Childhood & Early Life
McNair was born on New Year’s Day in 1937, to Ruth Adair McNair and Ruse Foster McNair.
Back then, his family was housed in a humble one-bedroom garage apartment in Tampa, Florida. Along with his family, he kept moving from Tampa to Savannah in Georgia, then to Charlotte in North Carolina, and finally to Forest City in North Carolina.
McNair graduated from ‘Cool Springs High School’ in 1954 and earned a bachelor's degree in science from the ‘University of South Carolina’ in 1958. While studying in the university, he was elected as the student body president and initiated into the ‘Sigma Chi International Fraternity.’
As a youngster, McNair cleaned tables and did dishes at a local café in Forest City. During his undergraduate days, he sold insurance. He later worked as a lifeguard in Myrtle Beach and rented out umbrellas on the beach
McNair met his future wife, Janice Suber, at the nearby ‘Columbia College’ while attending the freshman orientation dance. Janice graduated from ‘Columbia College’ They tied the knot when McNair was still in his junior year.
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After his graduation, the McNairs stayed in Columbia to pursue a career in advertising. They moved to Charlotte to take up a new job with McNair’s friend’s car-leasing company. But this move did not last beyond 5 months because the company went bankrupt and they shifted to Houston, Texas, in 1960.
With only US$700 to his name, at the age of 23, he built a truck-leasing company, which he later sold to a Chicago-based company. Enterprising from a tender age, McNair was not the type to give up easily and was destined to be a successful entrepreneur.
McNair’s fortunes changed for the better after he established ‘Cogen Technologies’ in 1984. Some sources say the company was founded in 1983. There was no looking back after this. In less than 2 decades, the organization grew to be the largest privately owned power-cogeneration company, with a total capacity of 1,400 megawatts.
He struck gold in 1999, when he sold ‘Cogen’ to ‘East Coast Power,’ a joint venture of ‘Enron’ and ‘CalPERS.’ However, McNair retained the ownership of the power plants in New York till 2017 and of those in West Virginia till 2018.
In 1994, McNair, along with his wife, founded the ‘Stonerside Farm,’ which was another success story. It is one of the best thoroughbred horse farms and shelters more than 275 racehorses, broodmares, yearlings, and weanlings, on a sprawling area of 1,947 acres.
The farm has won 72 graded stakes, including grade 1 wins in the 1997 ‘Belmont Stakes.’ The winning horses bred in the farm have pocketed more than US$50 million. The stable earned the title of the ‘Breeder of the Year’ from Kentucky horsemen in both 2007 and 2008. He was a member of the prestigious ‘Jockey Club’ and served on the board of the ‘Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association’ and the ‘Breeders’ Cup.’
The successful farm venture was sold to HH Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and the ruler of the emirate of Dubai, who also owns the ‘Darley Racing’ conglomerate.
Houston, in 1997, was left with no team to play in the ‘NFL,’ after the ‘Houston Oilers,’ the city’s ‘NFL’ team, shifted their base to Nashville, Tennesse. Desiring to bring back the lost glory of football in Houston, McNair took the initiative and formed the ‘Houston NFL Holdings.’
On October 6, 1999, the 32nd ‘NFL’ franchise was won by McNair through a deal worth US$700 million. The team was named the ‘Houston Texans’ and played their first game as an expansion team in 2002. McNair helmed the affairs of the team from its formation in 1999 until his death in 2018.
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The ‘Texans’ won the ‘AFC South Division Championship’ in 2011, 2012, 2015, 2016, and 2018. With his influence, he was successful in bringing the ‘Super Bowl XXXVIII’ in 2004 and the ‘Super Bowl LI’ in 2017 to Houston’s ‘NRG Stadium.’
McNair was the founder and chairman emeritus of the ‘Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl’ and revived Houston’s collegiate bowl game, which ranks fourth among all the bowls.
With his proceeds from the sale of ‘Cogen’ in 1999, he established ‘The McNair Group,’ with its headquarters in Houston. The group is now known as the ‘McNair Interests.’ It is an investment and management firm focusing on real estate, hospitality, energy, recreation, technology, and healthcare.
McNair served as a member of the ‘Board of Trustees’ for various institutions, such as ‘Rice University,’ the ‘Baylor College of Medicine,’ the ‘Texas Heart Institute,’ the ‘Houston Grand Opera,’ the ‘Museum of Fine Arts Houston,’ the ‘Greater Houston Partnership,’ the ‘Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau,’ the ‘Free Enterprise Institute,’ the ‘Federal Reserve Banks of Dallas and Houston,’ and the ‘Young Presidents’ and World Presidents’ Organizations.’
Family, Personal Life, & Death
McNair’s father worked with the ‘Sunshine Biscuit Company’ as an office manager and in sales. He had two predeceased brothers, Ruse Foster McNair Jr. and John David McNair.
McNair is survived by his wife and his children, Robert Cary McNair Jr., Daniel Calhoun “Cal” McNair, Ruth McNair Smith, and Melissa Eileen McNair. He is also survived by 10 granddaughters, five grandsons, and two great-grandsons.
McNair’s faith inspired his life and charitable nature. He was known for generously giving back to society through the various organizations that he and his wife had formed. The philanthropic activities are managed through ‘The Robert and Janice McNair Foundation,’ ‘The Robert and Janice McNair Educational Foundation,’ and ‘The Houston Texas Foundation,’ which were founded in 1988, 1989, and 2001, respectively.
The McNairs have donated about US$500 million for causes such as education, medical research, scientific research, civic engagement, literary research, and sports.
Some of the healthcare establishments that have benefited from their charities are the ‘Baylor College of Medicine,’ the ‘Texas Medical Center,’ the ‘MD Anderson Cancer Center,’ the ‘Texas Children’s Hospital,’ and the ‘Texas Heart Institute.’
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McNair set aside US$100 million for establishing the ‘McNair Scholars Program.’ The benefactors of their educational schemes include a lot of schools, colleges, and universities. The foundations have also given grants to develop civic infrastructure such as playgrounds, parks, zoos, and halls.
McNair was a firm believer in free enterprise and the American entrepreneurial culture. The six ‘McNair Centers for Entrepreneurism and Free Enterprise’ are proof of his belief.
In 2017, when Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc in McNair’s hometown, they liberally donated US$3 million to the efforts of the ‘United Way of Greater Houston’ for relief efforts.
McNair was diagnosed with skin cancer in 1994 and fought it bravely until his death on November 23, 2018.
Awards and Achievements
McNair’s efforts in all the fields that he had ventured into have earned him and his charity organizations many laurels from several institutions. Some of the awards that he (or his organizations) have won are the ‘Outstanding Philanthropic Foundation Award’ (2003), the ‘Houston Community Arts Partner Leadership Award’ (2008), the ‘James A. Baker III Prize for Excellence in Leadership’ (2009), the ‘Rotary Lombardi Humanitarian Award’ (2009), the ‘Houston Independent School District’s Encore for Excellence Award’ (2010), the ‘Kezia DePelchin Award’ (2010), the ‘Texas Medical Center’s 2013 ‘Men of Distinction,’ the ‘Maurice Hirsch Award’ (2010), the ‘Houston Baptist University’s Spirit of Excellence Award’ (2001), the ‘Houston Community College’s Crystal Eagle Award’ (2014), ‘MD Anderson’s “Living Legend” (2015), the ‘2016 Lombardi Fellows and Humanitarians of the Year Award’ (2017), and the ‘Newberry College John Bachman Society’s Distinguished Members for 2017 Award.’
Other awards that were bestowed upon McNair or his organizations were the ‘Anti-Defamation League’s Torch of Liberty Award,’ the ‘Houston Rotary Club’s Distinguished Citizen Award,’ the ‘South Main Center Association’s City Builder Award,’ the ‘Houston Advertising Federation’s Annual Trailblazer Award,’ the ‘Sam Houston Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America Distinguished Citizen Award,’ the ‘Texas Heart Institute’s Denton A. Cooley Leadership Award,’ the ‘Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge National Award for Outstanding Patriotism, Responsible Citizenship and Community Involvement,’ and the ‘Baylor College of Medicine’s First Pink Ribbon Hero Award,’
His success in business led him to be recognized with ‘Northwood University’s ‘Outstanding Business Leader Award,’ the ‘Association for Private Enterprise Education’s ‘Herman W. Lay Memorial Award,’ and the title ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ given by the ‘Houston Technology Centre.’
His contribution to sports was rewarded with the ‘Houston Chapter of the National Football Foundation’s ‘Distinguished American Award,’ the ‘Allen Bogen Memorial Award’ awarded by the ‘Texas Thoroughbred Association,’ and the ‘Texas Association of Partners in Education Award’ for the ‘Texas Outstanding Sports Partnership.’
He was inducted into many ‘Halls of Fame,’ such as the ‘Texas Business Hall of Fame’ (1997), the ‘Houston Independent School District’s Hall of Fame’ (2004), the ‘South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame’ (2010), the ‘Houston Hall of Fame’ (2010), and ‘Rutherford County’s inaugural ‘Sports Hall of Fame’ (2017). In 2018, McNair was conferred with the ‘Lamar Hunt Lifetime Achievement Award’ of the ‘Texas Sports Hall of Fame.’