UT Tyler
2016 Distinguished Alum Honorees

Focus on Alumni

Exemplars of Achievement

UT Tyler’s 2016 Distinguished Alumni and Distinguished Young Alumnus

Alumni of The University of Texas at Tyler make their mark every day in a variety of fields and professions, leading by example and changing the world for the better.

While proud of them all, the university pauses each year to highlight two Distinguished Alumni and one Distinguished Young Alumnus whose achievements are particularly extraordinary. This year’s honorees include a respected university president, an award-winning family law attorney and a management professional of a National Basketball Association team.

Recognized in April at the annual UT Tyler Alumni and Friends Gala, the 2016 honorees are: Distinguished Alumni Dr. J. Blair Blackburn and Kathryn Murphy; and Distinguished Young Alumnus Matthew Riccardi.

“All three of our 2016 honorees have contributed much to their professions and their community, so it brings us great pride to be able to recognize them for their accomplishments as UT Tyler alumni,” said Brittany Childs, director of alumni relations.

Dr. J. Blair Blackburn

Blackburn has a knack for turning creative visions into reality.

He did so as executive vice president of Dallas Baptist University, where he conceptually designed 34 new campus buildings in the likeness of famous early-American architectural wonders. His planned development won numerous design awards and inspired his book, “A City on a Hill:  Dallas Baptist University an Architectural History.” The book explains the significance of each building and how their creation over the course of 20 years transformed the campus.

“We taught students excellence in their lives by creating magnificent facilities that reflect Christ’s excellence. If you show students excellence, they’ll model it in their own lives,” Blackburn said.

He now focuses on his next creation—a residential housing development at East Texas Baptist University in Marshall, where he began as university president last June.

Leadership comes naturally to Blackburn, who rises early each day, works late and loves his job.

“It’s the passion to serve that drives me. My dad taught me that anything worth doing is worth doing right,” he said.

He worked at DBU for 20 years and previously held administrative positions at other institutions of higher education, including his alma mater, UT Tyler.

During his time at DBU, where he oversaw campus development as well as enrollment, the student population grew from 2,800 to more than 5,500 students, he said.

Blackburn’s penchant for school governance began in high school in Minden, Louisiana, where peers elected him student body president. He then went to Tyler Junior College, where in different years he was class president, captain of the cheerleading squad and student government president. He also was elected parliamentarian of the Texas Junior College Student Government Association and held part-time jobs in TJC’s offices of student activities and the dean of students.

“I loved college work and working with students, and that really drove my passion for student government leadership,” he said.

He then attended UT Tyler on scholarship and graduated cum laude in 1991 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. As a student, he held several honor society memberships, served as a Student Foundation ambassador for the admissions office and was elected student government vice president. Through student government, he got to know UT Tyler’s vice president for administration and chief student affairs officer at the time, the late Dr. Robert Jones, who became his lifelong professional mentor.

After earning his doctorate in education, Blackburn worked for two years at Paris Junior College before Jones hired him back to UT Tyler as director of student life. In that position, Blackburn led students in starting the Robert L. Jones Student Leadership Award, which is still given today in honor of Jones, who died last year.

“I would not be a college president today if it had not been for Dr. Jones investing in my life,” Blackburn said.

Kathryn Murphy

Murphy has dedicated decades to helping families navigate through divorce.

“Divorce is a very difficult time in people’s lives. I just want to bring them up to a higher level and help them get through the process in a healthy, productive way,” said Murphy, a partner at Goranson Bain, PLLC in Dallas and Plano and chair of the Family Law Council of the State Bar of Texas.

Because of her success, she is frequently recognized as one of the top family lawyers in the state and beyond. Most recently, Murphy was named the 2015 “Lawyer of the Year” among Dallas family lawyers by Best Lawyers, an industry publication that chooses recipients based on a particularly high level of peer recognition. She also received the 2013 Annette Stewart Inn of Court’s “Serjeant of the Inn” Award for her significant contributions to the profession and the community throughout her career. Murphy is consistently included in Thomson Reuters’s list of “Top 50: Women Texas Super Lawyers.”

Her awards and accolades are well earned. Attorneys who handle divorces deal with some of the law profession’s most stressful and difficult cases.

Still, Murphy loves helping people through such difficult times and discovered early it is her passion. After law school, she did business litigation work for a large Dallas law firm, then changed course two years later. Pro bono work she had been doing through the Dallas Bar Association’s Lawyers Against Domestic Violence proved so satisfying that she decided to start her own practice specializing in family law.

She has become known as a family law expert with specialization in complicated property matters, such as business valuations and characterization of property, as well as child custody matters. A past president of the Texas chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, she has taught family law and authored several professional articles and books on the subject, including “Protecting Your Assets From a Texas Divorce” and “Family Law at Your Fingertips.” She also co-authored the three-volume textbook for lawyers, “Texas Family Law Practice Guide.”

Originally from Montana and North Dakota, Murphy came to Texas for a full scholarship at UT Tyler, where she was on the president’s honor roll, was a member of the Alpha Chi Honor Society, and won a speech performance scholarship award. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English in 1986, the same year UT Tyler named her a Distinguished Student. Thirty years later, the university has named her a Distinguished Alumna.

Matthew Riccardi

Though Riccardi and fellow NBA management professionals jump through hoops for their team, they joke about their jobs being “work.”

“The hardest day that I have in this business is still better than the greatest day doing anything else,” said Riccardi, senior manager of basketball operations and scout for the Brooklyn Nets professional basketball team in New York.

“It’s amazing what I get to do for a job every day. I do things like watch basketball games and write scouting reports, and I get paid to do it. It’s truly remarkable. I don’t consider it work.”

A holder of two degrees from UT Tyler, Riccardi is in charge of helping the Brooklyn Nets’ 15 professional basketball players with off-the-court challenges, such as relocating to New York and securing housing, finding babysitters, managing personal finances and learning about NBA professionalism.

“I like to call it a life coach role, where you’re teaching these young men who are very successful how to grow as individuals in this highly stressful world that they’re living in,” he said.

Riccardi travels with the players and works long days while filling a vital role behind the scenes:  “You’re on call 24 hours. You might get a call at 2 a.m. from a player or from somebody who needs something, and you’ve got to be ready to go with the information.”

He also helps with scouting by watching college, minor league and international basketball games and evaluating potential players for his team.

He credits UT Tyler for preparing him for his career: “UT Tyler was very influential in my development and how I got to where I am today.”

A New York native raised in Dallas, Riccardi attended UT Tyler, earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration in 2007 and 2009, respectively.

As an undergraduate, Riccardi was team captain of the Patriots men’s basketball team, a Student Athlete of the Year, a Business Student of the Year Scholarship recipient and a three-time recipient of the Academic All-Conference award, among other distinctions. In graduate school, he was as assistant coach for the Patriots men's basketball team and graduated first in his class.

College team leadership gave him experience coordinating players who grew up in different places and situations, which has proven invaluable, he said.

“A lot of that experience, I carry over to the NBA, where I’m dealing with guys who grew up in almost every walk of life,” he said.

After getting his MBA, Riccardi did a financial internship in the Netherlands, served as a head coach for a semi-professional team and did an internship with the New Jersey Nets, which later became the Brooklyn Nets. He was soon hired full time.

“I always wanted to be in basketball,” he said, “so this is a dream come true.”



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