Richard "Pinky" McNamara, an entrepreneur, former Gophers football player and one of the University of Minnesota's biggest benefactors, died Monday. He was 78.

"There are few families whose name is more identified with Gopher Athletics than the McNamaras," athletic director Joel Maturi said Monday in a statement. "Obviously, Pinky has been so generous in his involvement with the university, serving as a regent, and his involvement in athletics, not only with his gifts, but also his presence both in the academic area and the athletic area. ... He befriended me personally on the day I arrived at the University of Minnesota and we developed a relationship and a friendship that was important to me and it's one that I will miss."

Raised in Hastings, McNamara attended Minnesota on an athletic scholarship and became a three-year letterwinner for the football team.

Graduating in 1956, McNamara began buying floundering companies in hopes of turning them around. By 1988, he founded Activar, an Edina-based umbrella company for 15 companies he revived.

McNamara, who credited professors and advisers at the U for teaching him the analytic and problem-solving skills that led to his successful business career, made numerous gifts to the U. In 1992, he gave $3 million to improve undergraduate registration and advising and essentially was responsible for building the College of Liberal Arts' advising center, according to university officials. Six years later, he donated $10 million -- one of the largest gifts ever received by the U -- that was divided among the College of Liberal Arts, the men's athletics department and the alumni center, which bears his name, university officials said.

McNamara and his brother, Bob, also helped raise money to build TCF Bank Stadium. Both McNamaras played football for the Gophers in the 1950s. Pinky McNamara lettered in 1954, '55 and '56 and led the Gophers in all-purpose yardage during the 1955 season.

"Some people give their time, some people give their money, but nobody gave more of both time and money to the university than Pinky," said former Regent David Metzen in a 2005 Star Tribune story.

In 1997, McNamara received the university's prestigious Outstanding Achievement Award. He served as a trustee of the University of Minnesota Foundation and was appointed to the Board of Regents in 2001 by then-Gov. Jesse Ventura. He served as a regent until 2005, when he resigned because of health reasons.

McNamara was one of six boys raised by a single mother who worked as a nurse's aide. It was as a boy that McNamara earned his nickname.

"Our family didn't have any money, obviously," his brother, Bob, told the Star Tribune in 2007. "Pinky had a pair of red corduroys. If you wash red corduroys often enough, they become pink. The neighbor kids gave him the nickname because of those cords."

Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. June 2 at the Church of St. Patrick in Edina, with visitation starting at 9:30 a.m.

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