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ACU Remembers: Former trustee Randy Nicholson

By on December 14, 2020 in ACU News, ACU Remembers with 5 Comments

George Randolph “Randy” Nicholson, an entrepreneur, benefactor and influential former trustee of Abilene Christian University, died Dec. 11, 2020, in Abilene at age 83.

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Nicholson graduated from ACU in 1959 and was a trustee of his alma mater from 1981-2010.
Randy Nicholson graduated from ACU in 1959 and was a trustee of his alma mater from 1981-2010.

Visitation is 4-6 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 20, at Piersall Funeral Directors (733 Butternut Street, Abilene, Texas 79602). A Celebration of Life will be held Monday, Dec. 21, at 1 p.m. at Oldham Lane Church of Christ (5049 Oldham Lane, Abilene, Texas 79602) and live streamed at olcoc.com/funeral, with a private graveside service later that day.

Nicholson was born June 10, 1937, in Hobbs, New Mexico, and at 18 months of age came to live with his siblings at Boles Children’s Home in Quinlan, Texas, where he graduated high school in 1955. He moved to Dallas and began to work for Safeway supermarkets, eventually requesting a transfer to Abilene so he could attend ACU. He met classmate Barbara Jean Hart (’59) on a blind date during her sophomore year, and they married Nov. 18, 1957.

When he enrolled at ACU, Nicholson turned down the free tuition offered to students who grew up in an orphanage, choosing instead to work full time and still graduate in four years with a degree in accounting. He became a CPA in 1961 and was a managing partner of an accounting firm he bought in 1962 and sold in 1963 to work with a family business owned by Hal McGlothlin (’58) and Ray McGlothlin Jr. (’49).

He went on to gain significant experience in the self-serve gasoline business as founder, president, chief operating officer and board member of E-Z Serve Inc. from its inception in 1971 to its sale – with 1,200 outlets in 26 states – in December 1986 to Harken Oil & Gas. He partnered with Ray McGlothlin Jr. and the late W.C. “Dub” Orr (’50) in building E-Z Serve; all three served as trustees of Abilene Christian.

A well-known innovator, Nicholson pioneered the use of automated pay-at-the-pump equipment that revolutionized the retail petroleum industry, becoming chair and CEO of AutoGas Systems Inc. – a former subsidiary of E-Z Serve – and running AutoFuel Co. (AFCO), a retail gasoline business headquartered in Abilene. In 2007, “pay-at-the-pump” technology was named the ninth-best innovation in USA Today’s look at the top inventions that changed lives in the previous 25 years, along with cell phones, laptop computers, debit cards, digital cameras and online stock trading.

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Randy, Barbara and Randa Nicholson pose in the 1980s with a portrait of Barbara’s father, the late H.E. Hart, namesake of ACU’s Hart Auditorium. Randa later married Jeff Upp, a 1986 graduate of Abilene Christian.
Randy, Barbara and Randa Nicholson pose in the 1980s with a portrait of Barbara’s father, the late H.E. Hart, namesake of ACU’s Hart Auditorium. Randa later married Jeff Upp, a 1986 graduate of Abilene Christian.

He was a member of ACU’s Board of Trustees from 1981-2010, and a leader through the years on the boards of West Texas Rehabilitation Center, Hendrick Medical Center Foundation, Arms of Hope/Boles Home Inc., Abilene Christian Investment Management Company and the Abilene Chamber of Commerce. 

“Randy will be remembered as one of the most selfless and thoughtful trustees in ACU history,” said president Dr. Phil Schubert (’91). “He and Barbara had many philanthropic interests at the university, and provided numerous important gifts that positioned us for future success. They had huge hearts for helping students in ways that reflected their humility and gratitude for how they benefited from the generosity of others who came before them.”

Randy was named ACU’s Outstanding Alumnus of the Year for 1991, and he and Barbara received the Humanitarian Award from Christian Homes of Abilene in 1995. The couple established the Randy and Barbara Nicholson Endowed Scholarship at ACU, where Randy also delivered the August 1994 Commencement address to graduates. In the mid-1990s, the Nicholsons served as co-chairs with James (’53) and Dr. Betty (Bell ’53) Muns of the “To Lead and To Serve” campaign that raised $114.2 million – more than three times the outcome of any previous fundraising effort in the university’s history.

In 1996, Nicholson, Orr and Ray McGlothlin Jr. shared Distinguished Business Leader of the Year recognition by the university’s College of Business Administration. Nicholson was inducted to the ACU Sports Hall of Fame with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010.

“Randy was a rare Christian man whose enormous talents were focused on things that really matter – that make a difference in the lives of countless people. And he did it in quiet ways,” said ACU chancellor Dr. Royce Money (’64). “He was a real servant.”

A veteran of the 36th Division of the National Guard (1956-62), Nicholson also was active in several Abilene congregations, including as a deacon and elder at Abilene’s Highland Church of Christ. Later in life, he and Barbara were also members of University and Oldham Lane congregations. Prior to Barbara’s death in 2017, the couple hosted many widows and widowers with quarterly luncheons, and served deployed soldiers with care packages seven times each year.

In 2018 he co-authored a memoir, Hindsight is 20/10: Reflections on Life With Unveiled Eyes, with his daughter, Randa.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Walter Vaughn Nicholson and Emma Jewell (Williams) Nicholson; brothers James Vaughn and Charles Lewis Nicholson (’57); a sister, Emma Jean Bitticks (’54); and Barbara, his wife of 59 years.

Survivors include a daughter, Randa (Nicholson ’88) Upp, and her husband, Jeff (’86); and a grandson, Braden (’17).

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  1. Avatar Neal Coates says:

    Many of us can comment on the personal influences of Randy Nicholson. As a college student, I was a part-time employee of E-Z Serve, a well-run company with Christian management/ownership. Closer to home, in my house hangs a large framed picture of my bride to be, photographed in the Nicholson’s backyard–Randy and Barbara always shared what they were blessed with.

  2. Avatar Deon Fair says:

    A great guy and good Christian Man. When I was about 8 years old I met Randy who was standing in a parking lot with Dub and Ray. I had no idea who they were but I remembered them and was impressed by how humble they were and nice to me. That they even wore golf hats and were casually dressed seemed important to me. Never forgot them and they all became role models.
    Later, as a fellow board member, Randy was always kind and always had a great smile when he greeted me. I appreciated him as a business guy and as a Christian.

  3. Avatar Allen Tappe says:

    Randy had a significant influence on my life as he did on ACU Tennis. He and Barbara were the real launching pad for the success ACU Tennis has experienced. Lots of memories.

    Randa, I know how much your Dad loved you and how you were by his side when Christmas was delivered to many special families. I know how proud he still is of you. Blessings to you and to your family.

  4. Avatar RoseMary Donnell says:

    He was my hero, I cut his hair for 45 years, I listened to his stories, he was an amazing man , I loved this man

  5. Avatar Angie Cowart says:

    Wonderful legacy of Christianity!

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