Businessman, ministry partner Harold Riley dies at 89
Harold E. Riley, a long-time ministry partner of Southwestern Seminary who contributed to such projects as the Riley Center and MacGorman Chapel, died Sept. 21. He was 89.
“Dottie and Harold Riley are among the most humble servants of the Lord Jesus and the greatest friends preachers and missionaries ever had,” said Southwestern President Paige Patterson following the Rileys’ lead gift of $16 million toward the construction of MacGorman Chapel in 2006. “As a teen, Harold played and worked on Seminary Hill while his father studied in the seminary classrooms and served as the pastor of churches. Harold loved Southwestern then and he and Dottie love its students and faculty now.”
Riley was 13 years old when his father, Ray I. Riley, left a steady job as an oil field foreman in the panhandle of Texas because the Lord had called him to ministry. The senior Riley moved his family to Fort Worth so he could prepare for ministry at Southwestern Seminary. He graduated with a Bachelor of Divinity in 1953.
During his time on campus, the young Riley witnessed the sacrifices his father made to serve the Lord and saw him trust in the Lord’s provision for their every need. Many times, the Lord’s provision through the generosity of others was the only means by which the family could survive from month to month.
“I have great admiration, I have great appreciation, and I have great thankfulness for the fact that God called my father into the ministry,” Riley said during the groundbreaking of MacGorman Chapel. “I saw the life that we lived and the struggles that we had getting through the different schools, with seminary being one of them. But, God always provided.”
The kindnesses Riley received from others impacted him greatly. Though he never served in vocational ministry, throughout his life, he remained committed to supporting the Lord’s work.
“I’ve found that as we live our lives, they’re for other people,” Riley said during the chapel groundbreaking. “And that’s what all of this is about right here—leading other people to follow Christ.”
Riley completed his Bachelor in Business Administration in 1952 at Baylor University, where he was an all-American football player. Drafted by the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams following his graduation, Riley declined the offer in order to enter the business world.
Riley proceeded to work his way up through the ranks of the insurance industry. He founded Insurance Company of America in 1969 and became the chairman of the board and CEO of Citizens, Inc. in Austin, Texas, in 1987. In Austin, Riley and his wife Dottie also became long-time members of Hyde Park Baptist Church.
Blessed with financial success, the Rileys did not keep their resources to themselves, but rather used them to invest in the lives of others through widespread philanthropic gifts. Their financial investments in Baylor University, for example, led to the opening of Moody Memorial Library in 1968 and its subsequent technological advancements.
Riley also maintained a special place in his heart for Southwestern Seminary. In addition to their multi-million-dollar lead gifts to both the Ray I. Riley Alumni Center (named for Riley’s father) and the MacGorman Chapel and Performing Arts Center, the Rileys also contributed to, among other things, student scholarships, Dressed for Service, Women’s Auxiliary, and capital improvements. In addition, Riley dedicated MacGorman Chapel’s Dottie Riley Prayer Tower to his wife. “I chose to name the prayer tower after Dottie because she radiates the love of God and her fellowman,” Riley said.
During the prayer tower’s dedication, Patterson said of Riley, “One of the reasons that we’re so grateful for him is that he’s an example of when God blesses you with the things of this world, most people live and die with them, very few people invest them in the Kingdom of God. Harold’s willingness on a long-term basis—not only here but elsewhere—to invest resources in the Kingdom of God is something that we hope that this prayer room will be a testimony to.”
Riley is survived by his wife Dottie, four children, seven grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. A memorial service will be held at 2:00 on Monday, Sept. 25, at Hyde Park Baptist Church with a reception to follow.