LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 14, 2003) -- Robert T. McCowan, a University of Kentucky graduate and former chair of the UK Board of Trustees, died Nov. 12. He was 75.
A native of Carlisle, Ky., McCowan served on the UK Board of Trustees from 1981 to 1989. He served as the board’s chair from 1984 to 1988.
He earned his bachelor’s degree from the UK College of Commerce, now the UK Gatton College of Business and Economics, in 1951. He worked for Ashland Oil Inc. from 1951 to 1988, rising through the ranks to become the company’s vice chairman in 1980.
In 1993, McCowan and his late wife, Nyle, donated $1 million to the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging.
He was inducted into the UK Hall of Distinguished Alumni in 1980 and into the Gatton College Alumni Hall of Fame in 1994. The university awarded him an honorary doctor of law degree in 1978. He also served as chair of the UK Development Council in the 1980s.
McCowan grew up on Rose Street in Lexington just across from UK’s old Stoll Field and spent much of his youth on UK’s campus. He often shared stories of sneaking into UK’s old Alumni Gym to watch the Wildcats practice under Coach Adolph Rupp.
As a UK student, he was an active leader, a member of the Student Union Board, Beta Gamma Sigma scholastic honor society, and Omicron Delta Kappa leadership honor society.
McCowan never forgot his UK connections and, as an Ashland Oil executive, urged the company to support the university. While he was a company executive, Ashland Oil bestowed the university’s first $1 million corporate gift.
Later, as UK’s board chairman, McCowan led the university’s effort to hire David Roselle as president following Otis A. Singletary’s retirement. He also chaired the board through the NCAA’s investigation and probation of the UK basketball program in the late 1980s.
He is survived by his daughter, Jill Sloneker of Cincinnati; his son, David W. McCowan of Lexington; and several grandchildren.
Visitation will be from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 14, at Kerr Brothers Funeral Home on Harrodsburg Road. Funeral services will be at 1 p.m. Saturday at the funeral home, with burial in the Lexington Cemetery.
Memorials may be made to the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging.
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