Former TCU history professor, NFL player dies

Ben Hamill Procter, a record-holding receiver, Harvard graduate and professor emeritus of history at the university, died of Parkinson’s disease on Tuesday. He was 85.

Procter earned his B.A. and M.A. in history from the University of Texas at Austin, where he played football as UT’s leading receiver from 1948 to 1950, Kenneth Stevens, a history professor, said.

After graduating in 1950, Procter’s average gains of 16.8 yards per catch got him drafted by the Los Angeles Rams. Procter met his wife, Phoebe, in Austin and they were married after she graduated from UT in 1952. 

“It was meant to be,” Phoebe, who had known Procter since high school, said. “And I anticipated an adventure.”

After a brief career in the NFL, a back injury sent Procter in a new direction. In 1952, he took the money that he earned in the NFL and pursued a doctorate degree in history at Harvard University. 

When Procter began teaching at TCU in 1957, he taught five classes in U.S. history and worked to complete his dissertation. Procter’s teaching career at the university was well-received by his father, L.C. Procter, who lettered in TCU baseball from 1905 to 1908.

In 1960, after Procter had officially earned his doctorate degree, he devoted his full energy to teaching. 

During his 43 years at the university, Procter was consistently known for his rigorous courses and animated lectures, Stevens said.

Most students struggle to remember 80 to 85 percent of the teachers they had, Mike McCracken, former Dean of the College of Science & Engineering, said. 

“But if they had Ben Procter,” McCracken said, “they always remember Ben.”

Procter’s enthusiasm for political involvement urged many students to begin getting involved with local politics.

“He would tell his class, ‘I’m a democrat with a big ‘D’ and a little ‘d,’” Stevens said.

Whether or not students or faculty agreed with him, McCracken said, Procter caused people to think.

Procter’s first published work came in 1962 when he released the first-ever published biography of John H. Reagan, an influential political figure in Texas history.  

Procter is perhaps best remembered in the national academic community for his two-volume work on William Randolph Hearst, the man credited with shaping American journalism, published in 1998.

But even as a publishing historian and devoted professor, Procter never distanced himself from family life.

Procter took his work home with him, quite literally, Ben, Procter’s son, said. 

“There were always people dropping by the house,” Ben, who graduated from TCU in 1981. “Either to discuss academic problems or studies they were struggling with if they were having any kind of difficulties.”

His passion for education and interaction with students led him to embody TCU’s academic goals, McCracken said. 

He had a larger-than-life presence, but those around him never felt in the shadows.

“I think every wife must think that she has the most exceptional husband on the face of the land,” Phoebe said. “But I really did.”