Bill Engvall ’79, Distinguished Professional
- Carlos Barron
While Engvall definitely knows how to work a crowd, anyone who knows Bill will attest that he’s as genuine in real life as he appears on stage. “Bill doesn’t put on airs. He appreciates his fan base and remains grounded regardless of his success,” says a former college roommate and fraternity brother of Engvall’s. By all accounts, Engvall has always been the funniest guy in the room, as far back as his days at Southwestern.
Actually, Mr. Engvall’s SU connection began before he was born, when his father attended the University in the 1950s. When Bill became a Pirate, he quickly made friends with his combination of charm and wit, not to mention the occasional rattlesnake prank in the Kappa Alpha fraternity house. Legend has it that back then he told them with certainty he would be a comedian. In fact, his very first live comedy show was at an SU Talent Show put on by students in the basement of the old Student Union Building. Gigs in surrounding Georgetown followed, where fellow Southwestern students came to cheer him on.
Donna Carter Worley ’80 says she and Bill Engvall met the day she arrived to Southwestern and that he was her very first college friend. “When I think of Bill back then, the first thing that comes to mind is his contagious laugh. You couldn’t help joining in.”
Another Southwestern student who knows a thing or two about what Bill was like back in his Southwestern days is his wife, Gail Watson Engvall ’83, whom he met while attending SU. “He was proud to attend Southwestern University where many of the seeds of his comedy were planted,” says Mrs. Engvall. With obvious charisma and a dedication to his craft, Bill Engvall was able to turn what he loves into his life’s work. Before long, steady gigs, appearances on The Tonight Show, even a television debut followed. But it was his catchy “Here’s Your Sign” album, which sold over a million copies and debuted at No. 5 on the Country Music Album Charts, that made him a household name. Next came the Blue Collar Comedy Phenomenon, which produced six years of popular tours, three films, a satellite radio show, and a television show titled Blue Collar TV. It was all of these outstanding comedic accomplishments that allowed him to try a new gig—as a philanthropist.
About her husband, Gail Engvall says that “as his success grew, so did his heart. He has been dedicated to giving back by attending and hosting charity events and donating time and money to causes including children’s rehabilitation and medical support, wounded warriors, and spinal cord injury research and recovery to name a few.”
These humanitarian efforts are a natural extension for Bill Engvall who, for over three decades, has brought joy and laughter to people across America. His close friend, Matt Worley ’80, says, “Bill wants to make people laugh. What a direct and spontaneous contribution to the well being of humanity!”
From his local beginnings on stage at a Southwestern talent show to becoming a smash comedic success, the career of Mr. Engvall is a creative inspiration to the entire Southwestern community. For that reason, the Southwestern University Alumni Association presented Bill Engvall with the 2017 Distinguished Professional Award.