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Former OU President William Banowsky dies at 83

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From a roadside payphone on the way to California in the 1980s, William Slater Banowsky called to say he had made a huge mistake.

The 10th president in University of Oklahoma history wanted his job back. He would go on to serve two more years at the university.

Banowsky died on Sunday. He was 83.

Born on March 4, 1936, in Abilene, Texas, Banowsky served as OU’s president from 1978 to 1985 before resigning from the position to work for the Gaylord Broadcasting Co.

He was known for pushing OU to compete on a national scale, bringing in funding for the Bizzell Memorial Library, a new music building and the OU Energy Center while also hiring more faculty and raising salaries.

While at OU, Banowsky launched the OU President Associates program to raise support and awareness for OU students and programs. Today there are more than 1,700 OU President Associates members who support the university through annual contributions.

“Presidents strive to leave a legacy that will support learning and passion for the university for generations to come. Bill Banowsky was that kind of president," said OU President James L. Gallogy. "He left a legacy that serves students to this day. We are saddened as Sooners by his loss and the loss to his family and friends.”

Former Oklahoma Gov. George Nigh, whose governorship coincided with Banowsky’s term as president, said Banowsky was a trailblazer in the way he sought funding for the university.

“I think he was probably at that time the most aggressive in trying to reach people and trying to promote OU,” Nigh said. “He began a sincere effort in the president's office of not just doing a good job on the campus but going out in the community and getting the community involved in OU and its activities.

“He was a great champion for higher education and a great addition to higher education while he was here.”

In 1982, Banowsky surprised many when he announced he was leaving the school to become director of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce.

But Banowsky said he knew the move was the wrong one before he made it to Los Angeles and called to ask for his job back.

Seven weeks after moving to California, Banowsky and his family came back to Oklahoma and he resumed his position at OU and served for two more years.

Banowsky is survived by his wife, Gay; sons David, William Jr., Baxter and Britton; and several grandchildren.

He was born in Abilene, Texas, and grew up in Fort Worth and was living in Dallas at the time of his death. He earned his bachelor’s from David Lipscomb College, master’s from the University of New Mexico, and a Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Southern California.

Banowsky was also the president at Pepperdine University before serving at OU.

Adam Kemp

Adam Kemp is the Higher Education reporter for The Oklahoman and Newsok.com. Kemp grew up in Oklahoma City before attending Oklahoma State University. Kemp has interned for the Oklahoman, the Oklahoma Gazette and covered Oklahoma State Football... Read more ›

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