Accomplished entrepreneur Burt B. Holmes (BS ’54) can count numerous business ventures among his life’s successes, but he seldom deals in superlatives. “I live what I call ‘in the middle,’” he says. “When things are very, very good, I don’t get high. When things are not very good, I don’t get low. I just get up the next morning and go to work.”
That steady, assured work ethic has fueled not only Holmes’ career, but also decades of service and dedication to The University of Tulsa. The Tulsa native attended Will Rogers High School and received a scholarship to play basketball for TU in the fall of 1950. “I played for one year, and after that year, I figured out something about myself. I was coachable and in shape — all that I lacked to play at a Division I level was talent.” So, in true Burt Holmes fashion, he decided to get on with his life. “The coach didn’t even try to convince me to continue,” he notes matter-of-factly.
Holmes cofounded QuikTrip Corporation with business partner Chester Cadieux, and they opened the first store at 52nd and Peoria Avenue in 1958. Nearly 60 years later, QuikTrip has grown to 779 stores and more than 20,000 employees, and for the past 15 years has secured a spot as one of Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For.” Burt B. Holmes and Associates, the insurance business he built, later became The Holmes Organisation, which he sold to his son Jeff and Stuart DeSelms.
When asked what has kept Holmes connected to his alma mater after all these years, he says, simply, “I like to be around nice, intelligent people.” His service to TU began when he presided over the Alumni Association in 1959; and in the years since, has spanned areas from athletics to academics to the arts. During Holmes’ tenure as chairman of the Board of Trustees from 1991 to 1993, TU hired Tubby Smith as the head coach of basketball and Vince Westbrook to lead the university’s tennis program. “Both of those deals made me feel good and turned out really well,” he says.
Art also holds significant meaning in Holmes’ life, evidenced by a museum-worthy personal collection as well as the generous awards and scholarships he has established for students in TU’s School of Art. He is a longtime supporter of Gilcrease Museum, having served on the board of directors and as chair of the Thomas Gilcrease Museum Association. He says that the TU-Gilcrease partnership has been good for both the university and the city.
One of Holmes’ most recent gifts to the university represents his goal to see more diversity on TU’s campus. With a desire to ensure that any student has the opportunity to earn a degree at a top 100 university, he established six annual scholarships designated expressly for minorities.
Holmes has had the unique position of witnessing TU’s transformation firsthand. “I was on the board when the campus master plan was first put together and chairman the year we tore down the first properties west of Delaware. I’m happy to see that vision come to life,” he says. “TU has always aspired to do better.” Holmes, who continues to support the university’s vision, can be spotted in attendance at a number of TU and Gilcrease events throughout the year.
In recognition of his outstanding contributions to TU, the Alumni Association selected Holmes as the 2017 J. Paschal Twyman Award recipient. His reaction? “I had no idea, and I was exceedingly pleased and really happy. And I don’t get really happy.” He’s also quick to point out that he doesn’t consider what he does as giving back. “I just consider it the right thing to do. I’m part of TU, and I enjoy it.”