James Woodin Laurie, Presbyterian clergyman and president of Trinity University, son of James Anderson and Mina (Woodin) Laurie, Jr., was born in Bellingham, Washington, on September 10, 1903. His father and grandfather were Presbyterian ministers, and his son, James Robertson Laurie, continued the tradition into a fourth generation. Laurie attended Coe College (1920–24) and Princeton Theological Seminary (1924–27). From the latter institution he received a bachelor of divinity degree, and he was ordained by the Presbytery of Elizabeth on October 6, 1926. He subsequently served pastorates in Rahway, New Jersey, Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, and Buffalo, New York, before becoming president of Trinity University in 1952.
The call to San Antonio marked the beginning of a new phase of Laurie's career. As an administrator, he directed what one historian has called "the miracle of Trinity Hill." When Laurie became president in 1952, Trinity had only two administrative and classroom buildings and a dormitory. By the time of his retirement in 1970, forty-two new buildings had been erected on campus, and the endowment had grown from less than $1 million to nearly $50 million. Under Laurie's leadership Trinity also progressed academically. Library facilities doubled, faculty with earned doctorates tripled, and many new graduate and undergraduate programs and departments were added. The innovative Trinity Plan gave students a wide range of course selection within the framework of ten major goals.
Laurie served on the board of directors of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and in 1959 was elected president, the first minister to be so honored in San Antonio. He was also director and president of the San Antonio Rotary Club, trustee and president of the San Antonio Public Library, trustee of the Southwest Foundation for Research and Education (see SOUTHWEST FOUNDATION FOR BIOMEDICAL RESEARCH), and a member of the Commission on Christian Higher Education of the Association of American Colleges. In 1960 the Exchange Club of San Antonio gave him the Golden Deeds Award for outstanding civic service.
Laurie was a gifted conversationalist and forceful and articulate public speaker. He traveled extensively to secure support for the university and to proclaim his vision of Trinity as an institution of excellence representing the best qualities of Christian higher education. The continued growth and development of Trinity as a respected liberal arts institution attests to Laurie's foresight and leadership during pivotal years of the university's history. He was married on April 15, 1932, to Dorothy Augustine. They had four children. Laurie died on September 9, 1970, in San Antonio.
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Robert Douglas Brackenridge, Beckoning Frontiers: A Biography of James Woodin Laurie (San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 1976). Donald E. Everett, ed., Trinity University: A Record of One Hundred Years (San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 1968).
University Presidents and School Administrators
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
R. Douglas Brackenridge,
“Laurie, James Woodin,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 22, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
March 1, 1995