2023 Fall/Winter 2023

Lessons for living

Rich and Mary Templeton sit at the dining room table of their home, which serves as a central gathering place for their extended family, bantering easily as they reflect on how – and why – they became some of the most passionate supporters of SMU and the Lyle School of Engineering.

The sciences have long been a passion for both Rich and Mary – they met at Union College, a private liberal arts school in New York that they recalled felt a lot like SMU.

When they married in 1987, Mary was a financial analyst for General Electric and Rich was starting his career with Texas Instruments. He became president of TI’s semiconductor business from 1996 through 2004. He was president and chief executive officer of TI from 2004 through March 2023 and continues to serve as chairman of the board.

The couple has given generously over the past decade to support education and research at Lyle, but the family connection with SMU began in 2008 when Rich joined the SMU Board of Trustees, where he now serves as vice chair. He is vice chair of the Lyle School of Engineering Executive Board and served on the Cox School of Business Executive Board.

The Templetons celebrate a landmark gift to the Lyle School of Engineering.

They’re bullish on the Lyle School because its students graduate with skills that enhance a traditional engineering degree.

“The breadth of classes students are required to take, the variety of students they meet and the projects they undertake make them well prepared for a work environment,” Rich says. What’s more – it prepares them to lead, he says.

It’s the liberal arts tradition at SMU that makes the difference, they believe, having experienced it at Union College and through the eyes of their own family members. Their son Jim graduated in 2014 with an electrical engineering degree and earned an MBA in 2020.

His wife, Allison Hawks Templeton, also earned a degree in electrical engineering in 2014. Their nephew, William, earned an electrical engineering degree in 2016, while his brother, Charles, earned an MBA in 2023.

“My feelings for SMU were enriched by Jim’s positive experience, both academically and socially,” Mary says. “His friends are still involved in our lives.”

The Templetons have given more than $30 million to the Lyle School, creating an endowed research fund, the Mary and Richard Templeton Centennial Chair in Electrical Engineering, and an endowed deanship. Most recently they have funded scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral fellowships to increase the school’s research capacity.

But they’ve been equally generous in sharing their life lessons – delivering a joint Commencement address in 2016 that explored the hard lessons they learned after Mary was paralyzed in 2013 after she was hit by a rogue wave during a family beach vacation.

“If you asked me for the list of personal characteristics that I believe are crucial must-haves, resiliency is now among the top few. I learned that from my wife,” Rich told the graduates. “Her resiliency reinforced mine and the kids’. It made us more aware, appreciative, stronger, and I think it made us better.”

Mary candidly described her emotions and actions after the accident: “Deal with it, start with small steps, and get on with it,” she said. She also challenged the graduates to build their own resilience by focusing on others and “leaving everything you touch or person you meet a little better than you found them.”

Her words – and their impact – came back to her at the February 2023 event celebrating their most recent gift to the Lyle School. One of the guests approached her at the end of the event, carefully keeping his distance because he was receiving chemotherapy for cancer. He’d been in the audience attending his daughter’s graduation when the Templetons spoke.

“When I got sick several years ago, I looked up my notes on your speech,” he told Mary. “I’ve read them many times, particularly about taking small and steady steps each day. Thank you for giving that speech.”

It’s resiliency that carries you through challenges, Mary concluded.

“You’ll understand that life doesn’t end, but it does change. And sometimes those changes make you better in ways you never imagined.”