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Cathy and Clay Killinger '83 - Giving for High Impact

Take a few minutes to visit with Clay Killinger, and you will understand how UTSA is changing lives. Killinger, a 1983 graduate, is now senior vice president and controller at San Antonio–based Valero Energy Corp., the largest independent petroleum refiner in the United States. He credits the university with pointing him in the right direction, and because of that, he and his wife, Cathy, have become two of UTSA’s biggest supporters. Recently, their generosity brought more than $75,000 to the university, to be used by President Ricardo Romo for areas of greatest need. They also were the catalyst for Valero’s decision to give a $2.5 million gift to support graduate students in engineering and business.

“UTSA provided me—someone who did not have any money—the opportunity to go to school and get a great education,” says Clay Killinger, who grew up in the Washington, D.C., area. “I’m a first-generation college student. In my family, there was not an emphasis on higher education. I was taught that after high school you had to get a job.”

And that’s what he did in the early ’70s. But after working in a seafood restaurant, he quickly grew tired of the meager wages. His role model—an Army colonel— unknowingly gave him a solution.

“He was my best friend’s father and he was a great man, the quintessential colonel. He was unbelievably fair, smart and intelligent. I can remember thinking, ‘I want to be just like that guy.’ ”

Killinger applied to the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va., but says the culture shock proved to be too great. He withdrew from the institute and did the only thing he could think of to do.

“Because of my family life at the time, I could not go home,” he says. “I needed to go somewhere. My best friend’s family had been transferred to Fort Sam Houston, so I packed up the car and, at age 18, drove to San Antonio.”

Arriving in the city, he stopped at the first restaurant he saw—a seafood chain—and landed a job. He lived with his friend’s family for two weeks before getting his own apartment.

“It was a little one-bedroom, fully furnished apartment for a month located off of Rittiman Road. The place was the center of all activity right off of Interstate 35,” he jokes.

But his focus wasn’t where he lived; it was on his future. He knew he had to get into college to have a chance at earning a decent living. That’s when he decided to apply to UTSA.

“I didn’t know anything about UTSA at the time,” he says. “It was just a university of convenience instead of a university of choice. Now things have changed a lot, and probably only in the last decade since Ricardo Romo has been there the university has transformed into what I call a more traditional school.”

He began as a business management major with the plan to work for H-E-B, a grocery chain he  frequented and liked. But after acing an accounting test, his direction took a slight change.

“My professor called me into her office and asked why I wasn’t majoring in accounting. I said, ‘Well, what does an accountant do and how much do they get paid?’ She told me. Then I asked, ‘If I  major in accounting, can I still work for H-E-B?’ ”

Killinger switched to accounting and achieved a 3.97 grade point average. In his senior year, with help from UTSA’s career services office, he landed an interview with accounting firm Arthur Andersen. He was hired, and over his career worked as an auditor for Whataburger, Valero—and H-E-B.

When Arthur Andersen shut its doors in 2001, Killinger was hired at Valero. He worked his way through the ranks and is now in charge of the accounting department.

“I’m proud I went to UTSA,” says Killinger, “because it is an inclusive university. Every student has a story, a history, and the professors and staff understand and can relate to what you have been through. They take the time to show you what you need to do. I’ve been blessed with a lot of guidance from people at UTSA.”

That’s why, Killinger says, he was eager to give back to UTSA and help the university reach its goal to become a national research university, while continuing to provide access to education.

“Giving to the university, helping it reach Tier One, is not just an investment in UTSA; it’s an investment in San Antonio because Tier One universities attract big companies and provide opportunities for our kids,” he says. “We’re not going to wake up one day and have a Tier One university. To get there takes as much effort as it did to get HemisFair ’68, or the Alamodome, or the PGA Tour, or the Spurs.”

Teamwork, he adds, is very important in achieving success. That’s the appeal he made to his bosses at Valero when he asked for their support.

“For the university to reach Tier One, it has to be a team effort. The time is right now, and business leaders, corporate officers and people from all walks of life who have been impacted by the university need to think about that and say, ‘I’m making that investment.’ ”

Cathy Killinger agrees. Also  from the Washington, D.C., area, she has adopted San Antonio as her home, and works as a volunteer helping many charitable organizations such as the Red Cross and the Ronald  McDonald House. She understands that it takes a team to achieve success and, that’s why she supports his efforts.

“He is so benevolent,” she says. “He takes pride in everything he does whether it’s being a husband, an alumnus, or working at Valero.”

UTSA President Ricardo Romo says the Killingers are a wonderful couple who truly understand what the university is trying to achieve. Their unrestricted gift will allow him to immediately respond to opportunities to advance the university’s mission, from travel or conferences for student leaders to faculty recruitment.

“The Killingers get it. They understand our efforts at UTSA to prepare all students to become leaders in their chosen professions. I am extremely proud of Clay and all he has accomplished, and I thank him and Cathy for helping other UTSA students become the best they can be,” he says. “Clay is passionate about his alma mater, has a great sense of humor and tells me what he thinks whether I like it or not—and I like that, that’s what a good friend is supposed to do. He has great ideas and vision for UTSA and is an alumnus our students can exemplify.”