Leslie Blanton gets excited every time she makes the drive from her adopted hometown of Houston into Austin.
After all, it’s where she met her husband, Jack Blanton, Jr., and began her studies in the Plan II Honors program.
“I knew I was getting into something that was exceptional,” Blanton, a 1976 Plan II Honors graduate and 2009 Pro Bene Meritis recipient, says about the program. “It had small classes where I had contact with my professors, interesting classmates, and I couldn’t think of anything that sounded like more fun. And of course fun was a big deciding factor at age 18.
“In terms of life, being a liberal arts major exposed me to such a wide range of knowledge that sparked a wide range of interest,” she adds. “And I think my life has been far more interesting because of this than if I had majored in something more specialized.”
After graduation, Blanton earned a master’s in accounting from Rice University. Since then, she has become a dedicated philanthropist and champion of numerous arts and philanthropic organizations, including the Blanton Museum of Art, Humanities Texas, Houston Arts Alliance, and Teach for America.
She is a member of the College of Liberal Arts Development Council, a volunteer group that works with the dean of Liberal Arts to help advance the college’s key initiatives. She also serves on the steering committee for the new Liberal Arts building.
One of her longest-running volunteer commitments has been to the Phi Beta Kappa Alumni Association of Houston. She’s been a member for 33 years, and chair for 15 of those years. The association awards 80 scholarships of $3,000 each year to graduating high school seniors in the Houston area.
“It continues to be incredibly rewarding and interesting so I continue to do it,” says Blanton. “It’s amazing the challenges the students have overcome, how high their goals and aspirations are. It gives me hope for the future.”
Blanton admits it’s very hard for her to sit on the sidelines when she cares about something and hopes she can make a difference. She credits her parents, in-laws and husband as the greatest influences in her life.
“Both my parents and in-laws devoted or are still devoting themselves to things that they care about and I’ve tried to emulate them,” says Blanton.
She describes her father-in-law Jack Blanton Sr., an oil industry executive and renowned philanthropist for whom the Blanton Museum of Art is named, as always encouraging. “At one point I thought ‘I am just spreading myself too thin, doing so many different kinds of things,’” recalls Blanton. “And he encouraged me to participate more widely and to follow my interest.
“My husband is also supportive in all do that I do,” she adds. “Any project I take on impacts him in some way and any project he takes on impacts me in some way, so long ago we agreed that neither of us would accept a significant volunteer commitment without checking with the other. It took me a few years to figure this out, but we’ve been married 35 years, and we like it in our house.”
When Blanton finds time to get away, she enjoys nothing more than traveling with her children Mary Catherine, 25, Jack Blanton III, 24, and Elizabeth, 21.
“It’s amazing how much fun it is to experience someplace with your children,” say Blanton. “Whether it’s an old place or new place. We’ve taken our kids to Antarctica, on photo safari in Africa, last summer we were in Asia and Australia with them. Wherever it is, I like it as long as I have them along.”