George William Gau, the ninth dean of the McCombs School of Business and a longtime faculty member of The University of Texas at Austin, passed away at the age of 72 on Dec. 23, 2019, after a 16-month battle with glioblastoma, which he waged with courage and dignity.
He was born in 1947 in St. Louis, Missouri, as the first child of Agnes (Pelko) and Elza Gau. His younger sister, Joyce, was born in 1949. For most of his early years Gau lived in Edwardsville, Illinois, graduating from Edwardsville High School in 1965. He was the first member of his family to go to college, attending the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for all of his higher education. He completed his Ph.D. in 1975, with a dissertation entitled “A Multivariate Analysis of Single-Family Residential Mortgage Risk.”
As an undergraduate, he met the love of his life, Pamela Duran, and they married in 1972. They started their marriage in Urbana-Champaign while Gau attended graduate school and Pam was a flight instructor at the university, then moved to Norman, Oklahoma, where their first son, Brendan, was born, and then Vancouver, Canada, where their younger son, Andrew, was born. In 1988 Gau moved his family back to the United States upon accepting a position in the business school of UT Austin. He and Pam thrived in Austin, both working in education, raising their family, and being active in the UT community. After 37 years together, 20 of them in Austin, Pam died in 2009.
Gau found love again and married Mary Pat “MP” Mueller in 2013. During their courtship and marriage, they shared a passion for entertaining, skiing, and travel. They parted in 2016, but remained friends throughout his life.
The last 27 years of Gau’s academic career were spent at the McCombs School of Business at UT Austin. His legacy to the school embodies his passion and commitment to excellence in business education and his desire to increase the school’s impact on students and the business community in Austin and beyond. Under his six years of leadership from 2002 to 2008, Texas McCombs saw tremendous growth and progress, including the vision, construction, and opening of the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center. It represented one of his passionate beliefs about business education: that academia and industry can and should interact, both in the classroom and in the boardroom.
Under his leadership, the MBA program in Houston was established. Gau was also a tireless advocate for the faculty, securing full summer research support for all research-active faculty for the first time, and increasing the number and strength of the faculty overall.
“George embodied so much of what one looks for in an academic leader,” says current McCombs Dean Jay Hartzell. “He had vision and was a fierce advocate for the school, he took risks and pushed for changes he believed in, and he galvanized support around key initiatives he knew would leave the school in a better place. And, in much the same way, those of us who worked with and knew George were also left the better for it. I was fortunate to work for him as a graduate student and later as a faculty member, and I am grateful to be able to see us build on his efforts and continue to capitalize on the legacy he left for our school and its community.”
In assessing his own legacy when he stepped down as dean in 2008, Gau said he was proud to have developed a strategic plan that redirected the school toward greater national visibility. “It’s very clear to me that our MBA program has much more of a national presence than it did six years ago,” Gau said at the time. “We’re placing more of our students outside of Texas, and more of our students are having opportunities to become business leaders in national and international companies.”
Gau explained his motivation. “I get great joy from seeing initiatives accomplished. To be able to take an idea, structure it, convince people of the worthiness of the initiative, figure a way to move it forward, and then see it actually accomplished gives me great satisfaction. I also enjoy seeing people develop. It’s fun to see — whether it’s watching a faculty member expand their research reputation or their teaching skills, or seeing a staff member grow in their role, acquiring more skills.”
Others recall his passion for McCombs. “George had a belief that he could help make the school even better than it was,” says McCombs Advisory Council member Jeff Swope, BBA ’72, MBA ’73. “While known for getting things done, his unbridled enthusiasm for meeting the needs of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and other constituents of the business school was one of his greatest legacies. There is no doubt that his leadership efforts as professor, department chair, and dean helped propel McCombs to new heights.”
Prior to serving as dean of McCombs, Gau was the chairman of the Department of Finance from 1992 to 2002. In that role, among other accomplishments, he led the creation of the AIM Investment Center, the Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst Center for Private Equity Finance, the MBA Investment Fund, and the Real Estate Finance and Investment Center.
Laura Starks, McCombs professor of finance and former interim dean, worked alongside Gau for many years. “As finance department chair and later dean, George put the department and school on new trajectories for international recognition. In particular, he transformed the culture, always supporting and encouraging faculty in their endeavors toward research and teaching excellence. He was particularly creative in finding external support for these endeavors, as well as valuable linkages across faculty, industry leaders, and students.”
Gau was also a widely respected academic in real estate finance. He held the George S. Watson Centennial Professorship in Real Estate from 1988 to 2015 and the J. Ludwig Mosle Centennial Memorial Professorship in Investments and Money Management from 1996 to 2015. He was active in teaching and research in the fields of real estate investment, real estate finance, real estate and mortgage markets, mortgage banking, residential mortgage default risk, mortgage securitization, real estate investment trusts, leadership, and ethics.
When he stepped down as dean, the McCombs alumni magazine asked Gau what he most liked about this former job. “The people,” Gau said. “When you’re the dean you have the opportunity to meet everybody in the school, as well as alumni, and external supporters. And you get to see them generally at their best. I’ve enjoyed going out and meeting people interested in the school, getting to know them, and helping them understand how they can be supportive of the school.”
After stepping down as dean, Gau joined the board of directors of Austin Habitat for Humanity in 2010. He served as chairman of the Austin Habitat board of directors in 2012 and 2013, recently chairing Austin Habitat’s first capital campaign.
In the years since leaving the deanship, Gau became more active in golf and cycling. He indulged in annual spring golf trips with a longtime close friend, John Markese, and in taking week-long cycling trips to Bordeaux, Napa, Nantucket, Bavaria, and the Canadian Rockies.
Travel was a theme for all of Gau’s life. He identified travel as an opportunity his parents didn’t have that he himself very much wanted. He explored much of British Columbia with his wife and sons while living in Vancouver as well as embarking on occasional trips to California, Illinois, and Missouri to see family. While at UT Austin, Gau’s professional responsibilities provided the opportunity for international travel, which he thoroughly relished. As empty nesters, he and Pam took biennial trips back to Vancouver.
Gau is survived by his sister, Dr. Joyce Laben of St. Charles, Illinois, and her two sons, Andrew and Christopher; his son Brendan, daughter-in-law Martha, and grandchildren Evelyn, Paul, and John, all of Houston; and his son Andrew, daughter-in-law Fiona, and grandson Owen, all of Denver.
In lieu of flowers, his family suggests that gifts in his memory can be made to the George W. Gau Endowed Scholarship in the McCombs School of Business or to Austin Habitat for Humanity. As a first-generation college student, Gau undersood the challenges faced by students whose parents had not attended college, and he wanted to establish a scholarship fund that could help undergraduate and graduate students in academic programs at McCombs, giving preference to students whose parents had not gone to college. Such gifts should be made to the McCombs School of Business Foundation at The University of Texas at Austin. Gifts to Austin Habitat for Humanity can be sent to 500 West Ben White Blvd., Austin, Texas 78704.
To celebrate his life, the McCombs School of Business will be hosting a memorial event at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020 in the Grand Ballroom of the AT&T Center on the campus of UT Austin.