Endowed Chair Named in Honor of Former HRI Senior Executive Director Dr. Larry McKinney

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – The Will and Pam Harte family and the Harte Charitable Foundation will fund a new endowment at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies (HRI) at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi (TAMU-CC) named in honor of former HRI Senior Executive Director, Dr. Larry McKinney. The $1.5 million endowment, aptly named The Larry D. McKinney Endowed Chair for Coastal Conservation and Restoration, will commemorate Dr. McKinney’s 15 years of leadership at HRI, his tireless efforts to advance the Institute, and his ongoing commitment to a healthy and sustainable Gulf of Mexico. 

“We’re proud to make this endowment in honor of Dr. McKinney and his many years of service and dedication to fulfilling HRI’s mission,” said Will Harte.

Endowed Chairs are hallmarks of leading research institutions, and the funds will support the activities of Dr. Jennifer Pollack, a distinguished scholar functioning at the highest level. Pollack leads the Coastal Conservation and Restoration group at HRI and is an ideal fit for this honorable position. This group examines how estuarine habitats like oyster reefs are affected by changing conditions, along with how to efficiently restore habitats to replace lost ecological functions. The Sink Your ShucksTM oyster shell recycling program is managed by the Coastal Conservation and Restoration group.

“We are thrilled to be making this award and naming of the Endowed Chair,” said Dr. Greg Stunz, HRI Senior Executive Director. “This opportunity will have a profound impact and will shape the future of the HRI in perpetuity. By establishing this endowed position, the Harte family continues with creating a legacy that extends beyond their lifetimes.”

Stunz said that these prestigious appointments are reserved as one of the highest honors that can be bestowed upon a faculty member, as they are at the pinnacle of giving and scientific performance in national and international arenas.

“We are delighted to contribute to this endowment to commemorate Dr. McKinney’s legacy and deepen HRI’s leadership capacity,” said Julia Harte Widdowson, Chair of the Harte Charitable Foundation. “We look forward to seeing HRI expand its conservation and restoration impact along the Texas Coast and around the Gulf of Mexico.”

McKinney served as Director of Coastal Fisheries for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department before being named Senior Executive Director of HRI in 2008. After serving as HRI’s Senior Executive Director, McKinney became HRI’s Chair for Gulf Strategies in 2020. McKinney fully retired from HRI in late August 2023 and was honored with this naming at a reception in his honor on August 30, 2023.

“Of my 52-year career studying the Gulf of Mexico, what I enjoyed most was my association with the Harte Research Institute,” McKinney said. “I’ve had the opportunity to work all around the world, but I keep coming back to the Gulf of Mexico, where I started and will finish my career, as it remains one of the most beautiful places in the world and has so much that’s worth saving.”

McKinney spent many years effectively interacting with stakeholder interests in the Gulf of Mexico. Through his education and experience, he had the unique perspective to balance a healthy Gulf and a healthy economy, and through hands-on research and committed leadership, he has developed a reputation for taking on difficult and controversial environmental issues like endangered species conservation, water resource development, and habitat loss throughout the state of Texas.

McKinney played a pivotal role in advancing HRI’s international program, holding three major Gulf of Mexico Summits that brought together Gulf leaders from the U.S., Mexico, and Cuba. He was integral in guiding stakeholders and scientists through the Deepwater Horizon disaster. McKinney was also responsible for fully integrating the “HRI Model,” a unique and interdisciplinary way of working that combines science with economic, policy, and sociological expertise.

McKinney led the Morris Deal Commission, a national effort to reform the management of recreational fisheries, leading to the publication of “A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries.” The recommendations in that document provided the policy guidance for the Modern Fish Act, signed into law in late 2018. The Act modernized management of the $18+ billion a year industry and assured continued economic and conservation benefits derived from saltwater angling for the foreseeable future.

In 2019, McKinney was one of only a hundred ocean leaders invited to participate in the White House Ocean Summit to set new priorities for U.S. exploration, development, and conservation. McKinney is also a member of the National Academies of Science Gulf Research Program’s Committee on Long Term Environmental Trends in the Gulf of Mexico, a two-year effort initiated in August of 2020, to assess the effects of restoration efforts in the Gulf following Deepwater Horizon and evaluate the possible influence of natural and anthropogenic occurrences, like climate change and coastal development, on those efforts.

While McKinney’s presence around the HRI offices will be missed following his retirement, his legacy and impact on the institute will certainly be felt for many years to come.

“Even though I’m leaving HRI, it will never be out of my heart,” McKinney continued. “Everyone who’s part of HRI, I just want you to know what a rare thing you are — I’ve never been around a group of people who are so willing to work together to a common end and it’s been my distinct pleasure to be a part of that.”