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ACU Remembers: Dr. Bob Hunter


The Hunter Welcome Center at the corner of Judge Ely and Teague boulevards on campus is named for Bob and his late wife, Shirley.

Dr. Robert D. “Bob” Hunter (’52) died Feb. 11, 2023, at age 94, concluding an energetic life spent in service to Abilene Christian University, Texas higher education, the Abilene community and the state of Texas.

Visitation will be held April 28, 2023, from 5-7 p.m. in the McCaleb Conference Center of ACU’s Hunter Welcome Center (1949 ACU Drive, Abilene, Texas 79699). A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. on April 29, 2023, at the same location.

“Bob Hunter stands alone as the greatest friend-maker and ambassador in the history of Abilene Christian,” said Dr. Phil Schubert (’91), president. “His spirit of hospitality and love for his alma mater are known by generations of Wildcats who have him to thank for many of the best attributes that define ACU for visitors and alumni alike. He seldom met a stranger and amazed everyone with his ability to remember names and details. It is fitting that the Hunter Welcome Center is the front door to our campus, and we will never forget the example of Christian servant-leadership he lived for all of us to see and follow.”  

He was born June 25, 1928, in Dodge City, Kansas. As a teen, he moved with his family to California, where he graduated high school in San Mateo. He initially applied for admission to the University of California before he and a friend met the long-since retired Jesse P. Sewell, a legendary early president of Abilene Christian. The friends had never heard of the school but soon were making plans to attend, as Hunter would later write, “after being subjected to the dynamic influence of Brother Sewell and the local minister.” 

He enrolled in Fall 1948 and became a leader in all aspects of campus life, serving as president of the “A” Club, California Club, Frater Sodalis men’s social club and performing in the A Cappella Chorus and Men’s Quartet. He was vice president of the Students’ Association (now the Student Government Association) and a statewide officer in the Texas Intercollegiate Student Association. 

After completing his bachelor’s degree in business in 1952, he spent a semester at The University of Texas at Austin Law School before beginning a tour of service in the Navy during the Korean Conflict that included work on the staffs of two admirals.  


Bob sang 'The Lord Bless You and Keep You' on stage with students at the 60th anniversary of Sing Song in 2016.

While on his Far Eastern assignment, on May 27, 1954, Bob married Shirley Long of Austin who was living with her parents in Bangkok, Thailand, while her father was on a state department assignment. A Christian ceremony in the Presbyterian International Church performed by a Baptist missionary preceded an official Siamese government ceremony. The couple honeymooned in Siam and then made their home in Japan until fall 1955, when they returned to Washington, D.C., for an assignment with the National Security Agency. 

During his year in Washington he served as president of the ACC Booster Club chapter there until his discharge from the Navy. In a hand-typed and signed biographical brief prepared by Hunter in July 1956, he concluded: “And now, a new and what is hoped to be a lasting chapter in our lives will begin unfolding in September, 1956 at Abilene Christian College in Abilene, Texas.”

Hunter’s first, brief employment by the university had been the summer after he graduated when he spent three months recruiting prospective students. He returned as director of special events, the first of many titles and many firsts.  In 1957 he became the school’s first director of alumni relations. While in that role he initiated the Outstanding Alumnus of the Year Award and persuaded the theatre department to begin the annual Homecoming musical with The Wizard of Oz, which sold out to more than 3,000 people its first year. 

A year earlier he had gained permission from the Student Life Committee to begin Sing Song, the annual musical performance that would grow to be the single largest student activity on campus each year. 


Bob and Shirley were married 67 years when she died in June 2021.

In 1962, Hunter became assistant to then president Dr. Don H. Morris (’24), a role from which he directed the multi-year Design for Development campaign that led to construction of Moody Coliseum, Foster Science Building, McGlothlin Campus Center, Brown Library and eventually the Don H. Morris Center and other projects. He served as vice president for public relations and development from 1969-74, and vice president of the university beginning in 1974 under Dr. John C. Stevens (’38). During those years he also served one term as a member of the Abilene City Council. Hunter earned an MBA from ACU in 1976.

Active in civic affairs throughout his life in Abilene, Bob served on board of directors or advisory boards for the Abilene Classical Chorus, Meals on Wheels, West Texas Rehabilitation Center, Boys and Girls Clubs, Abilene/Taylor County Child Advocacy Center, YMCA, United Way, Business Aid, Rolling Plains Technical Foundation, Texas Trails Council of the Boy Scouts of America, Salvation Army, Mental Health Association, Junior League, West Texas Autism Center, Day Nursery of Abilene and the Cancer Services Network. He was also a member of the Community Justice Council for Taylor-Callahan-Coleman Counties.

In 1985 he became senior vice president, a role that continued to include the university’s relations with government, remaining in that post until his official retirement in 1993. 

That year he was honored by a tribute luncheon selling out the conference center at the Abilene Civic Center raising $160,000 to establish the Bob and Shirley Hunter Endowed Scholarship fund. 

In February 2006, the ACU Board of Trustees voted to name the Hunter Welcome Center in honor of Bob and Shirley, and a gala Deep in Our Hearts fundraising tribute dinner was held in Dallas to help fund the facility. The $14 million, 57,000-square-foot Welcome Center serves as the centerpiece of the east side of campus and is the first place visited by many prospective students, alumni and campus guests.


Dr. Bob Hunter was a favorite of students and alumni of all ages, and present at countless events where they gathered.

“Bob was Mr. ACU if anyone was. He was the epitome of tradition and authored many of the ones we love today at the university,” said Dr. Royce Money (’64), ACU’s chancellor emeritus and 10th president. “He stood for everything this Christian university stood for. I admired him because he used every phase of his life in a productive way. Look at what he spanned, especially politics and multiple generations. Students, alumni, donors from every age respected him and what he stood for and dedicated his life to.” 

An imagineer at heart, Hunter is credited with originating more than two dozen traditions at ACU to enrich the student and alumni experience, including Freshman Follies, the Parade of Flags at Opening Assembly, class reunions, and the annual alumni awards program.

In 2022, the Bob Hunter Sing Song stage in renovated Moody Coliseum was announced in a private ceremony attended by Bob and his family, and friends. The stage will be used for the first time at Sing Song in April 2023.

Hunter was best known in the Abilene community for the 20 years he spent as Abilene’s district representative to the Texas Legislature. That portion of his career began in August 1986 when he became the first Abilene Republican elected to the Texas House. In a special election to replace former Rep. Gary Thompson (’60), he defeated his opponent by 162 votes of nearly 10,000 cast. The subsequent 10 elections were less dramatic. Two he won easily against nominal opposition. Eight times he ran unopposed.

In the House, Hunter earned a reputation of cheerfulness, unfailing integrity and doggedly working on behalf of higher education and his constituents in Abilene and Taylor County. In 20 years he missed only one roll-call vote when he was unable to persuade doctors who were treating him for possible heart attack symptoms that he should be released to return to the Capitol.

He chaired the Committee on State, Federal and International Relations for 10 years, and later led the House Research Organization and was vice chair for the Committee on Regulated Industries. He served on the House Higher Education Committee where he chaired Budget and Oversight. He co-chaired the Special House Select Committee on NAFTA and GATT international trade agreements.


Bob and Shirley and their three children: (from left) Carole (Hunter) Phillips, Kent Hunter and Les Hunter. Carole is an ACU trustee.

A significant accomplishment of his legislative career typified his commitment to his district over personal interests. Hunter championed the bill that allowed Cisco College to build an Abilene campus during a contentious special session in the summer of 1990. Texas Gov. Bill Clements threatened to quash the bill because Hunter had voted to override the governor’s veto of the education spending bill. To get the Cisco bill passed, Hunter agreed to remove his name from it, thus relinquishing any credit for it on paper, though not in the eyes of his colleagues or constituents. 

The next year, Speaker Gib Lewis appointed Hunter to the powerful House Committee on Appropriations and Hunter chaired the state’s budget for higher education. At the time, Lewis said, “No one in the House understands the dual system of higher education in our state and nation better than representative Bob Hunter.”

Lewis was one of many Texas political luminaries from both parties who made the trip to Abilene for the many Appreciation Luncheons and other fundraising events that punctuated his two decades in Austin. 

Hunter’s understanding of Texas’ dual system of higher education began with his service to ACU and his leadership from 1970-80 as executive vice president of the Independent Colleges and Universities of Texas; in 1971 he successfully lobbied for creation of the Tuition Equalization Grant. At the time of its enactment, Texas was one of only six states to pass such a measure. Eventually all but one state offered some form of financial assistance to students at independent colleges, many following the Texas model.

Over the past 50-plus years, students at private institutions in Texas received more than 1 million individual TEG awards totalling more than $2.6 billion.

Carol McDonald, who followed Hunter as president of ICUT from 1982-2014, remembered the effective way he went about his work in the Texas legislature and other organizations.

“Bob had a way of organizing people and inspiring people to do things that meant when they went into session, they were ready, and in that 1971 session, they passed the Tuition Equalization Grant,” McDonald said. “It was not without controversy. There were people who had very profound doubts that the state had any business helping students attend school in the private sector because most of the schools were church-related. But Bob managed to persuade a great many people that you were giving the money to the students to do what was best for them. … He had no enemies. He was always positive in outlook. He was always helpful. He always gave good advice. … I can’t say forcefully enough that ICUT would not be what it has become if it hadn’t been for the leadership of Bob Hunter.”


Hunter attended Opening Assembly at Moody Coliseum for the last time on Aug. 29, 2022.

His work for ICUT and in the legislature led to a variety of appointments and awards from state and national boards and commissions related to higher education. Over the course of his career, he received honorary doctorates from Texas Wesleyan University, University of St. Thomas, Austin College, Hardin-Simmons University, McMurry University and Pepperdine University in California in 1974.

Bob was preceded in death by his parents, Grover Hunter and Grace Grubb Hunter; Shirley, his wife of 67 years; brothers Russell Hunter, Glenn Hunter, Dr. Wallace Hunter and Leslie Hunter; and sisters Thelma Gieg, Velma Anderson, Phyllis Albers, Violet Denio, Dawn Trinta, Lyla Long and Laurice Hunter. 

Among survivors are sons Kent Hunter (’79) of Millerton, New York, and Les Hunter (’86) of Pasadena, California; a daughter, ACU trustee Carole (Hunter ’81) Phillips of Colleyville, Texas; five grandchildren, including Emily (Phillips ’13) Danesi; and four great-grandchildren. 

Carole and her husband, Danny Phillips (’81), are members of the President’s Venture Council at ACU and namesakes of the Phillips Education Building. Danny is also a board member of the Abilene Christian Investment Management Company.

Those wishing to honor Hunter’s life may do so with a gift to the Bob and Shirley Hunter Endowed Scholarship at ACU (ACU Box 29132, Abilene, Texas 79699-9132 or, or the charity of their choice.

— Dr. Cheryl Mann Bacon and Ron Hadfield

Feb. 11, 2023

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