Alumnus gives back to his university
It really was a natural for Martin Dies III to earn a degree in government from The University of Texas at Austin. You might say it was in his DNA.
His father served in the Texas Senate, and his grandfather and great-grandfather served in Congress. Government intrigued him at an early age, and as a university student, fresh from East Texas, he found it fascinating to compare American politics to other systems around the world.
Those undergraduate studies did more than just satisfy his curiosities. They gave him skills he would need for success in life: critical thinking and practical problem solving.
“Test everything, and try to understand various sides of an issue,” says Dies, a civil environmental trial attorney in Austin. “In its best light, a liberal arts education helps you to become a better citizen, and at least it gave me an understanding of what a fair compromise is.”
That’s what he tries to convey as he works to make sure today’s liberal arts students benefit the same way.
“They are outstanding,” Dies says of the students he meets. They often ask him about the job market and the value of their degrees. Dies contends a College of Liberal Arts education will serve them well, whatever their career field. “It gives you context for critical thinking.”
Dies, 63, chairs the College of Liberal Arts Development Council and a steering committee for construction of the new Liberal Arts Building, a key initiative of Dean Randy L. Diehl to be completed in 2013.
A member of the Texas Exes Scholarship Foundation Board, Dies helped create the Texas Exes 40 Acres Scholarships, which are fullride, merit-based scholarships. Dies endowed one of the scholarships to honor his late father, Martin Dies Jr., who, in addition to being a s tate senator, was Texas secretary of state and chief jus tice of the Ninth Court of Appeals in Beaumont. A state park is named for him in East Texas.
Dies brings quiet and effective leadership to his endeavors at the university, says Ellen Temple, who has known him for years through their families’ roots in Lufkin. Temple, a former member of the university’s Board of Regents and Pro Bene Meritis recipient, nominated him for the Pro Bene M eritis Award. She says when Dies takes on a project, she and others want to “suit up” and help.
“He loves the university and appreciates its value and wants to support it and give back,” she says. “It’s lucky for all of us.”
Dies graduated from the university in 1971. He then served in the Army National Guard and earned his law degree at Texas Tech University.
He remains passionate about his college years in Austin and the knowledge gleaned from professormentors like H. Malcolm Macdonald and Emmette Redford, who taught Government. He also fondly recalls being a Texas Cowboy and helping tote around the famous game can – non in a national football championship season.
Though he’s long been involved with the university — he is a life member of the University of Texas Development Board — a force of nature prompted Dies to step up his volunteer work.
After more than three decades in Orange, he relocated to Austin after Hurricane Rita destroyed his home and law office in 2005 and Hurricane Ike damaged his office again in 2008. Living in Austin has given him a greater opportunity to delve into university projects.
Dies thinks hard about university issues and asks “tough, lawyer-like” questions, says Jim Boon, a longtime friend and executive director of the Texas Exes Scholarship Foundation.
“There is nobody that is more passionate about the value of a liberal arts education than Martin is,” Boon says. “He just feels very strongly that a well-rounded liberal arts education is the best ticket for young people for the future.”
Dies’ two children, Lauren and Patrick, graduated from the College of Liberal Arts. Patrick also received a master’s degree in accounting at the McCombs School of Business; Lauren graduated from medical school and is interning in Houston.
“I would say that liberal arts prepared them beautifully,” says Dies, who prominently displays a photo of himself with his children in his office.
“Part of what you try to do is to give back,” Dies says. “That’s a great position to be in.”