In Memoriam: Red McCombs ’49
Southwestern bids a loving farewell to one of the University’s most celebrated alumni.
February 20, 2023
February 20, 2023
It is with deep sorrow that Southwestern announces the passing of Red McCombs ’49, one of the University’s most beloved and generous benefactors, at the age of 95. His death follows that of his wife of 69 years, civic leader and philanthropist Charline Hamblin McCombs ’50, on December 12, 2019.
“From his early days playing football for the Pirates to his later service as Chair of our Board of Trustees, Red McCombs was a true inspiration to the entire Southwestern University community,” said Chris Cragg, chair of the SU Board of Trustees. “The transformational generosity of Red and Charline through the years will make a positive impact on our students for years to come.”
“When Red and I spoke after my arrival in June 2020, his devotion to the University and deep regard for our work came from a place of love and appreciation,” said SU President Laura Skandera Trombley.
A highly successful businessman and visionary philanthropist, McCombs made his mark in a number of industries, including automotive, oil and gas, real estate, broadcasting, and professional sports. Born Billy Joe McCombs on October 19, 1927, in the ranching town of Spur and nicknamed “Red” for his hair color, the Texas native was raised during the Great Depression by parents who taught him the power of giving to those who had less. He earned a full football scholarship to Southwestern University in 1945, playing both lineman and receiver before leaving the University to serve in the U.S. Army from 1946 to 1947.
McCombs returned to the Lone Star State to continue his education. In summer 1947, he met the love of his life, Charline Hamblin, in her hometown of Corpus Christi while the two were standing in line to enroll in courses at Del Mar Junior College. Red would go on to attend the University of Texas briefly before beginning his career as an auto salesman; Charline would enroll at Southwestern, finishing the same year in which the couple married, in 1950.
Five years after opening his first car dealership in Corpus in 1953, McCombs moved his young family to San Antonio, where he would found the company that would make his a household name: the Red McCombs Automotive Group, which became the sixth largest automotive dealer chain in the U.S. In the 1960s, he forayed into the energy industry by founding an oil and gas company in Houston with partner Bill Forney; the business would be later consolidated into McCombs Energy in the late 1990s. In 1972, he partnered with Lowry Mays to build Clear Channel Communications, Inc. (now iHeartMedia, Inc.), an expansive communications company that eventually grew into the largest ownership of radio stations, outdoor advertising firms, and live-events companies in the world. In 1972, McCombs founded the San Antonio Spurs basketball team and later assumed ownership of the Denver Nuggets and the Minnesota Vikings sports teams.
Because of his wide-ranging business success, McCombs was frequently named one of the 400 wealthiest people in the country by Forbes magazine. He also earned the Texas Legend Award from the Texas Automotive Dealers Association, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Texas Chamber of Commerce, and honors conferred by the National Automobile Hall of Fame, the Texas Business Hall of Fame, the San Antonio Spurs Hall of Fame, and the College Football Hall of Fame.
But for all his achievements, the mogul always shared credit for his successes with his wife, whose love and caring demeanor were motivating forces. Remembered for her vibrant personality, warm smile, and genuine commitment to various causes, Charline was an icon of leadership and philanthropy in her own right, granting charitable support to arts, education, youth, healthcare, and service organizations across Texas. In San Antonio, her contributions to the Las Casas Foundation helped save and restore the Majestic Theatre and Empire Theatre, the latter of which bears her name. Together, the couple made generous gifts to such organizations as the University of Texas at Austin, Southwestern University, the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and myriad schools and community organizations throughout the state. In 1998, the philanthropic McCombs Foundation was formed; the family and the foundation have contributed more than $125 million to civic causes across Texas since 1981.
“Working with Red was one of the highlights of my life, not just of my career. He was truly larger than life in his leadership through example in everything he undertook, through his service to Southwestern University, and through his dedication to making Southwestern, and all of Texas, a better place,” said Vice President for University Relations & Strategic Initiatives Paul Secord. “It is a vast understatement to say that the world lost an icon today.”
Over the years, Red and Charline McCombs generously supported Southwestern with both their time and resources. Red served on the Southwestern Board of Trustees from 1987 to 2014, chairing the board from 1992 to 2000; he was named a life trustee in 2014. The McCombs family has also contributed to a number of significant projects to improve Southwestern’s campus, including a $1 million donation for SU’s intramural fields and a $6 million gift to fund the Red & Charline McCombs Campus Center, the hub of student life. At the time, theirs was the largest alumni gift in Southwestern’s history, and the Campus Center is still home to Red’s collection of artifacts from early Texas history. Another gift established the Charline Hamblin McCombs Residential Center in 2001, which provides apartment-style housing for students.
Red and Charline McCombs are survived by their daughters, Lynda McCombs, Marsha Shields (and her husband, The Honorable John H. Shields), and Connie McNab (and her husband, John “Sandy” McNab); their grandchildren, Carson Rubey IV (and his wife, Cristina), Chloe Shands (and her husband, Matt), Anna Turner (and her husband, Chris), Joe Shields (and his wife, Andrea), Charles McNab, Sita McNab, Ian McNab (and his wife, Alicia), and Easton McNab (and his wife, Claire); and their great-grandchildren, Carson Rubey V, Townsend Shands, Christopher Turner, Zachary Turner, Stella McNab, Wylie McNab, and Ewan McNab. We send our deepest condolences to the family.