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The Power of Consistent Giving

The Power of Consistent Giving

When Barbara Runge '74 was a child in Houston, she loved watching "Perry Mason," the law drama on television for a decade in the 1950s and 1960s. She liked watching other legal shows, too.

"I would run home from playing with the other kids to watch those shows on TV. When I was 11, a new program came on TV, and it featured a female attorney. She had her own office, and it was an attractive office. It was in a downtown area," she said.

Barbara saw her future. "I looked over at my dad and said, 'I didn't know a girl could be a lawyer.' And he said, 'Well, of course, Barbara, a girl can be a lawyer. But no girl wants to be a lawyer.' And I said, 'I do, Daddy, I do.'"

She did – and the Texas Tech University School of Law has been extremely grateful.

"Barbara is the trifecta of what law schools love to have in the form of graduates," said Frank Newton, dean emeritus of the school, who served as dean from 1985-2002.

First, a successful professional practice which reflects well on the law school – Barbara is a family law expert. Second, special qualities – Barbara was a trailblazing woman when very few were trying to be lawyers. Third, a dedicated alumna – in terms of service and philanthropy. "Barbara exemplifies that," said Dean Newton.

Barbara was the first female member of the Texas Tech Law School Foundation's Board of Trustees, plus its first and only female president. She's the longest serving Board member, going back to 1983. She is one of only two alumni in the history of the Law School to be awarded both the Distinguished Alumnus Award and the Distinguished Service Award. Barbara and her late husband, Rusty Howard, endowed two scholarships, part of a legacy of giving she started in 1972 with a $5 gift to the Drew Simpson Memorial Fund. Barbara is the Law School's longest consistent donor.

COMING TO TEXAS TECH

Barbara came to Texas Tech to study pre law and political science – including a business law class taught by recent Texas Tech Chancellor Kent Hance. But not everyone was encouraging about her plans to go to law school. "Most people were discouraging, even teachers and counselors," she said during a recent interview at the Law School.

"Every now and then I'm asked to speak in high school classes. And I actually have asked for a show of hands of how many females feel they could not be a lawyer or a doctor or a politician, and they just don't raise their hands. They now realize they have options – they have opportunities," she said. When Barbara started law school at Texas Tech, there were 17 women in her class, which was more than the year before. They were constantly called on in class to see if they could handle the pressure. Only seven graduated. In contrast, more than half of this year's incoming class is female, and women at the Law School now succeed at the same rate as their male classmates.

But years later, Barbara said the challenges made her a better attorney. "After the Law School experience and the Socratic method, I was not afraid of any judge. The cross examination we received from our professors was very tough here," she said.

She did get some support – from some of her fellow female students and from professors Richard Hemmingway, Ruth Kirby, Rodric Schoen and David Cummins.

The Vietnam War was raging when Barbara started law school. That was part of the reason, she believes, more law schools started accepting women because they could not be drafted. Her class had an interesting mix of students: Vietnam vets attending on the GI Bill, people coming from other professions and, what Barbara called first-generation overachievers – students whose parents or grandparents were not attorneys or doctors or even college graduates.

But the sense women were taking a man's place was still fresh and raw, even from one of Barbara's best friends. "I had a dear friend who sat next to me in many of my classes who'd say, 'You know, another guy is dying in 'Nam today because of you.' Now there could only be one person really – I only took one place," she said. The friend was just teasing Barbara – but he said it almost every day.

Newton said: "She had a great deal of fortitude and self confidence in who she was. The definition of a trailblazer is someone who does what's difficult or impossible. There were not enough women faculty members and fellow students, no accommodations, and job opportunities were very difficult."

PRACTICING LAW

Barbara started her law career working for Texaco in Houston for more than a year. She was well paid, had nice benefits and a company car. "But I was not doing what I wanted to do, which was be in the courtroom. I wanted to have my own practice – and I figured that out pretty quickly," she said.

Barbara opened up her own office and did general law, including a lot of civil litigation. In 1981, she could have sat for both the Family Law Board Certification exam and the Civil Litigation exam. "I decided I'd just do the family law one," she said. When she was done, the idea of sitting for another long exam was not attractive. "But an interesting thing happened after that," said Barbara. "The oil bust occurred."

It affected many oil and gas companies and also companies not in the energy industry but dependent on it. "Many of my clients ended up having difficult economic times. Some had to file bankruptcy. So the economy was going down, but divorces in Harris County were going up," she said.

Because Barbara was Board Certified in Family Law, her future became clear, and she discovered it was very emotionally rewarding. "With family law, you are able to get to know the client so well. You're able to advise them and really have an impact on their lives. The decisions you make with their input can affect the rest of the client's life. And you have a real lasting bond with the client and, at times, their children," she said.

Barbara also practiced the gender diversity she trailblazed – hiring two female Texas Tech School of Law graduates to her firm in the late 1970s. "It was very unusual to have three female attorneys in a firm," she said, though she returned to being a solo practitioner in the early 1980s.

Barbara focused exclusively on family law in the mid-1980s. Her commitment to the field was recognized with The David Gibson Award for Professionalism and Excellence in the field of Family Law by the Gulf Coast Family Law Specialists. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and the International Academy of Family Lawyers.

"Often, your client is going through a very tough time in his or her life. And sometimes they feel they're failures because the marriage fails. And my goal in each of those cases is to help this person realize we can climb that mountain together, reach the summit and have a beautiful view that life will go on. They will find happiness, be successful, and achieve many things. But so many times, a client who's going through a divorce is so devastated that the client is affected on all levels – professionally, personally, financially, and emotionally. Each day, what I'm trying to do is help that client understand that he or she is going to be fine. The client just needs to get through this part of life," she said.

"I represent some very successful individuals who've achieved a lot of success and are used to being in control – often in control of a business or a corporation. In a divorce, you're not in control. The court's in control," Barbara said. "Divorce is difficult," she added, "but people who are so achievement-oriented have an even rougher time." Barbara helps them navigate this legal and emotional maze, and many have become her friends, she said.

A MODEL OF PHILANTHROPY AND INVOLVEMENT

Walk around the Law School, and you'll find little signs marking the generosity of Barbara and her late husband Rusty to her alma mater.

Study alcoves, landings, and tranquil areas throughout the law school bear Barbara and Rusty's names along with those of the deans, professors, and family members they have honored with their donations.

"I started becoming involved with alumni events and really enjoyed that very much. The more I participated with the alumni events, the more I became interested in contributing and being supportive of the Law School," said Barbara.

Barbara and Rusty created two presidential scholarships – the Runge/Howard Endowed Presidential Scholarship to help students who have limited financial resources and another named in honor of the late Judge Bob Robertson and his wife, Anne Atkins. Judge Robertson was a family law district judge in Harris County.

Michael Gerrish graduated from Texas Tech Law School in 2011, now practices in Colorado, and benefited from the Runge/Howard scholarship.

"I applied for the endowed scholarship through the Law School foundation. My goal was to be an oil and gas attorney. Her husband did oil and gas. It struck a chord with Rusty," said Michael. Michael wrote Barbara a thank you letter and then met her at a Board of Trustees meeting. He said Barbara invited him to visit the couple's home the next time he was in his Houston, which was his hometown.

"They hosted me at their house, and we learned about each other," he said. During another trip to Houston, the couple took Michael and his then-girlfriend to dinner. "I really appreciated their willingness to establish a relationship with me being a brand-new attorney. She's so accomplished, and it meant a lot to me." The money was helpful and lessened his student debt, but Michael said equally important was the encouragement he got from being awarded the scholarship – plus getting a relationship with a successful attorney and a connection with someone in the industry in which he wanted to work. Barbara's steadfast commitment to mentoring young lawyers was acknowledged when she received the Mentor Recognition Award from the Houston Bar Association.

The couple has also supported the Law School's suite for Texas Tech football games – where the school invites alumni and potential supporters. They've also consistently supported dean's initiatives over the years giving to different funds over their own scholarships.

Then there's service on the Law School's Foundation Board of Trustees and the State Bar of Texas. When she joined the Foundation Board of Trustees, she was only the second alum to serve on it. She also recruited the second female board member in 1990 – Kem Frost – who has been chief justice for the Fourteenth Court of Appeals in Houston since 2013.

Barbara believes her alma mater doesn't generally get the respect it deserves, but added, "I do feel lawyers in Houston are respectful of a Texas Tech Law degree."

UGLY DOG SPARKS BEAUTIFUL RELATIONSHIP

Barbara's legal training came in handy in her personal life as well as her profession when she met her future husband. Rusty and Barbara lived in the same apartment complex in Houston. One day he told Barbara her dog "was the ugliest dog in Houston." Barbara, trained in law school on how to retort, shot back with "I'll have you know, it's not. I entered him in the Ugliest Dog in Houston contest and he came in fourth." Rusty came back with "the first ones must have been dead."

They fell in love and were married more than 40 years. They loved to travel, visiting all 50 states and 30 foreign countries.

"Rusty was my No. 1 fan. He's the one who encouraged me to leave Texaco and open my own practice. He said, 'you hate going to work every day. You didn't go through the misery of law school for this,'" she said.

Rusty died on September 15, 2019, after a nine-year battle with leukemia and myelofibrosis. He was a certified petroleum landman who had degrees from Texas A&M and the University of Texas.

As part of their travels, he attended law conferences with his wife and was supportive of organizations Barbara was active in – he even became a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers Foundation.

Rusty's obituary listed the following organizations dear to his heart for donations:

  • The Texas A&M Lettermen's Association (Rusty lettered in baseball at Texas A&M.)
  • Friends of Westbury High School Foundation (his alma mater)
  • The Texas Tech University Law School Foundation for the Runge/Howard Presidential Endowed Scholarship
  • The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers Foundation

A speaker at Rusty's memorial service said:

"Rusty was an extraordinary landman. And, we know his greatest discovery was you, Barbara. His richest find was the love God deposited in the deep well of your heart." Later he said, "Barbara, throughout the years, you made sure Rusty was never alone for stem cell transplants, blood transfusions and traditional and experimental treatments to kill this deadly disease. Barbara, you made sure that when you could not be with him, he had friends and caregivers to provide the loving care he deserved as your husband. You showed Rusty every day that no thing and no one was more important to you than him."

MAKING AN IMPACT IN THEIR FAMILY

The couple did not have any children, but they have ten nieces and nephews, plus a dozen grandnieces and grandnephews. And half of those nieces and nephews graduated from Texas Tech. "I'm proud all ten of my nieces and nephews graduated from college. In May, the last one of the ten, Annette Mayne, graduated from Texas Tech University," she said. The same day, their nephew, Russell Mayne, graduated from the Law School, and Barbara and Rusty were able to attend both ceremonies.

That's not all – three of the ten, including the young man who graduated with the law degree, were named after Rusty and another three named after Barbara. We're blessed to have a very loving, supportive family," she said.

She also has family living in Lubbock and enjoys getting together with them when she's in town for Law School business.

'SHE MADE IT A BETTER PLACE'

Newton not only has great respect for Barbara, but for Rusty as well.

"We got to know Barbara and Rusty; they were fun to be around. They hosted my wife and me at their vacation home on Galveston Bay," where they had fun and enjoyed discussing art collections, he said.

"She is commendable in offering helping hands and scholarships designed for people who may not be able to attend law school and go on to practice law. She did not pull the ladder up behind her," Newton added. "She made it a better place as a student and as a practicing attorney."


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