J. Andrew Rice – the full moniker of the Baylor alum and Baylor Line supporter who goes by “J” – is a guy who appreciates the gifts of life.
“Life is mysterious,” Rice says. “But you begin to know that there’s some order to the universe. It’s an adventure to find that out as you develop spiritually and have a close relationship with God.”
Affable and organized, an enjoyer of fun as well as hard work, Rice is a devout follower of Christ who considers his faith the cornerstone of his life, while seeing that religion is the creation of man.
J., 68, goes to the same church he attended as a boy, down the road from the cattle ranch where he grew up. Somehow, it’s not surprising that his marriage to his sweetheart Susan Rice is going on 45 years, and that he’s a loving dad to four grown kids and four grandchildren.
“My great-grandfather came to Tarkington, Texas, from Missouri in 1884 to get in the timber industry in East Texas,” Rice says. “I was a farm boy and that’s the tradition in my family, for four generations now.”
The Texas Tree Farmer of the Year in 2019, Rice manages timber on his 270-plus acres following sustainability measures that include wetlands, 40-year-old pine trees, and fire lanes and roads.
But Rice’s main vocation for years was unrelated to agriculture. Rice founded Public Management, Inc. in 1982 from a desk in the master bedroom of his then-partially restored, 1908 home in Tarkington. The mission: To help mostly smaller cities and towns find and procure federal and state grants and resources to fund essential services such as water, sewer, and road improvements, economic development, and housing.
But first came formative years at Baylor, which Rice attended on scholarship, encouraged by his parents to be the second in the family to go to college, after his older sister.
“Baylor opened up a whole new world for me,” he says. “It gave me more than I expected and I’m grateful for it.”
Rice embraced and continues to value Baylor’s spiritual underpinnings. “My faith has always been important to me,” Rice says. “The religious overtones at Baylor aren’t as prevalent as they used to be, which is a good thing, but it still provides a universal education with a Christian undergirding. Religion is an invention of man, not of God. I learned the difference between religion and a relationship with God at Baylor. That’s why I liked Baylor. I got a really good education and grew spiritually there.”
Rice was a psychology and pre-med major and actively involved in the Baylor Chamber of Commerce service fraternity, which he credits with lifelong connections and teaching him about leadership. He also sang in the chapel choir, whose stops during his involvement included Bethlehem Square in Israel on Christmas Eve.
Post-graduation, after not getting into medical school his first go-round, Rice took a break by teaching school in coastal Texas for two years.
“Around that time, Watergate had just happened, and Richard Nixon had resigned,” Rice says. “I was bothered by all of that and thought, ‘I can do something about this.’ And politics and government had always been interesting to me.”
Rice earned his master’s degree in public administration at University of Houston–Clear Lake. “Those opportunities were put in front of me, and I took advantage of them,” he says. “I firmly believe that God gave me that opportunity.”
Public Management aimed to help small towns best serve their residents. (Former U.S. House speaker) “Tip O’Neill said, ‘All politics are local.’ He’s right,” Rice says. “The local level is where politics really affects people, with everyday things like the water turning on, and a sewer plant that doesn’t pollute. I worked continually with those kinds of projects – economic development, roads, affordable housing, parks.”
Many local officials turned to Public Management for assistance in winning grants and planning. “There was a lot of need for professional assistance with planning management and financing for small local governments in Texas, because most of the people working in those rural communities and municipalities didn’t have that kind of training or education, or they just didn’t have the time.” The firm also assisted larger cities like Beaumont obtain support for recovery and improvements in the wake of disasters like Hurricane Ike.
Public Management is still going strong today with a team that Rice and his partner handpicked. And how’s retirement going? “I’m staying really busy,” Rice says with a laugh. “I guess you could say I’m officially retired. But if there’s something to do, I’ll do it. If I don’t want to do it, I don’t. That’s the difference. I don’t set an alarm clock.”
Retirement has included writing a novel and participating in Singing Men of Texas, a group of skilled musicians and singers from Baptist congregations who perform spiritually centered music.
“I’ve been singing all my life. My mother encouraged me,” Rice says, noting that he was his church’s music director for thirty years. In 2019, the Singing Men performed at Carnegie Hall. “It was one of those mountaintop experiences,” Rice says. “When I told my sister I was going, she started crying because she wished our mother was still alive to experience that.”
Rice also is president of the Rice Richardson Foundation, started by Rice’s mother and named for her and his deceased uncle whose estate provided the seed money. The nonprofit funds community endeavors like the building of a community center and the J.A. and Neva Rice Public Library in Tarkington.
Rice and his brother also began a foundation that gives scholarships to any graduating Tarkington High School student who is going on to college or vocational school. And the retired executive also started Leadership East Texas, which delivers specialized training to develop future leaders in Liberty, San Jacinto, and Polk counties.
Rice stands strong in his support of the Baylor Line Foundation and its stature as an independent alumni association. “I’m behind our mission to continue to provide information and assistance to alumni, and assistance to students through scholarships like I received,” Rice says. “I’ll continue to provide that kind of assistance to kids who want a Baylor education.”
And in the future, Rice plans to continue his steadfast appreciation of life. “I’ve had a good life and I have no complaints,” he says. “My philosophy is just to live life to the fullest.”