The University was saddened to announce that Charles B. Runnels, Chancellor Emeritus of Pepperdine University, passed away October 25, 2016. He was 91.
“Pepperdine University has lost one of its best friends and finest leaders,” says Pepperdine president Andrew K. Benton. “His impact can be seen all over campus, in its buildings and programs, and in the people who have made our University strong. His consummate ability to make friends around the world is something that has changed Pepperdine forever. Although I will miss him sorely, I look forward to celebrating his life with his family and all who loved him.”
Runnels was first introduced to Pepperdine in 1967, “on loan” from Houston-based Tenneco Corporation to help search for a new campus for George Pepperdine College—joining the site selection committee that ultimately chose a Pacific panorama from 40 possible venues. The two-year assignment turned into a permanent calling, and Runnels became an integral part of the construction plans of the new liberal arts college campus.
After serving as the University’s vice chancellor from 1971 to 1984, Runnels was named chancellor in 1985. Serving under five Pepperdine presidents, he was also elected as a University regent in 1977, later being named a Life Regent in 2010.
As chief fundraiser for the University, Runnels’ personal philosophy of investing in Pepperdine students rather than the institution itself inspired many to become friends of the University. Runnels personally raised money for thousands of student scholarships, always keeping students his top priority. He successfully coordinated fundraising activities for the $100 million Wave of Excellence campaign in the 1980s and served as one of three co-chairs of the $300 million Challenged to Lead campaign in the 1990s.
Runnels was also the founder and decades-long steward of the Youth Citizenship Seminar. One of his proudest career accomplishments, the five-day program brings 250 outstanding high school juniors to Pepperdine each year to explore themes of free enterprise, leadership, freedom, and faith.
After more than two distinguished decades as chancellor, Runnels was named Chancellor Emeritus in 2006, though his calendar remained full as he continued his work with Pepperdine Associates and University Board members to invite new friends into the Pepperdine family. He often made friends at Rotary Club meetings, town hall meetings, and church services as he affirmed daily his vocational mantra, “It’s all about the students.”
A fervent supporter of Pepperdine Athletics, Runnels was also an ever-present fixture on the sidelines of Waves sporting events. The University honored him in 2010 with the dedication and naming of the Waves athletics complex as the Charles B. Runnels Sports and Recreation Village. That same year, he received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at the Seaver College commencement ceremony in recognition of his many decades of service to Pepperdine.
Runnels is survived by his wife Amy Jo (’00); sons Duke Runnels and Tyler Runnels (’78, MBA ’80); daughter Susan Runnels Plumb (’80); daughters-in-law Ginger Runnels (’75) and Jasmine Niklas Runnels (’78); son-in-law Charles Plumb; and grandchildren Chase Runnels (’05), Megan Runnels (’10), Alex Robertson (’09, JD ’14), Jessica Robertson, Christopher Runnels, and Caitlin Runnels.