The Dynamic Philanthropist
Beyond the practice of law, Walter has provided unwavering support to many important civic and community causes with a special focus in philanthropic support for both Baylor Law School and Lamar University.
Perhaps his boldest service as a benefactor to date has been the foundational support he and his wife provided to his alma mater, Baylor Law School. In 1998, they provided the lead financial support that resulted in the Sheila and Walter Umphrey Law Center, an impressive state of the art educational facility that runs along the Brazos River and now serves as home for the Baylor Law School. The Umphrey Law Center more than doubled Baylor’s capacity and helped to insure that Baylor Law School remains among the nation’s top law schools for generations to come.
“Walter is a star that shines so bright in the pantheon of great lawyers in our state and nation. Throughout his career, he has used his gifts as a lawyer – which are mightily impressive – to serve and help other who might otherwise be marginalized in our justice system. When I think of Walter, these words come to mind: bright, passionate, savvy, caring and giving. He is one of the foremost trial lawyers in our state and in the nation. We have been truly blessed by Walter and the unremitting vigor and dedication that he has brought to bear in his advocacy on behalf of his clients and the cause of justice.”
-Bradley J.B. Toben
Dean and M.C. & Mattie Caston Professor of Law, Baylor University School of Law
In 2012, the Umphrey’s charity again enhanced the beauty of the Baylor University campus along the Brazos by funding the construction of a stunning pedestrian bridge that connects McLane Stadium to the campus. The Sheila and Walter Umphrey Pedestrian Bridge, which also runs alongside the Umphrey Law Center, expands Baylor’s campus north of the Brazos. Additionally, the Umphreys have also established The Walter Umphrey Endowed Courtroom Fund to provide scholarships for deserving Baylor Law School students.
Back in their hometown of Beaumont, Texas, the Umphrey’s have also provided support to Sheila’s alma mater Lamar University. In 2005, the Umphrey’s stepped up to provide a $5 million gift to construct a new multi-million dollar recreational facility appropriately named the Sheila Umphrey Recreational Sports Center, which opened in 2007 and was nicknamed “The Sheila” by the faculty and students who enter its doors year after year.
In 2008, prior to the resumption of Lamar’s long dormant football program, Walter and Sheila partnered with Provost Umphrey Law Firm in a $4 million grant to Lamar University, which then renamed its football facility, Provost Umphrey Stadium. In some ways, the gifts to Lamar University that support its sports programs bring Walter Umphrey’s life full circle, since he started his own college experience on a football scholarship.
While Walter’s financial generosity has reached extraordinary levels, he has also been generous with his time. For years, Walter served on the Southeast Texas – State Bar of Texas Grievance Committee helping resolve disputes between local attorneys and their clients. Walter also served as Director for the National Wildlife Association and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. While serving as a member of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, Walter purchased land at Mesquite Point on Pleasure Island in Port Arthur that he then donated to Jefferson County. The land was used to establish what is now known as Walter Umphrey State Park.
In a lifetime of accomplishment and acclaim, so many people have benefited from Walter Umphrey being on their side that the whole story will likely never be fully known. While any one of his major individual achievements would serve almost anyone proudly, for Walter Umphrey what he is most proud of is very simple.
“What I enjoyed most was building the law firm and helping the people that we have,” Walter says. “We don’t represent the big corporations. We help individual people. That’s what I’m most proud of.”