Robert L. Waltrip, founder and chairman of the board of Service Corporation International, passed away on Monday, the 27th of February 2023. A third generation licensed funeral director, Bob was also an entrepreneur, a rancher, and a devoted husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather.
Born in Houston on the 10th of January 1931, Bob grew up in the family’s funeral business. His family owned Heights Funeral Home, and Bob often rode along in the lead car during funeral processions. Inspired by his father’s quick wit, Bob developed a great liking for practical jokes as a child and was always ready for the humor life would bring.
Bob graduated from Reagan High School in 1949, where he played on the school’s football team. He then attended Rice University and the University of Houston, receiving a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1953. During his college years, Bob met Claire Holly, the woman who would become his wife. The couple married in 1952 and were later blessed with three children
Bob had always dreamed of succeeding his father in the family business. He returned full-time to Heights Funeral Home after his college graduation to manage and direct daily operations. Seeing much success, Bob began to achieve his vision of operating multiple funeral home locations. He acquired two additional funeral homes in Houston and continued to purchase and develop funeral home and cemetery operations across the United States throughout the late '50s and ‘60s.
In 1962, he founded Service Corporation International (SCI) as the parent company to facilitate expansion efforts. He took SCI public in 1969 and eventually to the New York Stock Exchange in 1974. Bob believed that loyalty was a critical attribute for success, and as SCI continued to grow, he called on several of his longtime friends to make up the company's senior management team. SCI is now the largest operator of funeral homes, cemeteries, crematories, and other funeral-related operations in North America.
In addition to his entrepreneurial endeavors in the death-care industry, Bob was a founding member of Food Corporation International, Energy Services International, Cash America International, and Tanknology, Inc.
Compelled to preserve the rich heritage and history of funeral service, Bob turned a 25-year-old dream into a reality when he founded the National Museum of Funeral History in 1992 in Houston. The museum remains the largest educational center on funerary customs in the United States and perhaps the world.
Aviation was another of Bob’s passions, and he held a commercial pilot license. He recognized the growing public interest in World War II aircraft and memorabilia and responded by founding the Lone Star Flight Museum in 1985 in Galveston. Moving from its original location in 2017 now a featured attraction at the Ellington Airport and quickly becoming one of the premiere flying museums in the world. Bob was also a driving force behind the creation of the Texas Aviation Hall of Fame.
A lover of the outdoors, Bob acquired several ranches and stayed active in ranching and agriculture. He bred and raised cutting horses as well as Rhodesian Ridgeback dogs and was the first to import the Italian breed of Romagnola cattle into North America. Later, he developed a new breed of cattle by crossing Romagnola with Angus named Romangus.
Bob was preceded in death by his beloved wife of 66 years Claire.
He is survived by his sons, Robert L. Waltrip, Jr. and wife Ge “Lucy” Dong and William B. Waltrip; daughter, Holly Waltrip Long and husband Mike; six grandchildren, Robert L. Waltrip, III and wife Aimee, Elizabeth B. Brossa and husband Barry, Catherine L. Lesch and husband Thomas, Victoria L. Persichetti and husband Aaron, David T.A. Waltrip and Kaitlin Waltrip Howell; other survivors include eight great-grandchildren.
Friends are cordially invited to a visitation with the family from five o’clock in the afternoon until nine o’clock in the evening on Thursday, the 2nd of March, 2023 in the library, grand foyer and wine room of Geo. H. Lewis & Sons, 1010 Bering Drive in Houston.
A Celebration of Bob's Life will be conducted at two o’clock in the afternoon on Friday the 3rd of March 2023, at Berachah Church, 2815 Sage Road, Houston, Texas with Pastor Robert Thieme III officiating.
Prior to the memorial service, the family will have gathered for a private committal service at Reflection Garden of Memorial Oaks Cemetery in Houston.
In lieu of customary remembrances, the family requests with gratitude that memorial contributions in Robert L. Waltrip’s honor be made to the Lone Star Flight Museum, 11551 Aerospace Ave, Houston, TX 77034; the National Museum of Funeral History, 415 Barren Springs Dr, Houston, TX 77090; or Berachah Church, 2815 Sage Rd., Houston, TX, 77056. (Or simply select the links provided below).
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