Beaumont native Rufus Cormier receives one of Houston’s most prestigious awards

Beaumont native, former SMU football star and retired Baker Botts attorney Rufus Cormier was recognized as one of four Men of Distinction at River Oaks Country Club in Houston on Wednesday, May 2. Also recognized were Houston Astros star and 2015 MLB Hall of Fame inductee Craig Biggio, Texas Children’s Cancer Center Director Dr. David Poplack and Houston businessman and philanthropist Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale.

Cormier’s career began with his service on the Counsel to the House Judiciary Committee for the Nixon Impeachment Inquiry in 1974. Appropriately enough, he received the 2014 Leon Jaworski Award in March 2014 alongside his wife, Dr. Yvonne Cormier, a successful Houston anesthesiologist. Jaworksi was the second special prosecutor during the Watergate scandal and played an essential role in the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

Besides his latest Men of Distinction honor, Cormier’s achievements include being named on the list of The Best Lawyers in America, and receiving the Anti-Defamation League’s Karen H. Susman Jurisprudence Award, and the National Conference for Community and Justice’s Humanitarian Award, among several others. He has also been named “Texas Super Lawyer” by both Texas Monthly and Law and Politics magazines.

“I had the pleasure of attending the event with the Cormiers and was so touched by Rufus’ eloquent remarks. This is such a prestigious honor for Rufus and really all of Beaumont,” said Regina Rogers, friend of the Cormiers and founder of the Gift of Life.

“I had no expectation that I would be selected for the award,” Cormier told The Business Journal. “I was absolutely thrilled. First, I think the use of the funds (raised from the gala) is extremely critical, going to pediatric research. … Secondly, it was truly an honor to be included among the distinguished and really very exceptional prior recipients of the award and among the group that was honored this year.”

“I make no pretension of possessing wisdom,” Cormier told those gathered at the event. “However, experience has taught me that it is our relationships with family and friends and the commitments we make to others, and to causes that are larger than ourselves, that give our lives meaning.”

While neither his father nor mother were afforded the opportunity to obtain much formal education, both highly valued and fully supported the educational endeavors of Cormier and his siblings.

“They encouraged us to seek opportunities far beyond the confines of our community,” he said. “So far, in fact, that those opportunities included institutions that some in our neighborhood were not familiar with.”

His parents had a little grocery store in Beaumont, which his mother operated. One day a regular customer came into the store and, while there, inquired of Cormier’s whereabouts.

“My mother proudly told her that I was at Yale. Apparently unfamiliar with Yale, her response, thinking that my mother said jail, was, ‘I am so sorry, and, I thought he was such a nice boy.’”

Both Cormier’s father and mother had a strong sense of honor and commitment to community, he said. “My father made a living as a cook in a restaurant, but he also pastored a small church where he and my mother were devoted to the uplift of our community. They instilled in my brother, my sister and me the importance of duty to family and community, and their deeply held belief that work, self-discipline, and service are necessary to both individual happiness and a viable community.”

David Wuthrich, the Men of Distinction Steering Committee Chair, said the non-profit, also named Men of Distinction, created the award 12 years ago to recognize Houston men who have distinguished themselves through excellence in business, philanthropy and community achievement and proceeds from the event provide support for superior biomedical research, education, and patient care focused on pediatrics in the Texas Medical Center, which directly benefits the Houston community.

“Our committee thought that everything he’s gone through in his life (made him a great choice), from growing up where he grew up to going to SMU and playing football there as the second African-American to play at SMU after Jerry LeVias and then going on to Yale Law School and then coming into Houston, which at that time was a pretty segregated community, whether anybody wanted to believe it or not, and becoming the very first African-American attorney at a major law firm and then a partner at a major law firm. He is businesswise second to none —a top-notch attorney. On the flip side, charitable-wise, he and Yvonne have jumped in with both feet and have supported causes that are important to either one of them and later on to their family, so they’ve not only given time but their money as well. … Rufus put his money where his mouth is and donated his own personal money. Those are the two things that set him apart for our committee.”

Looking back on his family, education and career, Cormier reflected on the blessing of opportunities he received which allowed him to seize his success.

“I was fortunate with my parents, teachers and coaches,” he said. “It was extremely important that I was born in 1948, so I was six when the Brown (vs. Board of Education) decision was rendered. I was a sophomore when the Civil Rights Act of ’64 legislation was (adopted). Without the ’64 act, my life would have been terribly, terribly different.”

Cormier offered advice to African-American youths in Beaumont who might doubt their ability to rise to the top and achieve their dreams.

“I think regardless of circumstance, with commitment, hard work, and trying to find some sense of direction, one can succeed,” Cormier said. “I think I am very much evidence of that.”