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David Minter's lasting influence

As an undergraduate, Dunlevie admired Minter to such an extent that his life almost turned out very differently.


Late Rice English professor David Minter (right) had a formative influence on his student, alumnus Bruce Dunlevie (Sid Richardson ’79, left). Photos courtesy Stanford University and Rice Digital Archive.

By Jaecey Parham     10/3/17 11:06pm

David Minter’s legacy lives on through Rice alumnus Bruce Dunlevie (Sid Richardson ’79), who remembers the late professor as a hero in his life. As an undergraduate, Dunlevie admired Minter to such an extent that his life almost turned out very differently.

According to Dunlevie, Minter grew up working in Texas oil fields and thus was no stranger to hard labor. The result, despite its humble showing, was a spirit of steel.

“[He was] no shrinking violet [and] it’s an aspect of his personality [that] should not be ignored,” Dunlevie said. “Being a tough Texan was fundamental to his self image.”

Minter’s southern roots were mirrored through his scholastic specialty, William Faulkner. Dunlevie said he believes Minter’s fondness for Faulkner was grounded in their shared backgrounds. Faulkner’s narratives were set in southern locations based on his home state, Mississippi. He is regarded as the quintessential writer for Southern literature.

Minter was born in Midland, Texas but spent most of his life in various Texas cities: Gonzales, Woodville, Alice, Denton and Houston. Just as Minter was Texan born and bred, so was Dunlevie — a similarity that Dunlevie believes helped form their relationship. Dunlevie said Faulkner’s characters of the South are often read by northerners as outrageous and unbelievable. But for Dunlevie and Minter, these characters felt like people they already knew.

Dunlevie’s first interaction with Minter was in an English class his first semester of freshman year. Though the 20th century American poetry course was far above his credentials as a first-semester freshman, Dunlevie stuck the semester out.

But Dunlevie only became close with Minter in his sophomore year. On a whim, Dunlevie applied to a study abroad program at Trinity College, Cambridge in England. Minter was a force behind the program and a key liaison between Trinity College and Rice. Dunlevie was completely unaware of Minter’s involvement with the program until he received a call from Minter telling him he was accepted. In later years, Dunlevie would joke with Minter by saying there was only one reason Dunlevie was selected for the program: He was the only applicant.

The two stayed in contact while Dunlevie studied abroad, even meeting up in England at one point. Dunlevie reminisces, saying that he began to aspire to be just like Minter. It was during Dunlevie’s senior year, however, that the two spent countless hours together. He took as many classes from Minter as possible on subjects ranging from early American literature and poetry to the works of William Faulkner. Dunlevie was also writing a senior English thesis under Minter’s direction. The subject matter was, unsurprisingly, Faulkner.

Having taken more classes from Minter than from any other professor by his senior year, Dunlevie asked Minter if he would write him a recommendation letter for graduate school. Dunlevie was planning to pursue a doctorate in English. To Dunlevie’s surprise, Minter discouraged his plans for graduate school despite having happily agreed to recommend him.

“He knew that my interest in [going to graduate school] was just to become more like him — and he knew that wasn’t an authentic enough rationale for becoming an English professor,” Dunlevie said.

Per Minter’s guidance, Dunlevie pursued a career in business instead, later receiving his MBA from Stanford University. He has become a leading venture capitalist, co-founding Benchmark Capital Management. Dunlevie also played a key role in the e-commerce revolution by assisting in the creation of the Palm Pilot and eBay, Inc.

Caroline Levander, Rice’s vice president for strategic initiatives and digital education and the Carlson Professor in the Humanities, is also one of Minter’s ex-students. She received her doctorate in English while under Minter’s direction. She remarked that the profundity of Minter’s guidance in Dunlevie’s life is the utmost example of Minter’s ability to impact others.

“It wasn’t clear [at the time] that Bruce was going to become the Bruce he is today [but] it was David’s foresight and care that at this crucial juncture in a young man’s life, set his direction,” Levander said.

Students are invited to a memorial service for Minter on Oct. 9 at 3 p.m. in the Rice Memorial Chapel.

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