William Lambdin (Colonel) Prather, lawyer and university president, was born near Paris, Tennessee, on May 1, 1848, the son of George W. and Lucretia P. (Lambdin) Prather. In 1854 he moved with his family to Texas, where his father acquired a large plantation near Waco. In 1867 his father sent him to study under Gen. Robert E. Lee at Washington College, Lexington, Virginia, where Prather received an LL.B. degree in 1871. Prather was a pallbearer at Lee's funeral in 1870. He was admitted to the bar in Waco, Texas, in 1871 and practiced there for twenty-eight years. From 1875 to 1878 he was Waco city attorney. For three years he was a master in chancery for the Houston and Texas Central Railroad. For the term 1895–96 he was president of the state bar association.
Prather's connection with the University of Texas began with his appointment as regent by Governor Lawrence Sullivan Ross in 1887. Prather became vice chairman of the board in 1895 and chairman in 1899. He was made acting president of the university in 1899 and president in 1900. Washington and Lee University conferred an LL.D degree on him in 1900, and the University of Pennsylvania, in 1901. He was vice president of the National Educational Association in 1903–04 and vice president of the Association of State Universities in 1904–05. He had the highest of ideals for the university and gave himself wholeheartedly to carrying them out-so much so that he overtaxed himself with details that he might have entrusted to others. He thought that the president should promote the university, that the university should serve the state, and that the students should remember that the state looked to them for leadership. His reminder "The Eyes of Texas are upon you" gave rise to the university song.
On February 3, 1875, Prather married Frances H. Kirkpatrick, and they had five children. He died of heart failure on July 24, 1905.