Family, friends celebrate life of Bob McNair at NRG Stadium

By Randy McIlvoy - Sports Director, Cory McCord - Digital News Editor

HOUSTON - One by one, family, friends and dignitaries filed in to NRG Stadium Friday afternoon to celebrate the life and legacy of Houston Texans owner Bob McNair.

McNair died Nov. 23 at the age of 81.

"Bob McNair was a gentle giant," former Secretary of State James Baker said. "He was a gentle giant who shared his successes with all of us. When he succeeded, we all succeeded."

McNair was best-known for bringing the NFL back to Houston, but that was only one area of impact the Texans chairman and CEO had on a city he called home since the 1960's. 

At Friday's Celebration of Life ceremony was NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

"He knew that bringing the NFL back would show the world what a great place Houston is," Goodell told the crowd at NRG Stadium.

Supporting education and medical research were priorities for McNair and his wife of 61 years, Janice. Their foundation gave more than $500 million over the years. 

"He would do the kindest things at random moments," Texans star J.J. Watt. said. "And he would do it when people had no idea."

Today's message? McNair was a man of integrity who was gracious, approachable and always put faith first.

"Mr. McNair embodied what the American dream was all about," Watt said. "I consider myself and my teammates lucky we could accomplish our dreams via his team, so we are all very lucky."

McNair is survived by his wife Janice, sons Cal and Cary, daughters Ruth and Melissa, 15 grandchildren (10 granddaughters, five grandsons) and two great grandsons.

Instead of bringing flowers, the McNair family asked for memorial donations to be made to the Houston Texans Foundation or any charity.

Donations to the Houston Texans Foundation can be made here.

Here are more quotes from those in attendance at the Celebration of Life:

NFL COMMISSIONER ROGER GOODELL

What was Texans Founder, Senior Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Robert C. McNair’s role among his fellow owners?
“As I mentioned, he was a true leader. He was someone that was passionate about the work that he was doing and he took that responsibility very seriously when he was in committee meetings or on the floor. I think when he did speak, it was powerful because he was careful. He didn’t speak all the time. He spoke when he thought he had something to share. But, he made a huge impact on the NFL in a short period of time.”

How did Mr. McNair rise up the ranks among NFL owners so quickly, and what was your relationship like with Mr. McNair?
“I think he earned all of that. He earned that through his commitment, through his dedication to the NFL and frankly, through the respect that he got from fellow owners. They knew that when Bob was going to take on the tough issues – and he always took on the tough issues – that it would be a fair, open process that would have a positive result. For me, getting my first exposure to him before becoming Commissioner and going through that process of bringing a franchise back here, his determination and his unwavering belief in this community is what I think set him apart, and I think it had a huge impact on the other owners when it came time to vote.”

What made Mr. McNair special and successful as an NFL owner?
“I think it was his principle. He had such strong values and belief in the NFL, belief in this community. He never wavered off of that. He was a person that stood strong and stood no matter what the headwinds were coming at you. He was always that great counsel. He had the right words to say at the right time based on those principles and those values.”

TEXANS DE J.J. WATT

Can you talk about losing both Texans Founder, Senior Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Robert C. McNair and the 41st President of the United States George H. W. Bush within a couple weeks?
“It’s been tough. Two funerals in two days for two men who were extremely powerful, kind and very worthy of the beautiful receptions they had. I consider myself extremely lucky to have known both of them and to have been able to just witness everything that they were able to accomplish in their lives.”

What will you remember most about Mr. McNair?
“He was incredibly philanthropic. That’s the one thing I’ll always remember about Mr. McNair. I remember attending a charity event here in this stadium and there was a big charity event, lots of money was raised. At the very end of the whole thing, after tons of money had been raised, they said, ‘and we have an unbelievably generous donation to match everybody’s here.’ That’s what Mr. McNair did. He would do the kindest things at random moments, and he would do it many times when people had no idea that he was doing it. So, I consider myself, like I said, lucky to have known him, lucky to have learned from him and I can only hope that I’m making him proud in the way that we represent his organization.”

What did it mean for Mr. McNair to bring football back to Houston?
“I think it was extremely important for football to come back to Houston, and I think Bob was a massive part of that. For him to be able to bring something to this city that’s going to live on for many, many years after he’s gone, and the passion and dedication that’s created and also, what’s he’s done in the community supplementing that, he’s changed the city forever.”

DALLAS COWBOYS OWNER, PRESIDENT AND GENERAL MANAGER JERRY JONES

What are your thoughts on being here today to celebrate the life of Texans Founder, Senior Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Robert C. McNair?
“Well, it’s ironic. I’m a little emotional. The only other time I ever teared up was right on this field when the Texans and Bob kicked our butt the first game that was ever played in this stadium. The Texans put it on the Cowboys and it was a glorious night to begin the Texans. Bob was so special. I was so excited for Houston to get an NFL franchise, but I was particularly excited when I saw the character and the person that was going to lead the way in Bob. It’s amazing that within just a few short days here, the loss of President Bush and then you have Bob McNair. They served with such grace, but were so strong. Bob led. We listened to Bob. We’ve done so well with Bob McNair’s ownership, being an owner in the NFL. Obviously, we know what he means to Houston. He’ll be missed. He’ll be an inspiration. He loved his players. He particularly loved his players. He was always so supportive of the NFL, the players and what we could do to make it good for the players. We’ll miss Bob McNair.”

What about Mr. McNair made him a successful owner in the NFL?
“In a way, Bob was football. Not only did he come from Houston where football is such a cherished sport, but Bob got knocked down a lot and got back up. That’s the game. Everybody knew that. His players knew, his coaches knew it. His coaches loved Bob, and I did too because I knew that life hadn’t been just really roses for Bob. Yet, he never quit and of course has been an example to so many people – not the least of which are his fellow owners.”

How was Mr. McNair able to garner the respect of his fellow NFL owners so quickly?
“Bob, first of all, immediately exuded the character that you speak about in football, but you could see that Bob had a fresh air about him of ‘can do’. He had a look to the future. Of course, he made a huge commitment. If you’re sitting in my shoes in the NFL, that’s who you want in the room with you was someone that would empty his bucket. Bob, would empty his bucket when he got behind something. It’s been a privilege to have him and will always be a privilege to have Bob McNair’s associated with the NFL."

Here is a list of people and services for the celebration:

Welcome & invocation:

  • The Reverend Eric S.C. Manning, Senior Pastor, Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church, Charleston, S.C.

Music:

  • Houston Symphony and Houston Grand Opera

Tributes:

  • The Honorable James A. Baker III, Former U.S. Secretary of State
  • Mr. Roger Goodell, NFL Commissioner
  • Dr. Harris Pastides, President of the University of South Carolina
  • Dr. Dave Peterson, Pastor Emeritus, Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church

Special guests attending service:

  • Gov. Greg Abbott
  • Gayle Benson
  • Michael Bidwill
  • Arthur Blank
  • Maria & Neil Bush
  • Jim Crane
  • Sen. Ted Cruz
  • Tilman Fertitta
  • Ken Houston
  • Clark Hunt
  • Jim Irsay
  • Andre Johnson
  • Jerry Jones
  • Marcus Lutrell
  • Virginia McCaskey
  • Art Rooney
  • Amy Adams Strunk
  • Mayor Sylvester Turner
  • Mario Williams

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