Born in Houston, Texas, January 10, 1931, Robert L. “Bob” Waltrip grew up in the family’s funeral business, Heights Funeral Home, and he often rode along in the lead car during funeral processions. Inspired by his father’s quick wit, Waltrip developed a great liking for practical jokes as a child and was always ready for the humor life would bring.
He attended Rice University and the University of Houston and earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1953.
Waltrip had always dreamed of succeeding his father in the family business and returned full time to Heights Funeral Home after graduation to manage and direct daily operations. Seeing much success, he began to achieve his vision of operating multiple funeral home locations. Waltrip acquired two additional funeral homes in Houston and continued to purchase and develop funeral home and cemetery operations across the United States throughout the late 1950s and 1960s.
In 1962, he founded Service Corporation International (SCI) as the parent company to facilitate expansion efforts; he took SCI public in 1969 and eventually to the New York Stock Exchange in 1974. Waltrip believed that loyalty was a critical attribute for success, and as SCI continued growing, he called on several longtime friends to make up the company’s senior management team. SCI is now the largest operator of funeral homes, cemeteries, crematories and other funeral-related operations in North America.
In addition to his entrepreneurial endeavors in deathcare, Waltrip was a founding member of Food Corporation International, Energy Services International, Cash America International and Tanknology Inc.
Compelled to preserve the rich heritage and history of funeral service, Waltrip turned a 25-year-old dream into reality when he founded the National Museum of Funeral History in Houston in 1992. The museum remains the largest educational center on funerary customs in the United States and perhaps the world.
Aviation was another of his passions, and he held a commercial pilot’s license. Recognizing the growing public interest in World War II aircraft and memorabilia, Waltrip responded by founding Lone Star Flight Museum in 1985 in Galveston, which moved from its original location in 2017 and is now a featured attraction at Ellington Airport and quickly becoming one of the premier flying museums in the world. Waltrip was also a driving force behind the creation of the Texas Aviation Hall of Fame.
A lover of the outdoors, he acquired several ranches and stayed active in ranching and agriculture. Waltrip bred and raised cutting horses, as well as Rhodesian Ridgeback dogs, and was the first to import the Italian breed of Romagnola cattle into North America. Later, he developed a new breed, Romangus, by crossing Romagnola with Angus.
Waltrip is survived by sons Robert L. Jr. and William B., daughter Holly, six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.