By Ava Dunwoody | Editor-in-Chief
What has five bedrooms, a giant teddy bear and is nearly impossible to get pizza delivered to? The Allbritton House — home of Baylor presidents and the first families since 1974.
Located in the middle of campus, the Allbritton House was built after well-known donors Joe and Barbara Allbritton refused to give the university another penny until its funds were used to build a permanent family residence for the Baylor president. Judge Abner McCall and his wife Mary were the first residents of the Allbritton House.
“Baylor University is deeply grateful to Joe and Barbara Allbritton for their generosity that is evident across the university, including Allbritton House, the home of Baylor presidents and their families for nearly 50 years,” said Lori Fogleman, Baylor spokesperson.
In 2017, current President Linda Livingstone and first gent Brad Livingstone moved in to what was an empty house, left vacant for a year after former president Ken Starr’s firing.
“As far as the actual physical place, I would say when we first came in here, it just felt weird, especially with all the dead cockroaches and things like that,” Brad Livingstone said. “But being able to transform this house into our home, we always realize this is Baylor’s … it’s the university’s house, but we get to make it our home.”
With first pup BU at his feet and coconut HTeaO in his Baylor cup, Brad Livingstone met with The Baylor Lariat inside the Allbritton House for an official tour.
Livingstone said when they moved in, they replaced most of the furniture with their own and added personal decor to lighten up the rooms. Above the fireplace stands a family photo of the Livingstones with their now 25-year-old daughter Shelby as a child, as well as a stone nameplate with the family last name engraved on it.
Around the house, there is scattered Baylor memorabilia, family photos, a few of Shelby’s beloved stuffed animals and a cabinet with over 100 coffee mugs collected by the first gent from various locations.
They were not required to keep any of the previous furnishings, but the family decided to hold on to a grand piano, an antique grandfather clock adorned with the university seal and a wooden crib that Brad Livingstone said may have belonged to Judge Baylor’s family.
The Livingstones also made a few foundation updates, including raising the downstairs door frames to 7 feet to accommodate both the president, who is 6 feet tall, and the first gent, who is 6 feet, 10 inches tall. They also wanted a wheelchair-accessible bathroom for guests, which led them to discover a well-kept secret during the remodel.
“This is where it gets kind of cool,” Livingstone said. “They started ripping out Sheetrock all over the place, and that’s when Linda and I realized No. 1, that this house was built in 1974 and No. 2, that the NoZe Brotherhood snuck in here during construction.”
The NoZe Brotherhood is a secret society at Baylor founded in 1918 that is known for its satirical newspaper, The Rope, and its notorious pranks.
“In all of the studs in the walls that are covered up by Sheetrock, the NoZe Brotherhood snuck in here and had stenciled ‘NoZe Brotherhood Construction Company 1974’ spray-painted on every one,” Livingstone said.
But the history of the house is marked by more than just the affectionate jest of a student group, Livingstone said. The Allbritton House represents the desire of the Baylor president to be involved on campus and visible to students.
“As you walk out that door, you’re on, and there are thousands of students that will be walking around,” Livingstone said. “When we first got here, we made a conscious effort to go out among the students and be visible. And when you’re 6 feet, 10 inches, it’s really easy to be visible. You don’t hide anywhere.”
Mansfield junior Adam Hunt said he appreciates the visibility of the first family.
“I think seeing them all the time on campus and other events just shows others that they are dedicated to making us feel at home and special,” Hunt said. “It’s nice being on a campus where the president and her family are so involved.”
Fogleman, the Baylor spokesperson, said, “Living on campus in Allbritton has connected [the First Family] to Baylor students in many meaningful ways, from special events on their front lawn to the time they spend meeting students as they walk our beautiful campus.”
It’s not uncommon for the first family to be stopped on walks for a selfie with students or for students to snap photos of them around Waco, paparazzi style. Livingstone said one time, he was in the Chick-fil-A drive-thru line with his daughter and BU, and before they even got their food, they saw photos of themselves pop up on social media with the caption, “First pup BU is at Chick-Fil-A!”
Livingstone said he loves seeing photos like that and thinks they are hilarious. BU even has his own Instagram, run by Shelby Livingstone, with over 3,000 followers: @firstpup_bu. But for Livingstone, being in the public eye is more than just funny photos — it’s an opportunity to minister.
“I’ll put [BU] on leash and I’ll go out and I’ll just say, ‘OK, God, let us meet at least one person that needs a word of encouragement,’ and he’ll honor that prayer fifty fold every time we go on a walk,” Livingstone said.
Another way Livingstone uses the Allbritton House for ministry is by playing music on the speakers in the backyard. He said the idea came to him one week when he felt the anxiety of test week in the students he talked to, so he wanted to play music to brighten their day. Livingstone said he asks God from his prayer chair in the house if that day would be a good day to play music for passersby to hear.
“There’s something about music that just makes you feel good or reminds you of things,” Livingstone said. “And so I put together a playlist, just a fun song playlist, and most of it is just contemporary songs. But I’ll throw in a song that is spiritual, that is a Christian song, and that is very powerful.”
Hunt said he appreciates the effort Livingstone makes with the music.
“It’s nice to walk past while going to another class and hearing a random song that you like,” Hunt said. “Something as little as that can make me smile.”
In the evenings, the Livingstones attend a variety of banquets, dinners, ceremonies and more on campus.
“Usually, there’s one or two Baylor events that will be taking place [each night], but we love that,” Brad Livingstone said. “If we lived off campus, it would be much more inconvenient for us to go to all of these events, but living right on campus, we can walk to almost every event.”
Livingstone said one unique aspect of their lifestyle is they don’t have a lot of time for regular household duties. Because the first family is required to live in the Allbritton house, they do not have to pay house bills, and they are provided with a housekeeper who comes three times a week. For food, they often eat out at events or pay for a meal delivery service. If they do cook, however, they have a few favorites.
“Linda is, among other things, an amazing cook,” Livingstone said. “She makes the best fried okra you’ll ever try. I make the ribs or anything cooked on the grill. That’s what I do. That’s my area.”
When there is time to wind down, the couple enjoys riding bikes or watching “Ted Lasso.” The Livingstones said they also try to get away once in a while to a house on the Brazos River, which they bought right before the pandemic.
“As soon as I get to the river house, it’s like my whole body just says, ‘We’re done. We’re just going to relax for the rest of the day and get out on the boat or the jet ski or the swimming pool and just relax,’” Livingstone said. “So that’s a place that we can actually decompress. But since school has started, we don’t get a chance to go out there very often.”
When they aren’t using the river house, they open it up to groups like Baptist Student Missions to use for student retreats.
“When I’m out at the river, it’s like I don’t want to leave it; it’s just so peaceful and so nice,” Livingstone said. “But when I get in my car and I get close to campus, it’s just that great feeling, and you see students and you just realize, ‘OK, this is why we’re here.’”
Being on campus in the Allbritton House is what Livingstone said has made the president’s job so meaningful. With the marks of history over the years left inside of the house, Livingstone said he’s not sure what they plan to leave behind after they are gone.
“I’ll be more than happy to loan Baylor one of my coffee mugs,” Livingstone said. “But we haven’t even thought about that because we’re not planning on going anywhere anytime soon. … We’re not done here.”