nonprofits_2 Bobby B. Lyle in Caruth Hall at the Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering at Southern Methodist University. photography by Holt Haynsworth

BOBBY B. LYLE: “You Get Started Early”

Time and again, event organizers have learned that honoring Bobby B. Lyle is a tricky proposition. First you have to get past his well-known humility.  Then you have to get on the “wait list” for an opening on Bobby’s 24/7 schedule. And, finally, you face the daunting task of recounting his long history of accomplishments, both professionally and personally.

Yes, he’s more than distinguished himself as an educator and mentor, and his success with such enterprises as Lyco Energy Corp., 1-800-Flowers, and Cheddars Restaurant has allowed him to want for little. But his involvement in the world of philanthropy is mind-boggling: Southern Methodist University (he’s given more than $3.4 million for the Cox School of Business and the Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering), The Salvation Army (more than $1 million), and the Boy Scouts of America (more than $1 million) are just a few of his endeavors. Vastly unassuming, he is courted by the high and mighty of nonprofits like Communities Foundation and the Trinity Trust as much for his strategic brainpower and ability to inspire others as for his financial support. 

In many ways, his life shouldn’t have taken this path. After his father died when Bobby was 3 months old, this only child might have been satisfied with far less. But thanks to his hardworking mother, Lucille, and “lots of aunts and uncles who were working-class folks” in Eldorado, Ark., he learned an important lesson early: “taking care of the community.” From joining his uncle to “raise” a church as a mere boy to initiating a program of SMU business students when he was 29 to work with South Dallas minority businessmen back in the 1970s, he recognized the power of people coming together for the good of others.

“I would hope people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s get it,” the father of two stresses. “That they understand that there is a place for them in this whole area of philanthropy, and it’s not that you have to wait until you make a lot of money and you give it away. No, you get started early and learn the community.”