Peter O'Donnell, Jr., a Dallas investor and philanthropist, has identified himself as the anonymous donor who has given more than $135 million to the University of Texas to help attract promising scientists and engineers early in their careers as well as support graduate and undergraduate researchers, the Austin American-Statesman reports.
The majority of O'Donnell's giving to the university has been focused on its Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences, which is housed in the Applied Computational Engineering and Sciences Building his fortune helped create. In 2008, O'Donnell pledged $18 million to underwrite the hiring of faculty members at ICES for research that combines the use of computers, math, and various scientific disciplines — a pledge that was matched by Tex Moncrief, a Fort Worth oilman and philanthropist.
Indeed, O'Donnell typically has structured his gifts to challenge the institution to secure a match. In the early 1980s, for example, he pledged $8 million to the university, with the stipulation that it be matched by other donors. In turn, the UT system's board of regents allocated $16 million from the permanent university fund. At a time when public universities were beginning to pursue private dollars for faculty enhancement, the combined pool of funds eventually underwrote thirty-two faculty chairs in science, engineering, and math.
Aside from allowing a hamburger to be named in his honor at O's Caf� in the ACES Building, O'Donnell typically avoids the spotlight. Still, his reputation as "Mr. Anonymous" has won him many admirers among people working in philanthropy. "O'Donnell is my candidate for the living Texan with the greatest impact on modern Texas," said Larry Faulkner, president of the Houston Endowment. "He has focused strongly on improvement of the universities, the schools, and moving education into a modern form at a modern level. And he has been interested in transformation of the economy and has done all he can to support bringing high-technology businesses into the state."