The Distinguished Alumnus Award, the highest honor bestowed upon a former student of Texas A&M University, has been awarded since 1962 to only 330 of Texas A&M’s more than 588,000 former students.
Presented jointly by the university and The Association of Former Students, this award recognizes Aggies who have achieved excellence in their chosen professions and made meaningful contributions to Texas A&M University and their local communities.
This year's honorees are below. To see and read about all past honorees, please visit our Tribute Wall.
Albert G. "Bert" Pfaff, Jr., Class of 1925*, was an East Texas oil entrepreneur whose generosity made possible A&M’s 1939 football national championship. Pfaff found impressive success in the East Texas oil industry, eventually founding McCord-Lane Co. In the midst of the Great Depression, the A&M athletics department was in a troubling amount of debt. They reached out to Pfaff around 1936, and he helped secure a key loan of $25,000 that the department used for scholarships to recruit top players for A&M. Not only that, but during school breaks, Pfaff employed the student-athletes in his oil fields, giving them a chance to support themselves and stay enrolled in college. Pfaff’s meaningful support paid off. In 1939, those hardworking student-athletes became an undefeated football team, ending their season with a national championship. Their wins brought the program much-needed revenue, allowing it to pay off its debts and support student success.
James D. “Jimmy” Tittle ’49 has been called “Abilene’s architect” for his numerous designs throughout his hometown. In 1957, he cofounded The Tittle Luther Partnership with Jack Luther ’49. They designed iconic residential and commercial builds still standing in Abilene today, including the Taylor County Courthouse, expansions to the Hendrick Medical Center, a terminal at Abilene Regional Airport and buildings at both Abilene Christian University and Hardin-Simmons University. He was a member of Abilene’s Chamber of Commerce, Business Council and Cultural Affairs Council. In 1988, he was named Abilene’s Outstanding Citizen of the Year. He supported Aggies by establishing three scholarships with Texas A&M’s now School of Architecture. Serving the state of Texas, Tittle was appointed to the Texas Commission on the Arts and was a founding member of the Texas Cultural Trust. In 1998, Tittle was named chancellor of the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects. In 2022, the Abilene Zoo dedicated Tittle Lake in his honor.
Joe R. Straus, Jr. ’50 worked at Straus-Frank Co., an auto parts wholesaler, for 55 years, eventually retiring as president. He is a partner in the family-owned Straus Medina Ranch, where he successfully imported the first full-blood Simmental cattle into the United States, but Straus remains best known for the role he played in Texas horse racing. In 1973, he founded the Texas Horse Racing Association, which advocated legalizing pari-mutuel wagering in Texas. After this new legislation passed, he established the Retama Park Association in 1989, eventually co-founding and constructing Retama Park Racetrack. Straus is a longtime member of the Texas A&M College of Agriculture Development Council. He and his late wife, Jocelyn, gave generously to A&M through The Association of Former Students, the Texas A&M Foundation and the 12th Man Foundation.
Hector Gutierrez, Jr. ’69 was Texas A&M’s first Hispanic Corps commander as a student, and spent nearly 20 years of his career at Southwestern Bell Telephone, acting as assistant vice president of government relations before leaving the company in 1993. He soon became a consultant, specializing in public relations, communications and governmental affairs. His past clients include the city of El Paso, AT&T, the El Paso Water Utility Public Service Board, HILLCO Partners and more corporate entities. He served as the first senior advisor for legislative affairs to then-lieutenant governor of Texas, Rick Perry ’72. Gutierrez has served on boards of The Association of Former Students, the Texas A&M University Press, the Bush School of Government and Public Service, the Texas A&M Health Science Center and the Corps of Cadets Board of Visitors. He is the founding chairman of the Texas A&M Hispanic Network, where his passion and vision directly supported A&M’s recent designation as a Hispanic Serving Institution, unlocking new levels of federal funding.
Henry B. “Hank” Paup ’70 has served the Fort Worth area as a lawyer for 50 years, specializing in estate planning and probate. He founded the Law Offices of Henry B. Paup, in 1982. Although it was created after his student days, he has been a strong supporter of the Texas A&M School of Law, establishing an endowed dean’s scholarship and law faculty chair. Paup and his wife, Anne, support the Texas A&M swim team and are the lead donors of the team’s newest indoor facility, Paup Pavilion. They have established seven academic and athletic scholarships at A&M, and are Endowed Century Club members. He has served as president of the Fort Worth A&M Club, president of the First Methodist Church of Fort Worth Foundation and a member of the 12th Man Foundation board of trustees. The Paups were recognized as the 2019 Distinguished Philanthropists of the Year by the Fort Worth chapter of Fundraising Professionals.
Michael J. "Mike" Havel ’76 is president and owner of Metro Custom Plastics Inc., where he has worked since 1982, as well as three additional associated distribution companies. Havel’s companies have been honored with the Aggie 100 award eight times for their impressive growth. Havel enjoys mentoring and supporting others. He and his wife, Kathy, have ministered to engaged couples through their church for over 30 years. He was also highly involved with the Boy Scouts of America, serving as a scout leader for 13 years. At Texas A&M, he has served as a Class Agent and sat on several advisory boards. While serving on the board of The Association of Former Students, he had the idea for what has become a campus landmark: the Haynes Ring, a 3-ton Aggie Ring on the Haynes Ring Plaza. He applied his professional skills in manufacturing and sourcing to direct the project from beginning to end.
P. William “Bill” Toler ’76 began at Procter & Gamble in sales and marketing roles, rose in customer business development and was named a vice president in 1994. In 2007, he was promoted to global vice president for professional oral care. In each of his roles, he increased market share and held fast to vision and values above all. In 2009, Toler was made CEO of Swift Communications, a privately held publisher of over 30 newspapers. Within a year, he stabilized revenues and increased profits by 70%. He finally retired from industry in 2018. At Texas A&M, Toler held leadership positions in both the Vision 2020 and Lead By Example campaigns. He served on the boards of The Association of Former Students and the Texas A&M Foundation, including one year as chair of the Foundation’s board. He currently serves on the Mays Business School Dean’s Advisory Board and co-chairs the Division of Student Affairs Development Council with his wife, Melanie ’76.
T. Michael O’Connor ’77 has worked in law enforcement for over 40 years. In 2020, he was sworn in as U.S. marshal for the Southern District of Texas. He is one of 94 presidentially appointed marshals currently serving across the nation. He leads law enforcement organizations including the South Texas Coastal Sheriff’s Alliance, Law Enforcement Alliance Project and Houston High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. He was elected sheriff of Victoria County in 2005. He taught at the Victoria College Police Academy and sat on the board of directors. He has also served on the Victoria Police Department Advisory Board, the University of Houston-Victoria Criminal Justice Board of Directors and a gubernatorial Commission for the Comprehensive Review of Criminal Justice Systems. He was appointed to The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents in 1993, serving as vice chairman 1994-99. He has volunteered with The Association of Former Students, the Chancellor’s Century Council, the College of Agriculture Development Council and the AgriLife Vice Chancellor’s Forum.
Jeff Potter ’78 is highly involved with the American Institute of Architects and was elevated to their College of Fellows in 2010, a distinction given to only 2.5% of all AIA architect members. He integrates design with community engagement in his work, especially regarding school safety. He and his wife, Shelley ’78, founded their own architecture firm, POTTER, in 1983, which specializes in educational facilities and has received six AIA design awards. Potter participated in the Texas governor’s 2018 School Safety Roundtable. He served as AIA president in 2012 and has served on the AIA’s board of directors and as an international delegate. He has also helped lead the Texas Society of Architects and The National Architects Foundation. In 2023, he received the AIA’s Edward C. Kemper Laureate, honoring a lifetime of leadership and significant service. At A&M, the Potters recently completed work on the Distinguished Alumni Tribute in Aggie Park, established an endowed scholarship and are Endowed Century Club members.
Michael J. Plank ’83 is chairman and CEO of The Plank Companies Inc. and three operating companies: Rail Logix, National Property Holdings and Speed Shore Corporation, respectively engaged in industrial real estate development, rail logistics and construction equipment manufacturing. Ernst & Young recognized his business leadership in 2019 with the Entrepreneur of the Year Award for the Gulf Coast region. Plank was appointed to The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents in 2019; he has previously served on the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Governor’s University Research Initiative Board. He was inducted into the Mechanical Engineering Department’s Academy of Distinguished Graduates in 2000 and received the College of Engineering’s Outstanding Alumni Award in 2019. At Texas A&M, he and his wife, Susan, have given major gifts to Aggie Park, the Corps of Cadets Quad renovation and the Zachry Engineering Education Complex, funded multiple scholarships and are members of the Endowed Century Club, the Chancellor’s Century Council and the 12th Man Foundation.
Anthony J. Wood ’87 is best known as the founder and CEO of Roku, a TV streaming platform. He started his first computer company in high school and worked odd jobs to earn extra cash; what brought Wood to Texas A&M was a $500 scholarship. During his A&M student days, his grades began to drop because he was devoting too much time to his newest company, SunRize Industries, but he brought his grades back up to graduate, and his foresight, drive and humility have earned him great success. Through the WoodNext Foundation, Wood funds research in a broad range of disciplines, including mental health, homelessness, entrepreneurship, dementia, and pollution. He even supports the study of circadian rhythms, hoping to find a cure for jet lag. At Texas A&M, Wood is the named donor of the new stage in Aggie Park. He has also given major gifts to the Texas A&M Global Cyber Research Institute, the School of Medicine’s PTSD and Mental Health Research Fund and more.
Kathryn J. Greenwade ’88* championed Aggies as the vice president of communications and human resources at The Association of Former Students. She supported and connected current, former and future students by leading with empathy and promoting community. Passionate about beginning a tradition of giving, she sponsored hundreds of students’ first year in the Century Club. She served with the Aggie Women Network, was an Endowed Century Club member, established an Aggie Ring Scholarship and supported programs across Texas A&M. On campus, she served 13 years as an academic advisor to Company C-2 in the Corps of Cadets, honored twice as academic advisor of the year. She sponsored the Fish Camp attendance of many freshmen and purchased multiple students’ Aggie Rings over the years. In 2000, she was selected as a Fish Camp namesake. Her volunteer service also reached off campus as president of the board of the Bryan-College Station chapter of Habitat for Humanity and a Brazos Valley Figure Skating Club board member.
To see and read about all past honorees, please visit our Tribute Wall.
Nominate an Aggie
For information about the 2023 Distinguished Alumni Gala, please visit this page or contact Jamie Veazey '17, Director of Events, at 979-845-7514 or Gala@AggieNetwork.com.