the 30s, Daniel arrived on the Baylor campus with only $37, no place to live, and no job. At that time, President Pat Neff, a dear friend of M.P’s, was head, and he “took in” Daniel, giving him a place to stay in the attic of the now-demolished Brooks Hall. During his first year at law school, Daniel helped pay his way by being the trainer for both the football and baseball teams. He was also a male yell leader during his time at Baylor. Daniel also served as president of his class and as member of several organizations, including Baylor Chamber of Commerce.
When Daniel graduated from Baylor Law School in 1938, he set up his law practice in Liberty, Texas, the neighboring town of Dayton. Around that time, he met Vara Faye Martin who was a local music teacher in the school system. The two married the following year. Upon setting up his law firm, Daniel swiftly became quite a prominent courtroom figure, and was elected to the position of Liberty County Attorney in 1942 and served until he resigned in 1942. He resigned and went to serve in World War II, and when he came back he served five years within the Texas Legislature. He made it his goal to defend the interests of both the public and Baylor University at any open opportunity. Vara Faye and Bill had three daughters and a son. Anne, Susan, Dani, and Will. The three daughters all graduated from Baylor, but Will did not. After seeing his personality, confidence, and work ethic within the Texas House, President John F. Kennedy appointed Daniel to the governorship of Guam from 1961 to 1963. The Guam Legislature termed him “The Eagle Governor,” because Daniel, despite the doubt of some, made the island of Guam a much more stable territory both economically and socially.
Even though Vara Faye did not attend Baylor, that did not stop her from extending her philanthropic kindness towards the university. She was awarded one of the first “Baylor Alumni by Choice” degrees that were granted. A scholarship, in her name, is currently given out in the School of Music. The money for this scholarship is provided by the Daniel family. Both of the Daniels served on Baylor’s Development Council, and would be flown up to Waco from Liberty several times a year on the private Baylor plane. The love the Daniel family had for Baylor is evident in several buildings and locations on campus: The Bill Daniel Student Center and the Honorable M.P. Daniel Esplanade. The two also provided the key resources needed to restore the George W. Carroll Science Hall. Now Baylor is responsible for carrying on the Daniel family legacy, but the family still is supportive through presence and resources. For instance, the family has been integral in the restoration of the Governor Bill & Vara Daniel Historic Village at the Mayborn Museum Complex. Many scholarships given in the family name, are awarded to students each year through the university as well. The two were married for about 50 years, when Vara Faye passed away, at the age of 69 in 1987. After Vara’s death, Bill still continued to visit several times a year, including Homecoming. He could often be seen in the parade riding his beautiful white horse, “White Charger.” Other times, he would borrow horses from Baylor’s Riding Club. Later in his life and until his death, he would ride in the Chamber’s car as their “Distinguished Outstanding Alumnus.” Every time they were on campus, the university would hold special luncheons and dinners. They would either stay in one of the university’s “guest” apartments, or the Harrington House when they visited.
Governor Bill Daniel did it all. After more than 60 years of being a practicing trial lawyer, Governor of Guam, and loyal benefactor to his “Mother Baylor,” the white suit and white cowboy hat were laid to rest. Daniel passed away on June 20,2006 at the age of 90. Although before his death he faced problems with the Baylor administration under President Sloan, his love never died for Baylor. The most gracious person you would ever meet, Daniel made sure that this university would be what it is today. To say that he, along with his wife, made a positive impact on this university would be a grand understatement. They gave their all into making Baylor a better place for future students, and the Daniel family legacy will always be cherished here. Former Baylor historian, Dr. Eugene Baker, said it all with the quote, “Although the legal profession was Gov. Bill’s first love, he was involved in so many aspects of life. He was never afraid to assist anyone who needed help and he always devoted his full energies to whatever activity in which he was engaged. He had a special place in his heard for anything Texas and anything Baylor University.” This university has become a better place simply by Governor Bill and Vara Faye’s lives and spirits. Bill was a true Texas original and Baylor bear, white suit and all.