Nuclear physicist helped beef up TCU’s research efforts and graduate programs in the 1960s, and along the way, became a prolific fundraiser during 28 years of service.
by Rick Waters '95
E. Leigh Secrest helped garner financial support for the Sid W. Richardson Physical Science Building and Winton-Scott Hall of Science in the late 1960s. (Photo by Linda Kaye)
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Topics: Frogs We Will Miss
by Rick Waters '95
Effective dean, administrator and fundraiser for 28 years, E. Leigh Secrest helped TCU grow its graduate programs in student enrollment and research as well as secured support for two of the campus’s largest academic buildings.
Secrest died April 22. He was 88.
A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a Ph.D. in theoretical nuclear physics, Secrest joined the University in 1965 as president of the TCU Research Foundation and dean of the Graduate School. He held that post until 1968, when incoming Chancellor James Moudy appointed him vice chancellor for advanced studies and research, a post he held until 1972.
Under Secrest’s tenure, the University added a doctoral program in its history department and saw an uptick in awarded doctoral and master’s degrees.
His appointments included faculty roles in the department of physics and later in finance at the Neeley School of Business.
Secrest was effective at cultivating new donors and funding sources for graduate fellowships, faculty appointments and research projects — which reached a high point in 1968 when graduate enrollment was at its peak.
In that year, the TCU Research Foundation supplied $1.8 million in graduate education and research. Secrest also coordinated the counsel of a 15-school Research Advisory Council that included Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Emory, Stanford and Rice.
Secrest’s fundraising made a lasting impact on the campus. With Moudy, he helped secure financial support for the Sid W. Richardson Physical Science Building and Winton-Scott Hall of Science in the late 1960s, including the largest single building grant in the university’s history at the time — a $3.4 million gift from the Sid W. Richardson Foundation. Secrest also helped TCU add another $2.2 million through the Higher Education Act of 1963.
In the 1970s, he switched from academics to finance, heading that vice chancellor’s post until his retirement in 1993.
In 1972, he was given the Continental National Bank of Fort Worth Chair of Management Science in the Neeley School.
Born in Tioga, Texas, on Jan. 5, 1928, to the late Walter Everett and Jewel Holloway Secrest, he graduated from Tioga High School and attended North Texas State University. After receiving his master’s degree in physics in 1948, he married another North Texas student, Bettye Jo Porter. He returned to NTSU after earning his PhD from MIT and served on the physics faculty for three years.
For a number of years, Secrest worked in the defense and reactor industries as a nuclear physicist. He was chief of nuclear physics at General Dynamics in Fort Worth from 1954 to 1957 before taking a management position with Babcock and Wilcox Co. of Lynchburg, Va. In 1959, he went back to General Dynamics, this time as the company’s chief scientist.
He never strayed far from the classroom. In 1964, Secrest spent a year as associate dean for graduate studies and research at the College of Engineering at the University of Oklahoma, before coming to TCU.
Today, TCU houses its Extended Education program in the Secrest-Wible Building.
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