H.M. and Rachel Lafferty

H.M. and Rachel Lafferty

The late H.M. “Jim” and late Rachel Treadway Lafferty met at East Texas State Teachers College and spent the rest of their lives giving back to the university.

Jim earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from ET, earning his master’s in 1934. He then headed to Austin to pursue a doctorate at the University of Texas while coaching tennis. When Jim received his doctorate from the University of Texas, he was one of the youngest ever to do so at that time.

Rachel earned her bachelor’s degree in math in 1935. During her time at ET, she started collecting bits of pressed glass called “beveled star,” which led to a lifetime of collecting that would one day define a university landmark.

After two years of teaching math to 5th graders, ET president Sam Whitley called Rachel to offer her an on-campus job if she would participate in their new master’s program in math. She accepted, and one of her teachers turned out to be a young visiting professor, Jim Lafferty, who invited her to attend campus events with him.

World War II began and Jim volunteered for the Navy, as Rachel completed her master’s. In the summer of 1942, Rachel and Jim were married in Chicago, where he was stationed for training. While Jim was serving 18 months on the U.S.S. Denebola in the North Atlantic, Rachel lived in Washington, D.C. teaching math at the Pentagon.

In 1945, Jim was discharged from the Navy, and he and Rachel returned to Commerce, renting a room on Mayo Street. Jim was made a full professor and an advisor for Alpha Chi honor society. He established Honors Day in 1952 with an annual awards assembly, which paved the way for the university to establish an Honors Program.

Because of Rachel’s broad world and civic knowledge, and her passion for the city, she was chosen as Commerce’s first female commissioner. Later, she also served on the school board, served on the executive committee for the United Way of Commerce, and was a director on the boards of both Meals on Wheels and the American Cancer Society.

Jim also gave of his time. He served many years on the university’s athletic council as well as on the Commerce Industrial Development Association and with the Kiwanis Club. In 1960 he was named a director of Security State Bank in Commerce. But among all his academic and civic activities, the pursuit Jim loved most was working with students—even slightly incorrigible ones such as Barry Thompson, who would go on to become an administrator here and the chancellor of The Texas A&M-University System. Jim laughingly admonished the ET administrator more than once: “Barry, you’re not nearly as smart as you think you are.”

In 1962 Jim was named the university’s director of institutional research. The president of the university at that time, James G. Gee, told a colleague of Jim’s that Jim not only wrote his best speeches but advised him on the most important matters facing the university. He was quoted as telling that colleague: “Dr. Lafferty is the smartest man on campus.”

Until Rachel turned 58, she never understood why anyone would want to leave Commerce. The autumn of 1970, someone convinced her to go see the foliage in New England – and a world traveler was born. She actually used the broken clasp on a string of pearls as an excuse to return them to their point of purchase – Hong Kong.

In 1981, Jim retired from active academic duty after 44 years with the university. The Board of Regents offered Dr. Lafferty the prestigious title of professor emeritus. A year later, the Lafferty’s established a scholarship solely for female athletes, long before anyone heard of Title IX and equity in women’s sports. They also established two more scholarship endowments, one of which is the Rachel Lafferty Math Endowment, which was a present from Jim to his bride of more than 40 years.

The Lafferty’s were inducted as charter members of the Founders Circle at Texas A&M University-Commerce along with Betty and Joe Hinton in 1990.
In 1995, the renovation of the Heritage House was complete. The former presidents’ home includes the Lafferty Room which features a sample of the couple’s collections, including the pressed glass Rachel collected as well as Rachel’s Willow Ware china collection. When someone would ask Rachel how much Willow Ware she owned, she would respond “Honey, if you can count it, you don’t have enough.”

Jim passed away in 1998, and his service, fittingly, was held on campus, in the Founder’s Lounge. Faculty at the university honor his memory every year by conferring one of its most esteemed awards—the H.M. Lafferty Distinguished Faculty Award for scholarship and creativity.

In April, 2005, Rachel once again followed Jim. But before she passed away, she made sure their estate would make a final generous gift to the university they loved so much.