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Interview with: Jack Blanton
Interviewed by: Paul Hobby
Date: October 30, 2007
PH: This is an interview being done on October 30, 2007, by Paul Hobby of Jack Blanton as part of the Houston Oral History Project. David Goldstein and Bill Hewitt are in the room. We are in the offices of Mr. Blanton. I have done some preparation, if I can just refer to you as Jack.
PH: It will go more easily. I would like for you to just sort of start off with a little chronology about how you got here. I know you got here as a function of your father's decision to come to the Chamber of Commerce but what drove his decision to the extent you understand it and what were your impressions, how old were you? Let's just start on a linear . . .
JB: O.K., well, I will start then there. We moved to Houston in 1929. My father never got the opportunity to have an education. He was from up near Moody, Texas, somewhere north central. His father principally had a farm, a small farm, and also had a country store. I have had occasion this past week to go to a little thing at Southwestern University. My father went there for about 2 weeks. This would have been in about the early 1900s - 1905, 1906 - somewhere along in there, and he got there and after just a couple of months, his mother called and said that was one of those periodic times where everybody went broke. They had a country store. With a country store, everybody comes and has a card that put what they bought on it and then when they got through with their crops and the like, they came and paid for it. And everything went so far south that his mother called and said, "You've got to come home and get to work." So, he did.
He edited The Godly Herald . Anyhow, he was with 2 or 3 Chambers of Commerce and the equivalent. Eventually came to East Texas and then was given the job of being in Shreveport. He had lost his wife and had 3 little boys. And subsequently, he took those 3 boys and went to Shreveport, Louisiana to run their Chamber of Commerce. He, in a pretty short time, married my mother, who was a school teacher and whose father was then president of Centenary. He married her and immediately got the opportunity to go to Longview and run their Chamber of Commerce. After, let's just say, a couple of years, he got an invitation in 1929 to come to Houston. No experience with a big city but I guess people knew that he was pretty enthusiastic about anything he did. Anyhow, he went well on coming down here and was asked to come here. Arrived in 1929. I was 2 then. That is pretty much our early history.
He loved this city with a passion from day one and it was a very infectious type of education that we were receiving. I mean, he was a booster of anything that was happening in Houston. We just grew up with that as a part of our lives. Now, I can keep going or you interrupt me with where we go from here.
PH: I think you are doing great, if you want to talk a little bit about schooling and how you got to the University of Texas.
JB: All right.
PH: I think that that would flow just fine, and anything that you want to punctuate about meaningful things that happened in the civic history that affected your life. I know, as you have said, the rural folks were already broke by 1929. People just associate the stock market crash with the Depression. So, you got here just in time for the city people to go broke, too?
PH: That must have been an interesting time.
JB: Well, frankly, we never felt it. My parents were frugal. We never wanted. We had every meal that we needed. I believe that he was paid $9,000 a year. At least, some time along in there, that is what he was paid. But anyhow, we came to Houston, bought a house on Caroline, probably 6 blocks south of then San Jacinto High School and that is where I grew up.
PH: And so, you had siblings and half . . .
JB: Yes, but we never even thought about that. There were 7 boys in the family. We had 7. All boys. A lot of people kept asking where were the girls ever going to come in but they never did. We had a wonderful family with wonderful parents. Unfortunately, my grandmother lost her husband, the Methodist preacher. He died very prematurely of a brain tumor. She immediately, in about 1930, came to Houston to just help my mother take care of all those kids. So, she was a very important part of our life. Anyhow, I went through Houston public schools, first MacGregor and ultimately, San Jacinto. My parents moved in the middle of my high school. I had just turned 16. I foolishly skipped a grade, which I should not have but I did. I just showed up at Austin. That is all you had to do in those days. I paid my $25 a semester tuition. You didn't apply to go to school there then. You just came.
PH: We will just assume you were in the top 10% anyway.
JB: I don't think I was but I might have been close.
PH: I think that on Caroline there just south of downtown, I just read something recently about a tunnel that they used to smuggle out of and that there was a whole draw in there. There was sort of a natural drainage that has been filled in.
JB: Yes, and that ties in and that was exacerbated by and reflected when we had this problem in the Medical Center about 3 years ago.
PH: So, the Harris Gully is part of that same drainage featured?
JB: I am under that impression.
PH: Because there was a smuggling tunnel. I am not making this up. This was in the Chronicle about 6 or 8 months ago. But it was fascinating because there was this whole sort of trench drainage feature on the south end of downtown that no longer exists because they filled it all in.
JB: Yes, well, that had something to do with all of the water that we had. I was out there the day after that rain hit.
PH: Well, it was supposed to be a drainage and it backed up, and became an overflow device for the bayou. Of course, we never thought that could happen until it did.
JB: And essentially, I then went on . . . I went as everybody did then . . . it was during the war . . . I had 4 brothers in the service, all in pretty difficult areas. I did not end up . . . I decided to wait until I was 18 and I was then a junior at University of Texas. I elected, after consulting with my parents, to go ahead and just take my chances and hopefully go to OCS or something like that as soon as I was drafted. I went to Sam Houston, checked out and said, "You will be hearing from us in 2 weeks," and where you are to report and in less than 1 week, we dropped the bomb. My instructions were countermanded and I did not have to go anywhere. I am just guessing because I do not remember specifically but there was a point that it may have been that if you were in college, you could stay in college because we were still drafting a very few people. This would be in late 1945. Anyhow, I stayed in undergraduate school, started law school in 1947. I was a little young then. I had just turned 19. I started law school and elected to work my summers rather than keep going like almost everybody . . . the returning veterans came back to. At the end of my first year, I met a young lady that lived on our street, oh, just 5 houses from us on Delmonte. She was going to SMU at the time. I met her because my mother made me go to a church return of college students and the bottom line is by midterm, she decided that she might like to go to the University of Texas and called her intended that she was pinned to or whatever they were calling it at the time, and she and her mother met the guy in Madisonville and handed him all of the things she had given him and said, "I am going to University of Texas."
PH: All right. I am figuring this one out.
JB: Yes, and then, we got married the next year. I stayed in school my senior year and then came to Houston in 1950. I had the opportunity to go with a couple of law firms, not the big ones but a couple of early good little law firms. Then, my father-in-law whose name was Eddy Scurlock, leaned hard on me and said, "Jack, I only have one child and I really would like you to come work for me." And so, we discussed it. There were a few negatives but a lot of positives. And that is what I did.
PH: Well, let's back up a little bit. This is the Houston Oral History Project but you teased in such a big part of your life and obviously, those fingers extend back into Houston in many ways. Talk a little bit about UT at that point. Was the 40 acres just the 40 acres? Do you remember the Homer Rainey event?
JB: Oh, I remember it very well.
PH: So, talk a little bit about reasons you went to law school. Did you have a mentor and inspiration? Was it your father's advice? And the other thing I want to come back to is you said "not the big ones." Why in the world wouldn't the big law firms offer you a position?
JB: Well, all I am saying is that I don't think I had the grades. I made good grades. Vinson Elkins and Baker Botts, I never heard from, and those would have been the . . . I was well up in my class but I was not in the top. But I don't worry about that. Never did. And the decision I made to go ahead and work for my father-in-law was a good one for me in lots of ways, lots of ways.
PH: Now, is Home Rainey or any of that pertinent to your personal history?
JB: Not really. I was very well aware of what was going on up there and it was of interest to me but I won't say that I had any personal involvement at that time. And later, fast forward some years, I was on the Board of Regents of the University of Texas system and chaired it, and I had an absolutely fantastic time doing it. I really enjoyed it. It was a wonderful experience for me and I thought we had a real good group of people. We were jumping between Republicans and Democrats who were running, alternating almost, as governors and some of them gave you problems at times but I did not get too political.
PH: Well, I don't know if any of us could ever repair a university but if anybody has, you have come real close. But the decision to go to law school, I am interested in that. Why?
JB: Well, one, I looked up to my brother, Bill, a great deal. I admired and respected him very much. I finished undergraduate school . . . of course, I had planned to go to law school when I was 19 and I was not a real mature, in some ways, kid. I will say I went to law school to some degree because that was one, I looked up very much to my brother, Bill, and I didn't have anything else . . . it was either business or that.
PH: When was Heman Sweatt? When was all that?
JB: Heman Sweatt was while I was there, as I recollect. I mean, I kept up with that very much. It may have been a little bit . . . I have forgotten whether that was in the early 1950s or not.
PH: I don't know either.
JB: But I followed everything that happened.
PH: Did you have any feelings about that at the time?
JB: Oh, I would say, while I was not actively involved, I was very much in support of his being admitted.
PH: Interesting times.
PH: O.K., you got back to Houston and you are working for Scurlock Oil?
PH: Talk about the town, you know, the prominent leadership that you looked up to, what was happening economically. Obviously, we have been cyclical for a while. Where were we on the sound wave?
JB: I feel like, at that time in the early 1950s, Houston was . . . I won't say it was just blossoming . . . it was continuing to sort of really starting to move out, and it moved out because we were blessed with having a fantastic group of men who were dominating the picture - people like your father; of course, Mr. Jones was there for about 4, 5 years while I was there, and Jim Elkins and Gus Wortham, and a couple of law firm heads, and those men, by and large, while they had their little occasional instances of being petty, they still all loved this city. There would be a little flare-up every now and then when one got fingers stepped up and the like, but we were blessed as we could be in those years of having a great group of people who generally were very, very proud of this city and who, while they would occasionally have their little petty differences, they liked to work together and they did.
PH: You were obviously forming your impressions as an adult about this city at that time and had some other exposures. What were the differentiators? What were the things that you think made Houston different than Galveston or Beaumont or places that had as much or more natural gifts than we did?
JB: Well, we ended up with men who understood that we had to mature properly, who understood that it took leadership of, and I will say men - that would be men and women because women didn't get the chance to be very public about what they were doing in those days, with the possible exception of your mother - but the top people in this town were men that wanted things to go well for Houston and for it to grow. We were just very blessed at that time. They were rarely petty. You know, it is human nature to see a little pettiness here, there and yonder, but you didn't see a lot of that, in my view. I was very blessed because my father knew all of them in his job and they were very nice to me and treated me very cordially and I was very blessed with being able to get acquainted with virtually all of the major leadership. And, of course, I was just a kid still, I was not a factor, but I was able to see and respect the leadership that was there, and they made a lot of good things happen.
PH: You hear a lot about 8F, the room at the Texas Hotel.
JB: I have been in that room.
PH: You were in that room?
PH: Was it as persuasive a place as its reputation?
JB: Its reputation was probably a little bit beyond exactly what was happening. A lot of times, the decisions were made before anybody got to 8F.
PH: O.K., fair enough. Do you remember much about your ambitions as a young man, what you wanted for yourself, what you wanted for your city?
JB: Well, I guess primarily because of having a father that ran the Chamber of Commerce for a long time, it was just constantly embedded on me to try to be a part of the action. I was still just a kid and I did not get into a . . . I tried to be honest with many things as good judgement dictated. I got the privilege of going to a lot of things in the city, that went on in the city. But basically, I just got to know this city pretty well and I was very privileged to at least be accepted to a degree by almost all of the business leadership of the city. I meant, that they knew me, that they were primarily being nice to the son of their friend. And also, Eddy Scurlock. Eddy Scurlock was a highly respected guy. He never went to college. But who just strictly made things on his own and he was typical of a lot of very good men who stood up and supported what was going on in the city and I was blessed to be in the family.
PH: My understanding of Mr. Scurlock is that he had quite an interest in healthcare and that you encouraged his ambitions and probably facilitated his ambitions, but what other things was he interested in?
JB: Well, he was very interested in this church, for one thing. Healthcare. He never went to college but he became very interested in small church colleges and I have inherited a little bit of that responsibility and what I haven't, some of my kids have taken on. These were primarily Methodist colleges that he supported. But he never went past high school.
PH: All right. You have in your life made a great impression in lots of areas; in University of Texas and obviously, you, at one point, succeeded your father as chairman of the Chamber of Commerce here. Not succeeded your father immediately but succeeded into the same position. But art in particular, was that driven by Laura Lee's interest, was that your own interest?
JB: Did you say art?
PH: Yes. How did you get so interested in art?
JB: I would say that Loralei sort of got me going. We learned to appreciate art early. I never became an expert but I came to know what I enjoyed and what I did. We stayed very involved with the museum here. We stayed very involved with the National Museum for Women in the Arts. That is another thing that Loralei got very involved in, which is in Washington. We enjoyed art. We bought a good bit of it. I've got 14 or 15 pieces of art and I have given all my kids an awful lot of art as we have moved our house down in size and scope and everything else. In the next few days, I am going to be talking to them about . . . because I've got 2 grandchildren that have been at work for 2 or 3 years or 4 years and I have 2 of them building a new house, and they are going to have to have some art. Well, I have a lot of art stored that they can have. They have already taken a good bit of it.
PH: We should all have a grandfather like you. This is a statement that is meant to be a question but again, it is put out there as a postulation - you can agree or disagree with . . . as I sort of look at Houston history and have lived through a little bit of it, that you had leadership that established a positive sum game as their basic mindset. In other words, it was never a grab for a piece of a finite shrinking pie and more talent makes the pie bigger. And so, you had magnetic leadership, like Ben Love, like yourself, like Mr. Jones, who were interested in bringing better people to Houston all the time with an understanding that that would pay dividends to everybody.
PH: I am not sure . . . again, I am picking on Galveston and Beaumont but there was a time when these were all peer cities and one rose and the others didn't. It is interesting trying to differentiate why.
JB: Well, it was the leadership. I knew a lot of those people. Like the people in Galveston, I knew, met and got acquainted with almost all of their leadership starting back in the 1950s. Beaumont was a little bit the same way. They simply never grasped what effective, real leadership was. The families all primarily had wealth develop to a large degree through oil but not necessarily. It was in other directions, too. I will never forget - I can't tell you what the context of it was but I made a talk which I entitled "Leadership Makes the Difference," and, when you get asked to make little talks as you have been many times, that was sort of my pitch, too. The leadership counts. But we were blessed with having very good men, by and large. All of them weren't perfect and some of them had their imperfections, but by and large, we just had very good, wise men and women. And the women weren't allowed to be quite as up-front so much, but boy, it didn't take very long, and there was nobody that was any stronger than your mother.
PH: Having lived here, again, most of your life, you have obviously traveled and seen other cities. To this day, what continues to distinguish Houston, in your opinion?
JB: I think it is the enthusiasm of this city and the pride. And, sure, we've got warts, we've got a few things that still need to be done better, but everybody is proud of this city. I know I am. And I know everything isn't perfect. But we are trying to get there and we've got a way to go. But we have a city that . . . I hardly know of anybody, I can't think of anybody that I have heard in the past decade that has really criticized this city as a city. There are some things that needed correcting, we know that, but at the same time, it was pride in the city. And also knowing that we had to have some changes, we had to have some corrections as we went along, and we have had them.
PH: If you could change something about Houston, what would it be?
JB: That is an interesting question: if I could change something about Houston. I would say that we have been floundering a little bit with education, and I think that as time has brought with us basically many . . . I am going to have to use my words right here . . . but basically, the Hispanics and, of course, the African Americans . . . we haven't handled that problem near as well as we should have. We handled it about as well as most people did but we still could have recognized early on that we have got to educate them, we've got to give them enough . . . we need to help them with their health needs and the like. We didn't do it, near enough of that. We have been not going in a straight line but just jumping all around with regard to education. It is still a challenge for us here. Whether we can do a lot about it or not, we will see, but we've got to try harder. I don't think we have an option. It is a difficult one but we've got to educate as many people as we can. It is that simple. It is our future.
PH: Obviously, I couldn't agree more with that. I thought it was interesting the whole Katrina evacuation, obviously it allowed Houston to show its generosity and its confidence to the rest of the world, but we had some New Orleans people in our pool house for a number of months and one day, this guy comes up and he says, "You know, this thing that ya'll have in Houston, we don't have that in New Orleans." I said, "What thing?" He said, "This optimism thing. Ya'll think progress is inevitable. I am here to tell you, it's not." And I thought that was the most interesting thing.
JB: It is.
PH: We have this illusion and if it is an illusion, I hope we never lose it. If Houston became pessimistic, what would happen?
JB: We'd be in big trouble. But I think it was, of course, we had frankly the blessing of a mayor that had the vision to do just exactly what we did do. That was more Houston's nature, but it also took leadership to get in there. I will never forget coming back here . . . we went out of town, we went to a little place we had in West Texas, or in Hunt, Texas, just to wait out the storm, and the day we got back, we went to the 2 or 3 places where we were . . . well, the Brown downtown, the convention center, and several other places. Our church just right down the street here, we had a big program going on there for the individuals that were here. But that was done all over Houston.
PH: We may have really answered this already but during the 1950s, it seemed like there was a large relocation of independent oil and gas companies and that has never really stopped - it continues to this day - but Houston became the default headquarters for the upsteam energy industry. Why was that? Tax burden? Workforce?
JB: Well one, we started with people who, just from the beginning . . . the George Drakes, the George Mitchells, the Claude Hamills. We had a lot of very, very class individuals. Again, it goes back to this old speech that my father gave 4,000 times - leadership makes a difference. We just had good leadership here. We had good leadership and leadership does make the difference. Houston was a logical place. It was located geographically just perfectly. And we got started well. When you have a baby that gets born and it is brought up the right way, the end product is going to be there to let you know you did it right. But we also had good leadership and we had . . . you and I both know of 2 or 3 of the oil people that are just petty as they can be and not really very good citizens that contribute in a meaningful way but, by and large, the whole energy industry came into place and you had the larger companies, the Humbles, that, well, today, they don't have in Houston . . . well, they've got the numbers of people here but they don't have really the top leadership of either parent up outside of Dallas or wherever else it may be, but the momentum really of everybody coming together on the energy issue, the momentum simply was great enough to push us through a few ups and downs that we had. But the main thing is you got the leadership. I mean, we had the top offices of . . . while it wasn't headquarters, we had Texaco, Mobil, Gulf here. We just had them early.
PH: Let's talk about what didn't happen in Houston and specifically, with respect to race relations. Again, as you have said, our record is not unblemished in that regard. We have had Moody Park and a few relatively minor but unfortunate incidents. But Watts, Dallas, certainly Detroit - almost any other major city has had platforms with respect to race relations that I am not sure Houston has ever had. Camp Logan. Again, a black eye but not a trend. Why is that?
JB: Leadership makes a difference.
PH: The leadership in those communities as well?
JB: Leadership, yes.
PH: Single out some of the leadership in those communities.
JB: Like Dallas, Dallas has got a different philosophy than we do. They do today. San Antonio is moving up and out. Fort Worth is a city that, most of its citizens are very proud of it, and with good reason. But New Orleans was a pitiful excuse for a town, and there were too many factors that are very complex that never will let, at least in my lifetime, for it to grow. Also, you simply started with a strong Chamber of Commerce and it moved into the Greater Houston Partnership. I mean, it has moved up and out. It has the key people of this city pretty heavily involved. And these are people who are not just conservatives that almost hinder you with any new things you want to do. It is just like Rice. I will tell you, this city is so proud of Rice University - a small university that started in 1900 or a couple of years before that - and it is a meaningful institution. It is having a strong influence in this city. Getting the Baker Institute here and really letting us have access to a lot of things that are happening there. The University of Houston has continued to, while it has never been a straight line, but it has become a very meaningful institution in this city. That is very important. I am extremely disappointed over a lot of the things that happened in our predominantly black institution. I got pretty heavily involved in that before it hit the fan on that. I didn't get out heavily public but I did have a lot of conversations. The fact of the matter is - what is our gal's name who is president of it?
PH: Priscilla Slade.
JB: I helped get her to Houston. A friend of mine that I was on the board with, now AT&T or was AT&T but Southwestern Bell, a black board member on our board called and asked me to look her up; she was from a predominantly black institution in the school and it is strong over there, a strong black one, and she applied for the job of assistant dean of the business school here. As it turned out, she came . . . my friend called me and asked me would I look her up? I did. I called her. Met her at lunch. Within a short period of time, I also happened to be chairman of the board of Houston Endowment then and this was the right thing to do. I asked our board to come up with the money to build a new business school, a shambling mess out there then. But anyhow, we put together the funds for a new business college. She became head of that school and then moved up from there. I would see her a fair amount. I would call her from time to time and have lunch with her. But that was a very unfortunate mess that should never have happened. I regret it very much that it happened. But I am also very . . . we can talk all day on this whole area of race relations here. It is a challenge for us at all times. I have tried to be involved as much as I can in ways to make good things happen. I can't do all things but I can do some things. I tried to be helpful to . . . I am going back now ten years to . . . [end of side 1]
PH: Well, let's talk about Houston Endowment because obviously Houston Endowment was the majority of the estate of Jesse Jones. It seems unique to me in America to have civic leaders that would leave their fortune not to their heirs, not to a cause, not to an institution but to a city in effect. That is what Jesse Jones did and, to some degree, that is what Will and Imma Hogg did.
PH: You could almost say the same of lots of people. They left their fortune to their city as opposed to a specific cause, which is, I think unique. I am not sure that that happens a lot.
JB: Certainly, I know a lot about the Houston Endowment picture. It was one of the most interesting and exciting periods of my life to chair that. I won't go into some of the little problems that got started but it was long after Mr. Jones died. And, as you know, Mr. Jones basically had a very strange way of developing leadership within the whole Jones organization, and he had one man that took care of one range of activities and another one and another one and another one and another one. He had about 3 or 4 people that he looked to as they gradually grew old and some died. And then, there was a little flop blap! that came about that caused the board to be restructured a little bit, that I was asked to come in and help take care of, and I really don't want to get into this particularly.
PH: No, I don't want to go into it.
JB: That became certainly one of the most interesting things that I ever was involved with, where we had the . . . Jesse Jones never wrote down one word about what he wished for the future. He intended to let the past set an example and those are my words, not his, but that is what he did. He got the Fred Heynes of the world and people like that that he had total confidence in and he let them run the show. I ended up being elected chairman of the board, and the first thing I did was rewrite the bylaws. There was not one single word that Mr. Jones left in writing about what to do with the funds that he had. Not a word. And so, all you could do was look at, what kind of man was he? What were the things he was proudest of and stood up for? But it was going to be other humans that never spoke to Jesse Jones. He was nice enough to speak to me. We moved back to Houston after law school in 1950. Eddy Scurlock was in the same little building, the Bankers Mortgage Building, there on the corner of the Gulf Building block. He always spoke . . . I would see him in the elevator all the time. About all he would remember is this is Bill Blanton's son. But it was just a thrill for me. But then, later had the opportunity to be with the . . . anyhow, I thought we did a very good job of starting anew and afresh. It now generates about $75 million to $80 million a year. I think it is being done right. I didn't have anything to do with it. I purposely stayed out of this. I knew what was going on when we got Larry Faulkner to come down here. Again, I think he is typical of one of the best minds that we could ever put to work down here. So, we are blessed and we are blessed with a lot of them. Also, the heads of most of our major foundations, and I am going to say most because I don't want to say every single one. I don't know. But I know virtually all of them pretty well and we are blessed with very, very good, solid people. Some of them may be doing things with resources that I would have done a little different, but they may be smarter than I am, and never anything which I would be critical of, but we are just blessed with having some marvelous foundations that make good things happen.
PH: Well, I do think that you set the standard and the thought of something as big as Houston Endowment being adrift is a scary thing, and that you have set it right and made the gold standard and did what you needed to do to properly . . .
JB: I really feel like that was the biggest, the most important thing that I did in my life.
PH: That is saying something.
PH: From the 1945 Southwest Conference Doubles Champion.
JB: And I just want you to know I went and played a set of tennis right before I came here and lost, and I am still upset about it.
PH: I understand. Well, again, this is parenthetical but a couple of years ago when Larry was still at the University of Texas, he asked Julius Glickman and I to look into the Hogg estate because they had had some anonymous letters about this and that and all that. Fascinating trip through history because a donor intent was spelled out over a period of 40 years and every time somebody wanted something different from the Foundation, they would come to the Genteel lady who was the steward of those dollars originally and they would lead the witness mercilessly to get her to say things she did not want to say. So, it was horrible here in what these people were trying to do in terms of bending her intent but it was wonderful to hear her steely Southern rectitude about keeping that money on track and it is an interesting story about the Hogg estate, but probably a microcosm of what you were going through.
JB: Yes, but we are blessed with really having . . . generally speaking, with most of our foundations, they are run by next generations or the third or maybe even the fourth some of them. But we are blessed with the leadership that comes out of these foundations. And you don't find them out just buying mountains of jewels or the equivalent. They are not throwing away their money. I think we have set a good pattern.
PH: I think you have, too.
JB: You have to be careful of, as successive generations come into play, that you work at getting the right people involved. You do a great job.
PH: Oh, I don't know about that but thank you anyway. The other thing I want you to just comment on is the subject matter. As Houstonians, we like to talk about how unprovincial we are and how open we are and how accepting of society. Do you buy into that? Do you think that is the differentiator? If so, why?
JB: Well, I am pretty proud of Houston in general. We don't do everything perfect or everything right but I think sometimes we take a slow route to get there. Let's just take the last 15 or 20 years. We have had 2 or 3, 1 or 2 very weak, strictly second class mayors as far as I am concerned. We have had some first class. And every city deserves and needs but we don't all have first class leadership. I feel pretty doggone good about this city now. I try not to get into city politics particularly. I mean, I just don't have any reason to get into it. I express myself. I give nominal support. I don't give big money. I give what I think is right and reasonable. But I think by and large, we have pretty good city government. We have had 1 or 2 very weak in the last 2 decades but you are not ever going to have perfect. I think Houston is a city that expects its city leadership to be good and strong and fair and honest.
PH: You had to have been encouraged, being chairman of the Partnership, chairman of the Houston Endowment, successful in business, high integrity, respected by all. You must have been encouraged many times to seek office yourself. Why didn't you?
JB: Well, in my early years, my father would have hit me over the head. And secondly . . . you are giving me a little more credit than I deserve, but hell, I just had a lot of fun. I really did. It is fun to be in the middle of the action. I am fading out for it, Paul, and I know that. And I don't do near what I used to do. I am going to hit 80 in about 1 month and I am really slowing down and it bothers the devil out of me when I lose a tennis game like I did today, but I smile! This city has got great people.
PH: It does. Again, let me be provocative and try and take you off script, make you angry, whatever I can do. Gray Davis accused Houstonians and Texas of all this manipulation of their power markets and that all their bad regulatory decisions were our fault and the fact that they were having brownouts in California all was about Houston and about Texans. I took real offense at that. I took more offense when I found out it was actually true. Is there something about the open, free-wheeling, accepting, risk tolerant nature of Houston that gives us more scalawags and pretenders and white collar scandals than we should otherwise have?
JB: Well, Paul, I would say that, and your point is well taken . . . I would say that there were a lot of things that we ought to be ashamed of that happened, but I think the general characteristic of the business leadership of this city is much better than was reflected in . . . they weren't all pulling the kind of shenanigans we read about. It is just that out of a community and out of, say, 100,000 people in a city, you are going to have a few people there that if they can find a way they think to get away with it, they are going to crook and cheat any way they can. We just have to work harder at having the safeguards that we do now. I read about most all of the ones that come to the table. We have people that are crooks and don't have the standards that you and I would like to see. We just have to have an enforcement group that spots these things sooner. Sometimes they get into politics a little bit more than I like, and I don't like a lot of them. I won't try to get into a political discussion right now, but I have my own feelings, and I am not happy with a lot of what is happening. But these are, by and large, people that are engaged in business. I won't even call it good business people. But that are always looking for the easy, short way to make a quick buck. I just think we have to have a society that immediately tries to pinpoint those things and we have to have the wisdom of either a state government or a federal government, and I have my thoughts about both: that it doesn't really move near as fast as we need to move or as fully as we need to move. I don't think we will ever be free of manipulators or people that do things off color. That is just humanity as it exists. I don't care where they are. But we just need to have parents and teachers who do their best to try to get our people to reflect credit on themselves and our country. I feel very strong about it. I don't like a lot of things going on in politics today. I don't get very involved in politics at all. I don't give a lot of money, I give a little bit of money to politics but only where I think it is very deserved. But I have never tried to buy anybody. Not any reason to. I think we have to do nothing more than to try to insist that our leaders, our people that are really in charge of what is going to happen in a community, have got to be responsible and accountable, and we have got to work a little harder at this. There is so much that has gone on, particularly those of us . . . I am really out of the oil business totally but I have seen and read a lot about different things. It embarrasses me as an American. But you've got a lot of people that don't hesitate if they can make a buck, they are going to make it.
PH: They are. The last question really is, as you see Houston becoming a more mature city, and we are going to change because that is part of the genius of Houston - I assume you agree, that we are always going to change and adapt - but as we go from being a comparatively young city, moving into our maturity, what do you think are the critical success factors for Houston?
JB: Well, I don't mean to be getting into politics. I happen to feel that Bill White has set a great example, although we have had some good mayors. But he has set a great example. And I think that we have got to pay attention. I am very proud of the Greater Houston Partnership. It is an organization that really is genuinely interested in the welfare of this city and not just in business and other things. But we have got to have a city where the leadership speaks up, and they have got to be speaking up wisely and well. There are a lot of good things happening right now. It is just like I attended something last night with regard to a lot of the things on change that are going to happen with regard to the regional parks thing. Anyhow, you are seeing a real solid movement starting to move forward. We have got to do a better job. But we can't do everything just like that. We have got to keep moving in the right direction. And I think we have to have an encouragement to all of the business people here from the business leadership of what is really expected of us to have a Houston that is better in 20 years than it is now, better in 40 years, in 60, in 80, in 100 years. We have got really more assets in this city than almost any city that I know of, and that doesn't demean any other cities, it just means we have the opportunities to do a lot more. I mean, here, we are situated on the Gulf of Mexico, we don't have a lot of problems that come with storms so much anymore. I hope we never will. But we have a city with a relatively good climate. Humidity bothers a few people but it beats the hell out of New York City and Chicago as far as I am concerned. I just think we have got a lot of good things going for us, and the main thing is that we keep having people like you that move up, stay up in the leadership roles you are in now. I am serious.
PH: We must be out of tape now. Well, one followup to the last question. Your grandkids, the ones that are living here that you mentioned earlier that are building houses - what are the things that they are passionate about or interested in?
JB: Well, they are all interested in this city and they participate in things. I have 3 children. They are all active in things in very effective ways. They are on the boards of the right things. The museum. Everything that is good that is happening in this city. They are involved. But I think we have tried to set an example.
PH: You have. You have set a wonderful example not just for them but for all of us. Jill, David, what have I forgot? What should I have asked you that I did not? That is what they teach you at Fulbright and Jaworski as your last deposition question. What should I have asked you that I did not? Is there anything you want to say for posterity? Or Jill Jewett?
JB: I think we have to keep fanning the pride that we should have and do have in this city, and it is an infectious thing. I think we ought to be proud in the right way of what we are doing. We can still do a better job in education. We are not handling everything at all right with regard to our minority populations but boy, that is coming on like a freight train, and we have to be ready to adjust to the right things that need to happen to keep them. We cannot educate everybody from every part of the world here but I don't know how we can effectively do that. I am not smart enough. But we just need to keep working at it. We need to see that everybody gets educated. We need to do a little better job than we are doing of availability of healthcare, particularly for the underserved. I am very involved in the healthcare picture in Houston and I have been on The Methodist board for 35, 40 years, and M.D. Anderson and everything. But we still don't have our full act together on this. The well-to-do are getting pretty well taken care of but the underserved are not. And I know we can't automatically overnight bring in a lot of these things that cover every bit of our population. And, of course, as this city becomes an attractive place, there is no vehicle to stop everybody from coming to town. I don't know how to handle that problem. I wish I was smart enough to come up with some of the answers. We don't want to get too big but we want to keep working at trying to make what we have the very best that we can.
PH: Well said. Thank you again for your time. This was a pleasure for me.
JB: Thank you. This whole concept here is right for us to keep going.