Robert Lee Proffer, educator and state representative, was born on April 14, 1909, in Ponder, Texas, to Elijah Franklin of Missouri and Agnes Jane (Rhine) Proffer of Illinois. Proffer had three brothers and a sister. His father served as the postmaster in Ponder from 1909 to 1917 and farmed. From a young age, Robert had a desire to improve the public education system. After graduating from Denton High School, he became a teacher and principal at Mayhill High School in Denton County from 1928 to 1934. On October 23, 1930, Proffer married Alva Lucille Stubbs. While attending North Texas State Teachers College (now University of North Texas), Proffer obtained his B.S. in chemistry on August 22, 1935, and his M.S. in public school administration on August 20, 1937. Proffer was a member of the W.N. Masters Chemical Society, the School Administration Club, and Gamma Theta Upsilon. His master’s thesis, “Equalizing Educational Opportunities for Children in Denton County,” was a preview of his goals for the next twenty-three years of his life both professionally and legislatively.
Proffer was employed as Denton County superintendent of schools from 1935 to 1942 and superintendent of schools at Justin from 1945 to 1949. In 1947 he was responsible for remodeling and installing butane heating equipment in the Justin school. Proffer began the process of consolidating the school districts of Justin, Roanoke, Rhome, and Haslet into what became known as the Northwest Independent School District, one of the largest school districts in Texas. A new school was built near the southwest corner of the intersection of State Highway 114 and Farm Road 156.
Proffer was also very active in his local community. He served as a member in the Denton County Tuberculosis Association, the Denton Kiwanis Club, as a board member of the Denton County chapter of the American Red Cross and the Kiwanis Children’s Clinic, and scoutmaster and chairman of the Denton County District Boy Scouts of America. Proffer was a longtime member, Sunday school teacher, and chairman of the board of deacons for the First Baptist Church of Denton. He also served as president of the Denton County Baptist Brotherhood and, at the time of his death, was a member of the University Christian Church in Fort Worth.
Proffer’s political career as a Democrat began on November 3, 1942, when he was elected to the first of two terms as the state representative of District 49 of Denton. He took office on January 12, 1943, and served until January 14, 1947. During the Forty-eighth and Forty-ninth legislatures he served on ten different committees: Agriculture, Appropriations, Education, Examination of Comptroller’s and Treasurer’s Accounts, Interstate Cooperation, School Census, Conservancy and Reclamation, Rules, and School Aid Appropriation. In his second term he also served as chairman of the School Districts Committee and vice chairman of the Education Committee.
On November 5, 1946, Proffer was elected state senator of the District 22 representing Denton, Wise, Montague, Parker, Palo Pinto, and Jack counties. During the Fiftieth and Fifty-first legislatures from January 14, 1947, to January 9, 1951, Proffer served on seventeen different committees. He was the chairman of the Congressional Districts Committee and vice chairman of the Education Committee during the Fiftieth Texas Legislature. He was also chairman of the Education Committee, vice chairman of the Federal Relations Committee, and vice chairman of the Public Health Committee during the Fifty-first Legislature. Proffer co-authored and co-sponsored the 1949 Gilmer-Aikin Laws, a series of bills designed to reform the public school system. The three bills provided higher salaries for teachers, consolidated 4,500 school districts into 2,900, and made state funding of schools dependent on attendance. The bills also replaced an appointed nine-member State Board of Education with an elected twenty-one-member board and guaranteed every child twelve years of public education with a minimum of nine months per year. The Gilmer-Aikin Laws also established the Texas Youth Development Council for juvenile girls and boys; the council later became the Texas Youth Commission. Despite having been unopposed in all of his elections, Proffer did not seek reelection, and his political career ended when his term expired in 1951.
Proffer’s post-graduate professional career focused on education until 1960. He was a member of the National Education Association and the American Association of School Administrators. He served as vice president of the Texas State Teachers Association (TSTA) in 1952 and as president in 1953. During his tenure, Proffer was instrumental in getting four pieces of legislation passed and signed by Governor Alan Shivers. Senate bills 334, 219, 163, and 336 increased teacher’s retirement pay, helped veterans who lost contributions, allowed teachers to return funds withdrawn, and allowed teachers to establish beneficiaries before retirement, respectively. From 1949 to 1959 Proffer was an associate professor in the School of Education at North Texas State College, became a member of the Pi Sigma Alpha government fraternity, and president of the Denton chapter of Phi Delta Kappa (1955–56).
On June 13, 1960, Proffer and Fort Worth attorney Hollis L. Atkison were indicted on twenty-three counts of mail and securities fraud for scheming to defraud Texas schoolteachers in a $100,000 soft-sale swindle that involved selling stocks in fraudulent investment companies and using TSTA funds for zero-interest loans with no collateral for themselves, family, friends, and businesses. Four men had already pled guilty and received probation from Federal Judge T. Whitfield Davidson with agreements to repay funds. After a two-week trial, the jury found Proffer and Atkison guilty, and Judge Davidson sentenced them both to five years in the state penitentiary with no opportunity for probation. Although both men indicated that they would file an appeal, no records were located regarding this appeal. Two years later Proffer was working in the chemical industry in Fort Worth. Whether he won his appeal, served a reduced sentence, or avoided prison by making full restitution of funds as the previous four men had is unknown.
With his career in politics and education ended, Proffer went to work in the private sector and became the head chemist for Craine Chemical Company of Fort Worth in 1962 until 1969. While he was employed by Craine, Proffer’s wife Alva petitioned for a divorce on January 8, 1964, and claimed that he had “entered upon a steadied course of excesses and cruel treatment” towards her. She was granted a divorce in the Denton County District Court on March 14, 1964, and retained her house and all the furnishings, while Proffer received a selection of books and other personal belongings. Their marriage produced no children. Three weeks after his divorce from Alva, Proffer married Elizabeth S. Youngblood on April 4, 1964, in Tarrant County. Elizabeth was a teacher and later became dean of students at Texas Christian University.
Company to become the head chemist, a position he held until he retired in 1976. Proffer and his wife resided in Fort Worth until his death. He suffered a cardiac arrest due to heart failure and coronary heart disease and died at the age of seventy-six on April 3, 1986, at Harris Hospital in Fort Worth. He was buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Fort Worth.