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Interview with: Leopold Meyer
Interviewed by: Louis Marchiafava
Date: April 19, 1978
Archive Number: OH 227
LM: [00:03] You want to ask me about it?
MI: Yes, I’m going to talk to you. April 19, 1978. Interview with Mr Leopold Meyer. Mr Meyer, I’d like to talk to you today about some of the people who played an important role in the city. You have given some—a great deal of information about yourself and about your business and about some of the people you knew in your excellent autobiography, The Days of My Years. So my purpose today in talking to you is to try to fill in some of the gaps that weren’t covered in the book, You couldn’t discuss everything that there was to discuss in the book—and since you have a detailed knowledge of many of the events and many of the personalities who played—which had—an important part in Houston’s history, I thought I would come here today and try to get some of that information and preserve it for future researchers.
LM: I’ll do my best.
MI: Thank you. I thought I’d begin by just asking you the general question of who were the important policy makers in Houston. Was there a core of—number of men who determined the future course of Houston’s history?
LM: Well, I’m sure that Houston’s whole life was—did revolve about comparatively few men, but only in the very late years was there a coordinated effort by these various men to develop this town.
MI: What years would you be talking about now?
LM: I would think that that the—if there was any real corroboration, it began about thirty years ago—maybe I’m wrong—maybe 25 but—I mean, 35. And I’m thinking of true prominent men who shaped the town’s destiny. There are some important men that we never hear talked of today, and I’m thinking—for example—of a man named Tom Ball—a very prominent legislator—who I think was really responsible for the development of the ship channel. Of course, it wasn’t a one-man job, but I don’t see how there would have been a ship channel without Tom Ball. Now, I don’t know of anybody who did so much in that connection besides Mr Jones. I don’t know of anything of importance that didn’t relate back to Mr Jones. I think he was a—the one person that all the other major people in Houston looked to for guidance.
[03:52] Well, I’ve known Mr Jones since I was a very young man. I think I met him in the early ‘20s. I remember having lunch with him on the occasion when I was really on an errand—having lunch on the roof of the Rice Hotel. And he was a man with a great sense of humor. On the way back towards Foley Brothers—that I was associated with—he said, “Lep, I have to have five million dollars. Can you let me have it?” Now in retro—in retrospect, I think if he had asked me for five dollars and I had difficulty in letting him have it, I—“Well, Mr Jones, I’ll let you have it if you’ll pay the right rate of interest.” We walked along a few steps, and he said, “Let me tell you something, and don’t forget it. If you can make a loan and satisfy yourself to own the loan, you can make money. Don’t argue about the rate of interest. Remember that,” he said, “all your life.” And I never forgot it.
Now I know a few more things about Mr Jones—in later years after he had served in Washington—where in my opinion—and I was a grown man then—he had more brains than anybody in Washington—and was feared. He was feared by Roosevelt. I often heard it said that it was difficult for Mr Jones to play second fiddle to any man including the President of the United States. I listened to him talk like a little kid looking up to an oracle. I lived—he lived on the sixteenth floor of the Rice Hotel—which he owned—and I had an apartment on the fourth floor—where I held my meetings and so forth. It was not my residence. I was very active and needed more accommodations than I could get at home or at my own office, and primarily I rented the apartment for my accommodations. That was common procedure in those days.
I remember an apartment on the fifth floor of Lamar—at the Lamar Hotel I want to say—don’t misunderstand—not the Rice—on the fifth floor was an apartment—belonged to Mr Gus Wortham—president of American General. On the fifth floor was an apartment shared by William A. Smith and Bob Abercrombie. On the tenth floor, an apartment belonged to Howard Keck, president of Superior Oil Company. Then—of course—when I say it belonging to, I mean being leased by. Then on the eighth floor was an important apartment around which more particularly the politics of the nation as well as the state and the city revolved. That was the apartment that was owned by Mr Brown—Herman and George—and everybody who had anything important to say or something to worry about or something on which they needed advice, the Brown brothers were sought out. I loved them both. I’ve known them for maybe 45 years—of course, Herman is dead.
[09:39] But getting back to Mr Jones—in the later years, after he had returned to Houston from Washington, he was a regular visitor at my apartment on Sunday afternoons. Of course—which is unique in my case—in the case of Mr Jones—I did more listening than talking—and always learned something. He’d spend—he’d show up about half-past two, stay there for about an hour and a half, take off his shoes, put his feet on my little table. I’d open a bottle of Bell’s 12 Scotch Whiskey—(laughs)—and it had to be a new bottle. There was a reason for it. Mr Jones could drink a lot of whiskey but didn’t want anyone to think he drank a whole quart—or fifth—which I think he might have done over a reasonable period of time. So it was my custom to always open a new bottle, and he could judge for himself how much he consumed. I never saw Mr Jones drunk. His capacity was remarkable, and I didn’t do too poorly myself.
MI: What did he talk to you about?
LM: Most of the time, he talked about Washington—about some of his experiences—and I know he had some very unhappy days there—disappointments.
MI: Such as what?
MI: Such as what? Were there any particular disappointments?
LM: Yes. For instance, the unhappy situation revolving about Henry Wallace—for whom he had no use—but upon my word, I never heard Mr Jones say one disrespectful thing about the president or any individual in Washington. It was obvious that he was unhappy. And, of course, people nowadays may not even know what RFC was, but it had a remarkable record—the Reconstruction Finance Company—of which Mr Jones was chairman in Washington. It was one of the few functions of the federal government that ever made money. I’ve been in
Mr Jones office—I was in his office on many occasions—when he’d talk from Washington—and I heard him on one particular occasion where someone in Washington asked about the Southern Pacific Railroad—they wanted to borrow six million dollars. And Mr Jones said, “If the Southern Pacific Railroad isn’t good for six million dollars, we’re all broke. Let ‘em have it.” The conversation took—in my opinion—a minute.
[13:56] Now I remember one conversation that he had with Senator Barkley. Barkley phoned him from Washington and asked Mr Jones if it was all right with him if he took Mrs Jones to some ball or party. Mr Jones said, “It would perfectly all right.” “Thank you very much.” From putting the conversation together from my end, I could understand what Barkley said. He said, “I’m glad to know that you have enough confidence in me to trust me with your wife.” He said, “I don’t trust you a damn bit. I trust my wife.” (laughter)
Well, I could go on indefinitely and talk to him. I remember one day—on one occasion—I had just been to a meeting when Holly Hall—the present old folk’s home—was being organized—and I was on the board. So I showed up late for the board meeting—the organization meeting. When I came in, the chairman was waving a card in the air and said, “Well, nobody will take Mr Jones—nobody will take Mr Jones.” I said, “I’ll take it.” That means a card for solicitation. I put it in my pocket and went up to Mr Jones’ office—later on in the afternoon. When I walked in—I didn’t have an appointment—he didn’t require it—I mean, I knew him well—when I went in his office, somebody had just left. If he was by himself, I’d go in and have a little chat with him. So nobody was there. He said, “Well, how much is this visit going to cost me?” I said, “Not much.” I said, “I need $10,000.” “What do you need $10,000 for?” “I need $10,000 for Holly Hall.” He said, “What’s Holly Hall?” “Well, we’re trying to organize the old folk’s home.” I told him generally what the old folk’s home would be. He said, “How are you keeping the men and women apart?” I said, “We have a house committee who supervises that situation. We thought of it before you did.”
Well after a little chat, I said to him—I said, “Mr Jones, when you come to my apartment, I treat you like I would the Prince of Wales. I give you my chair—the most comfortable chair in the apartment. I open a fresh bottle of high-priced whiskey. Here I’ve been in your apartment ten minutes, you haven’t offered me a drink, and here I’m sitting in a straight-back chair. Do you think that’s the right thing to do?” He said, “Yes.” He said, “First of all, you didn’t ask for whiskey—and I’ll get you some right away”—and he did. Well, I took a sip and put it on the desk and talked to him about my $10,000—which he gave me. And he says, “Why don’t you drink your whiskey?” I said, “Because it isn’t fit for human consumption.” I said, “That isn’t all. This chair is miserable.” “Well,” he said, “there’s a reason. If the whiskey were any better, you’d stay here and get drunk. If the chair were any comfortable, you’d stay here too long.” (laughter)
[18:24] Well, I stayed another couple of minutes—left there with a commitment. When I got back to my office, I found out that I went to see the wrong Mr Jones. I was supposed to call on a man named Albert Jones—who was a lawyer. And I wasn’t supposed to ask for $10,000—I was supposed to ask for five. So when I reported back to the committee, I really was embarrassed with my ignorance, and I felt that I had taken advantage of Mr Jones. I went back to see him and told him what happened. He said, “Am I going to get my $5,000 back?” I said, “No, sir.” I said, “We found out your card was marked wrong in the first place. We should have asked you for twenty-five.” (laughs) Of course, he laughed. Oh, he brushed it off. He had a great sense of humor, and I can’t think of anything important that happened to me—happened to me as long as Mr Jones lived—that I didn’t ask for his advice. If I needed advice from anybody else, I knew where to get it—and I’ll talk about some a little later.
MI: Was he active in city politics at all? Did he influence any elections?
LM: Only—very definitely so. His newspaper was the Chronicle.
MI: Mm-hmm. (affirmative)
LM: And he usually backed a winner. I think—according to my recollection—that he was not selfish in local politics. He really was concerned about the general welfare of the community and not his own welfare.
MI: You mentioned something a few moments ago that was interesting. You mentioned the meetings that were held in the Lamar Hotel in Suite 8F—
LM: Yes, sir.
MI: —and I was wondering if you attended those meetings often.
LM: Well, it all depended upon what the meeting was about.
MI: Do you remember any specific times when you attended and what was discussed?
LM: [20:44] Oh, yes. (laughs) Well, I always participated when local politics was involved. I can’t quite express the extent of my affection for the Brown brothers. I know all the good people in Houston. By good people, I mean the people who have been charitable and were not influenced by race, color, or creed. I really don’t believe that anybody can qualify with the Brown brothers. To me, Herman Brown was one of the smartest men I ever knew. I have talked to you this afternoon more than Herman Brown talked in a week. (laughs) Herman unquestionable was a dominant figure in local, national, and state politics. I think Herman was able to tell you from note—notebook—who the state legislators were in every state in the union. As far as national politics was concerned, Lyndon Johnson owed everything to Herman and George Brown. George did not exercise the same character of influence that Herman exercised. Herman was cold-bloodedly logical. If he had any sentiment, it wasn’t on the surface. He literally, bodily made Lyndon Johnson—there’s no question about that. I mention Lyndon because he’s the best example. Locally, the Brown brothers were terrifically influential, and they paid their way. They were tapped by every power of legion of any important office who ran in Houston. In state politics, they almost dominated. Of course, they had business in the back of their head, but the Brown brothers were too honorable—and I knew them most of their mature lives—too honorable to have participated in anything from a strictly selfish motive. Of course, we know how politics influences lots that we do in business, and I’m sure they took advantage of the situation. I don’t believe they did anything in their lives to the detriment of the community or the state. They were simply too honorable. Now getting back to Herman Brown and 8F—I would say that every person of more than local influence that I met in maybe thirty or thirty-five years, I met in 8F. It would seem to be a logical thing for a man—particularly in politics—to wind up in 8F. Herman had a little clique that he operated with, and although I was often invited to be present to meet Tom, Dick, or Harry, I’m sure as far as the political knowledge was concerned, it was nil—I had no political sense. I might have had locally—not beyond Harris County.
MI: Who did the Brown brothers particularly get along with—I mean, other leaders in the city? Were there particular individuals?
LM: Well, Gus Wortham, Judge Elkins, William A. Smith, Jim Abercrombie—they were the most influential men.
MI: [26:41] Did they all rather agree with one another on—?
LM: More often than not.
MI: There were no—were there any serious conflicts? Did you ever know of any?
LM: No—nothing of vital. There were always compromises. Judge Elkins—I have to watch myself—had a certain influence in the city. I remember when I was called to one meeting—I only remember a few people that were there—it was Elkins’ meeting. Bill Smith was there, Harmon Whittington from Anderson, Clayton and Company, Lamar Fleming—Anderson, Clayton and Company. I remember the occasion involved Hofheinz. I know they were $15,000 short of a budget, and in his customary dictatorial manner, he says, “Lep, we have to have $15,000 by tomorrow night. I guess you better start right away. Glad to get together.” The next day, I reported back to him with the $15,000. I remember I had a hard time with one particular man. He stands out in my mind—Johnny Crooker, Sr.—gave me a hard time, but I got the money.
MI: And what was the money for again?
LM: The mayor’s race—political race.
MI: Which race was this?
LM: Upon my word, I don’t know if it was for or against Hofheinz—I can’t remember it. I don’t think he was in favor of Hofheinz—I may be wrong. I don’t think he was because a remark he made that reflects upon him that I don’t care to repeat. Well, I wouldn’t say anything. Remember the old Latin proverb, Nil de mortuis nisi bonum. Don’t talk about the dead unless you can say something good.
MI: That’s bad for historians, though.
LM: I can’t help it. I can’t reflect on the judge’s character or mannerism—it’s well known—I don’t have to talk about it.
MI: Well, it’s not that well known is what kind of person he was to deal with. That would be useful if you could kind of talk about that because we have spoken about Jesse Jones—what kind of man he was—the Brown brothers—but we really don’t know too much about Judge Elkins. We might start off—
LM: [29:59] I can tell you this to begin with—I don’t want you to take this in the wrong way—if nothing had happened and I had had a normal business life, I would be—today I would be glad to give you $3,000,000 or $4,000,000 if I had never met Judge Elkins. He was my nemesis throughout my whole business career. He was responsible for my—I’ll go back. I was the vice-president of Foley Brothers—the executive vice-president—under a brother-in-law who was one of the most eccentric men I ever knew. He was a smart man, and if I had had one of his qualities—his capacity for detail—Euclid couldn’t figure out how much money I had. Now, it’s a difficult thing—then talk about Elkins—I’d have to say this—cut—I don’t want to talk today.
MI: Okay. It’s ready. You can talk now.
LM: I was born in Galveston. When I graduated from Tulane in 1909, I had to go to work—we were poor. I went to work for a railroad. I had heard since I was a boy that if a person ever went to work for a railroad, he was there for life—but I quit. Well, I was a billiard player—far, far better than the average. We had had a billiard table in our home. So (laughs) I worked for the billiard—pool hall—that’s what I want to call it—what it was—and I worked for the house, and I got paid half of what was paid by the other player. Of course, I had to win for the house to make money because the loser always paid for the game. But I was making as much money as I made at the railroad company—$75 a month at 20 years old. My father was perturbed. And there was another man in town by the name of Meyer—no kin to me—and my father asked him to find me a job—that I was worthy. He gave me a job with one of the most remarkable men I ever knew. His name was Davison. He was with the firm of Jockusch, Davison, and Company, and they were grain dealers. I loved the grain business because it was speculative—and I learned the business.
Well, the grain mill business went to hell on account of the war—World War I. About that time, a man by the name of Davis, who was president of the Galveston Wharf Company—I don’t mean president—general manager of the Galveston Wharf Company —died. And although it’s presumptuous, I really believe I knew the grain business. I went to see Mr John Sealy, who was the president of the Galveston Wharf Company—or the controlling interest in it—and asked him for Mr Davis’ job. He was a kind man—Mr Davison was—Mr Sealy, rather. He said, “Young man, I know all about you. Mr Davison—that you’ve been working for—has deposited with our bank here—Hutchings-Sealy and Company. We know you handle deposits. You are well-known in the bank. You’re a nice boy. Unfortunately, though, that’s all you are. There is another man in Galveston that we’ve been considering. His name is Webster with I&GN Railroad.” I says, “Does he know more about the grain business than I do?” He says, “I don’t know. I doubt it. If you were an older man, we’d give you the assignment.” I said, “Mr Sealy, I’ve known you since I’ve been a boy—of course, you haven’t known me, but I know of you—if youth is—can be penalized in Galveston, I’m going somewhere else to live.”
Well, temporarily I was working for E. S. Levy and Company—a retail men’s store. Because of some difficulties with my eyes—which a local doctor was mishandling—I came to Houston. I had to come to Houston twice a week. On the way to Houston on the interurban, I would meet Mr Robert I. Cohen, who was the original owner of the Foley Brothers—I mean, who bought the business originally from Foley Brothers. I knew both the Foley brothers. So he said to me one day—he said, “You’re a fool—bright young man—whole future ahead of you—I need you in my business.” He said, “My son”—that was George Cohen—“needs help, and I’ll do what’s fair by you.” “Well, I know, Mr Cohen,” I said, “but I’m a boy.” I used to call on his daughter. I knew him well.
So I went to work for Foley Brothers in Houston, which necessitated me moving my father and my mother and my baby sister to Houston. Well, that may not impress you as being much, but for a guy making $175 a month, it was quite a load. I must say then, my pay—Mr Cohen treated me right. But his son and I got along very well—for a while—27 years—and over that period of 27 years—one by one—I brought my brothers into the business. Besides me, I brought in six brothers—five actively—there was six of us all in the business—one of them was a lawyer for the firm. We had another lawyer by the name of Epstein—Maurice Epstein—very capable lawyer. My brother was more or less used by the firm for—I think—the less important business. He was younger. And the only reason why the other brother didn’t come into the business—he was an (39:47) ??s/l art mover?? and was in business for himself. So really, there were seven Meyers in the business, who were brought in one by one by me, and I feel—justifiably—in taking the credit for building up what I believe was one of the finest retail organizations in America. There is no store in the United States that can say they had seven brothers in it—and they were smart. They were good merchants—all of them the exact opposite of Mr Cohen—and was very fine—I had one brother that was like Mr Cohen—who was the lawyer—about the same temperament. The others were all born merchants. I never knew personally the difference between cotton and silk. My business was credit department, the office, and such things.
[40:55] Now, in 1943, there was a meeting of what is known as the Amos Parrish Clinic. They held two clinics a year—one for executives, one for the merchandise men. My brother-in-law asked that I go to the executive meeting because he was busy on something else. I think the meetings generally lasted three days. I went one day and was convinced by the afternoon that Foley Brothers was behind the time. I didn’t go to the rest of the meetings. When I came home, my
brother-in-law—who was the boss—asked for a report. It took me two or three days to write the report in which I chastised him severely and thought that we either reorganize the business by the addition of assistant talent or sell the business. Of course, it was presumptuous, for as my brothers owned ultimately a very respectable interest in the business, Mr Cohen was the boss—unequivocally. Well, finally we sold the business to Federated Department Stores. Three brothers went with the new firm—my brother Lasker, my brother Leon, and Arthur. Hymen retired, and Marcus had died. I did not go with the new firm because of Judge Elkins. (phone rings)
Judge Elkins handled the transaction with Federated for my firm. Federated was represented by Baker Botts. After the meeting—in Judge Elkins office—when the papers were signed, he said, “Wait a minute. I want to talk to you.” Well, everybody left. He said to me, “Listen. You’ll never get along with those bastards. I wouldn’t go with them. I’d go into business for myself. You’re too young to retire. I know you don’t have to work anymore, but you mustn’t quit.” Well, that’s all I needed to change my mind. I didn’t think one certain action by my
brother-in-law was right involving a close of contract, and without a real fuss, I parted company, and I didn’t talk to my brother-in-law for 22 years. I’m sure it wasn’t all his fault. Well, Elkins hounded me—literally. It so happens that at that particular time, there was a small chain of stores owned by ??s/l Dirtzer?? Brothers known as the White House Stores—and they asked me to buy the stores. They had heard that my brothers were not too happy with the new organization, so I took two and two and made five out of it and bought the White House Stores.
[46:08] I oughtn’t to say this, but from the first day that I ever saw a piece of merchandise, I despised the business. I had the kind of obligation that other people have had. I didn’t have any choice. I took a job when I had to work and that was available. The only reason why I stayed with Foley Brothers—because I spent half of my time for the Retail Credit Organization in which I had become the president, and I don’t believe that I ever spent more than two weeks at a time in Foley Brothers without making a trip somewhere around the country to make a speech for the Retail Credit Association—the national association.
Well, I had organized what was known as the Merchants and Employees Finance Company, which revolved about retail credit. I started with $11,000 borrowed on my life insurance policies. The finance company was operated by a teller of the Houston National Bank that I employed to run the business. The business made too much money, and I didn’t believe that on the relatively small capital that I had, he could make that much money honorably. Somebody was getting cheated. So I heard about the Morris Plan Charter for a small loan bank. I converted the finance company into a bank, which was under the jurisdiction of Texas Commission—the banking department—so everything that the bank did had to be according to Hoyle. I made a remarkable success. At the time I sold it, I run the $11,000 up to $1,250,000.
So when I left Foley Brothers, it was my intention to give all of my time to the bank—for which I could see a beautiful future. So, as I said, I organized Meyer Brothers. Meyer Brothers was a fine success until it opened its store in Meyerland. We did not own Meyerland like it had often been thought. We merely had a store up there built to our specifications. And the blunder in it was not the location but the second floor. If I had not had the second floor, it would have been a big success. But we were talked into the second floor so we could have an escalator. We were really pioneers in neighborhood stores. So I would say that we made a horrible blunder in doing business with the City National Bank. We had been doing business with what was then the Second National Bank—which is now the Bank of the Southwest. In my opinion, they were they best bank of the city—perhaps I should say second to the National Bank of Commerce, which belonged to Mr Jones.
The Second National Bank had been good to me, but Elkins in his shrewd way—and he was shrewd—was shrewd to somebody as dumb as I was anyhow—heard that the Second National Bank was going to charge six percent interest on the customers’ accounts—accounts receivable—which the customer had become to pledge them to have more capital to operate your business. Do you understand me? So he says, “You’re getting robbed. I’ll give you the money for five and a quarter—which was an inducement to always tell me how much he loved me—and I switched from the Second National Bank to Elkins—which was the beginning—the beginning of the end.
[52:04] Everything in my life Elkins touched from Meyer Brothers—to be frank—when all was said and done—was a failure. Well, failure for two reasons. We were overextended in credit, and then when this new building was built—new store—I think it was the eleventh store—and things went bad, and all of a sudden we woke up owing Elkins $700,000. When the chips were down, some man—of different character than I—would have said, “The hell with Meyer Brothers. Let it fail.” My bank wasn’t responsible for Meyer Brothers. It was a corporation. Mr Abercrombie told me, “Let it fail.” And I couldn’t face it. But it just so happened that Elkins came over to my room at the Lamar raising hell, “You’ve got other assets,” and began to reflect upon my integrity—said all that I had worked for all my life by way of a reputation would be ruined, and I was damned fool enough to believe it. I sold the bank and paid off Elkins—paid off all my brothers’ creditors, and then sold the business to the present owners. The year that I sold the bank—the year prior to my selling the bank—I drew out of the bank $125,000. Now, God knows what it would have been worth in time, but that’s hindsight.
Well, it was an unhappy circumstance. So that worried me. Naturally, I felt bad. I loved that bank. And it took me a long time to get over it. I wasn’t sport enough to take that licking gracefully, and after nine years, I had to get it out of my system. And I told young Jim Elkins what I thought of his outfit and of him. I may have furthered my end of the fact—I didn’t use that very word—that he was a peewee, and that’s all he was. His father had no respect for his son—who became president of the bank. I remember one day I went in his son’s office—Jim Jr’s office—the old man passed by and says, “What in the hell are you doing in there?” I says, “I’m talking to the president of the bank about a loan.” He says, “The hell with the president of the bank. Come in my office.” And that’s the way he treated everybody in his organization. He was a damned dictator, a bully—had as much sentiment as my foot—and although I can’t—I can’t say—talk about things I know nothing about, I will make this statement—perhaps aptly—that I think I know about as much about the charity—background—of this community as any man in any community in the State of Texas, and I’ll be damned if I ever ran across his name. Maybe I’m all wrong, but—
MI: [57:05] You should know.
LM: —I’m merely stating facts. Nothing that I’m saying do I say that the Judge was dishonorable. I’m merely—I couldn’t say that. I’ll say he was unkind, a bloodsucker. Instead of coming to me and saying, “Look here, my boy, you’re all messed up. Let’s work this thing out,” all I got was brutal treatment and disrespect, and I’ll carry the scar to my grave—and I’ll tell you why. I know you may have your doubts in your mind as to what kind of fool am I, but I had my will made out. I didn’t have any obligation to any kinsmen. They didn’t need me. My son is independent. He inherited from his mother’s uncles. He wasn’t dependent upon me. And with the exception of my son and one niece—the one that you met—everything I had to my name was going to Baylor Heart Institute, Texas Children’s Hospital, St Luke’s, and Harris County Center for the Retarded. Of course, Children’s Hospital was my love. I don’t want to try to put any overplayed statements in your mind. I don’t want to overrate myself, but I have devoted my life primarily to Children’s Hospital and retarded children.
MI: There’s no question about that.
LM: And I have this satisfaction—that very important man was in Houston yesterday—the important man in the field of retardation and mental health—and he designated the Harris County Center for Retarded as the best in America—that’s covering a lot of territory.
MI: You can’t get any more complimentary that that.
LM: And Texas Children’s rates as one of the best hospitals in the world. So if ever get as far as heaven—I have my doubts—
LM: —but if I do, and they ask me, “What is your justification for thinking you have a right to get to Heaven?” I’ll say, “Because I one time was a chairman emeritus for the Harris County Center for the Retarded.” If I had done nothing else in my whole life, I would be a happy man.
MI: Let me ask you this.
LM: [1:00:24] Do I talk too much?
MI: No, sir. You’re not talking too much.
LM: You can cut it out.
MI: No, no, no, no. It’s fine. What kind of relationship did Elkins have with Jesse Jones?
LM: He fit in like he did the coming of Christ. That answers your question. There is nobody in the city of Houston—in my humble opinion—was—(laughs)—felt safe with Jesse Jones. I don’t mean that Mr Jones wasn’t honorable. I merely think he was too smart.
MI: I know what you mean.
LM: I remember when the corner of Dallas and Main was owned by—my God, I’m going back—was owned by Mrs W.B. Sharp. Her husband was one of the founders of the Texas Company. And there was—the ground was either for lease or sale. And they wanted to buy the name of a corporation. He says he’d only make the deal—on our lawyers’ advice—if Mr Jones personally would endorse the lease, and then she believed he was too smart for any lawyer. That was his reputation—he could back it up. And I say he was a good man—good man. Although money-wise, he was out of my sphere. I happened to like him, and I was acceptable to him.
MI: Were you very friendly with Gus Wortham?
LM: I knew him since we were both boys. Before Mr Wortham died, he passed by my room in the hospital—we were in the hospital at the same time. I’ll never forget the last words we ever had together. He says—he looked at me, thought a minute or two, says, “Just think, we were boys together. I’ve known you almost fifty years, haven’t I?” He walked away, and that’s the last thing he said to me. He died right after that—I don’t mean a matter of days. I loved Gus Wortham. I know he had some respect for me—well, I’m positive of that. I had a niece who was badly cut up in a car wreck—had trouble with insurance adjustments. They wanted the father of the boy—who my niece was with—and he was a rich man—to take care of this child’s problem. Her father was—
April 19, 1978
MI: [00:11] Testing one, two.
LM: One last word—
MI: Try it now.
LM: All right?
LM: So, this man’s insurance company—I’m talking about the father of the boy who was driving the car—the insurance was the American General Insurance Company. My brother couldn’t make a settlement—the lawyer brother—and he threatened suit. Mr Wortham came down to my office. He was represented by Vinson & Elkins. He had a big bundle of papers. He put them on my desk. He says, “All these papers are from Vinson & Elkins office saying we have no liability, but if I had a child who was cut up like that child was cut up, I’d expect somebody to pay for it, and I’m prepared to do it. I want you—” he said to me,
“—I want you to represent American General. Whatever you settle for, I’ll send you a check by messenger boy.” Well, I didn’t come from the kind of family who would want more than was coming to them. It isn’t like it was today—somebody loses a finger and sues for four million dollars. I figured out what the doctor bill was, what the hospital bill was, how much salary the little girl had lost because of—she was a teacher—because of absence from work. I found a bill for about $800 and told Gus to send me a check for $800, and I’ll release. Today it might have cost him a half a million. But my point I’m making is—Gus Wortham was my good friend, and he knew to—he was in safe hands having me as his lawyer—his representative.
MI: Mm-hmm. (affirmative)
LM: [02:54] Now, you asked me about somebody else—about Judge Elkins. Who were his other friends—if any, the Brown brothers. I seem to have a recollection that somewhere in the picture I see the governor and Oveta Hobby. I don’t want to mention the names that didn’t like him. I won’t tell you—“I don’t know” is the answer to your question. He had his little empire, and he ran it with an iron fist. There’s no question about him being smart. He had a little—he had a little bank to begin with—the width of this living room. But I’ll tell you what else he did—a dirty trick. And I don’t mind saying what I’m saying when I’m telling the truth. At the particular time—at a particular time—there was a real estate operator who lived in Dallas who wanted to lease this property that we’re on right now—where this apartment house is. He said he had a chance—if we called the Shell building—to lease a portion of the building to Shell Oil Company, but he needed interim financing—could he get it in Houston? I said, “We’ve got a lot of money here, and I think Judge Elkins would do it.” So I took him over to Judge Elkins’ office where I met with Herman Brown, Jim Abercrombie, Gus Wortham, and Bill Smith. After the meeting, Elkins said to me, “I wouldn’t have anything to do with that man. That man had real estate operations all over this country.” And the reason why he killed the deal was, he was then contemplating the construction of the First City National Bank building and didn’t want me as a competitor in a building on Main and Gray. I told you he was my nemesis—and he was. If I hurt anybody’s feelings, I’m not a damned bit sorry. I’ve had mine hurt. All I owed him was contempt. I happened to have a son named Bill—I’m very fond of him. I was very fond of the young Elkins. My wife was very fond of him. He was a pallbearer at my wife’s funeral—that’s what she thought of him—that’s exactly what I thought of him. He was a small potato—and I’ll tell you, it used to make me sick to have him on my board at Texas Children’s Hospital.
MI: Now you’re talking about Elkins Jr?
LM: Elkins Jr.
LM: That’s that. (laughs) What else do you want to know that’s bad?
MI: He did serve on the board, though?
MI: [06:42] He was on the board of Texas—?
MI: How did he get on the board?
LM: Well, he was recommended—I don’t know. I know he was on—I don’t think he was on the original board. Anyhow, I had had pleasant relations with him before. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have let him on the board because I ran the board myself. I was president of Children’s Hospital, but for seven years, I was on Texas Children’s Foundation. Texas Children’s Foundation created Texas Children’s Hospital. I was the president of Texas Children’s Hospital from 1952 to 1972 when I was sick—when I got sick. Altogether, I’ve given the thing thirty-odd years of my attention.
MI: Was Elkins responsible—did Elkins help Gus Wortham get his start?
LM: I don’t know, but I presume so. They were very close. He had a few men he was very close to.
MI: Mm-hmm. (affirmative)
LM: Herman Brown, George Brown, Jim Abercrombie. I think Jim was one of the biggest stockholders in his bank. And it was Mr Abercrombie who told Judge Elkins, “Judge Elkins, I’ll keep to myself. None of my business.”
MI: What about Mr Cullen—H.R. Cullen?
LM: Well, Cullen—(laughs)—those papers over there—go get them. I’ll tell you what Mr Cullen was. First and foremost, you have to say he was the luckiest man that ever walked in shoe leather. That’s the first thing I’ll say. Second thing is, his heart was as big as that table—no question about it. Through my relationship with Mr Cullen, it was one of the most peculiar relationships I’ve ever seen in my life. I just couldn’t get along with him—impossible. God bless his memory—and the whole community—everybody—owes him something. I’m talking by way of his charities. And they can’t say anything about him enough. I’ll tell you what his—what his problem was. I have no way of judging Mr Cullen’s mentality. He was—he really felt that his money could do all the talking with him, and that’s where we had our difficulty. My God, I can’t tell you what happened—I helped Mr Cullen organize the City of—the Houston—University of Houston. I helped him pick the board. I was on the Board of Governors for six or eight years—I don’t know—I don’t remember. I know to begin with he said he wasn’t going to have me because he got mad at me. I remember very distinctly I wanted to put a man on the board who was the president of a pipeline—an engineer—cultured, brilliant—and Cullen wouldn’t approve it. I said, “Why?” He said, “I don’t like him.” I said, “Who in the hell cares who you like? We’re looking for brains.” “I don’t like him. He can’t serve on my board.”
MI: Who was the man?
LM: Oh, I wouldn’t want to—T. Swigart—president of Shell Pipeline. Now, you know why he didn’t like that man? That man was first president of the symphony orchestra. I went—I can’t remember the years exactly, but I worked for the symphony for seven years. H.R. Cullen, Ted Swigart, and I dug it out of the ditch, and in my letter—when I quit the board on account of Mr Cullen—they want me to go back on—I refused to go. I remember the letter I wrote a man named Hirsch—
MI: Maurice Hirsch.
LM: I told him, when Swigart and I took it over, it was a brass band. I said they made me too unhappy, and I wasn’t going to work for them anymore, and I quit. All of my correspondence is in there—you’ll see something in there about the symphony. I took it as long as I could, and I put up with Mr Cullen. I remember one time—and I think this is interesting—I told you he was a good man. Mr Cullen agreed—and I didn’t have anything to do with it—Ms Ima Hogg got Mr Cullen to sign the right to the symphony-sized deficit—it ran twenty or twenty-five thousand a year—and he did it. Therefore, he had a right to have a hell of a lot to say. He knew more about music than I do about [14:15] ??s/l Mowtzi tone??. I’ll be damned if it wasn’t terrible at—he insisted that the orchestra play Deep in the Heart of Texas. (laughs) Anyhow, Beethoven would probably (laughs) do the same with a roughneck—is how I feel. (laughs) Be that as it may, we fell out—so that’s nothing new.
[14:53] But in the course of circumstances—it was war time—they were taking amortizations, and he was raising hell, and he was right. We worked like a dog on the orchestra, and the orchestra was playing in commie camps—playing for naval centers—for charity—and he thought it was unfair. And he said to me, “What can we do about it?” Well, by that time, I’m sure we had about four or five drinks—and he couldn’t drink. He said, “We ought to write the governor.” Well—I heard him—he had some general that he was very fond of—I can’t remember the fellow’s name now—I used to see him all right—I can’t think of what it was. And he asked that general who we should contact. I’ll never forget the man’s name—Paul V. McNutt. He said, “Lep, you write him, and Bob will write him.” I says, “I don’t know, Mr Cullen. Ask this general to write it.” “You write him.” Well, I wrote a letter giving all the arguments I could organize—and I typically wrote to him to see if he liked it—I wrote lots of letters for him—more than one. He says, “That sounds pretty good.” I said, “Well, sign it.” He said, “Why don’t you sign it?” I said, “Because you’re important. They know you. They don’t know me.” He signed it. And by God, they quit taking musicians—and not only in Houston but in other places that were affected—that had some new procedure they were adopting—I don’t remember the details. We didn’t lose another man to the army. The letter is in there somewhere. You’re going to find a lot of trash in there.
So here was where Mr Cullen and I fell out—(laughs)—I didn’t really know more about music than he did—I was a little more amenable to learning something—but I had heard of the Boston Pops, and I said, “Why can’t we have a Pops?” So I figured it all out, and the idea went over. Well, I hate to talk about the poor fellow—that orchestra—what do you call it?—conductor. I didn’t like him. He didn’t like me. I’ll tell you why he didn’t like me. He had no sense.
LM: Oh, I’m not talking about music. I told him he was trying to be the big boss. I told him to mind his own business and train that orchestra so they could produce some decent music, and I would take care of the business end of the symphony side—that hurt his feelings. But the board passed resolution that I would run the business end of the orchestra—it’s all in your papers. Well—lo and behold—I made a motion about the Pops—Ima Hogg seconded it. Mrs Ted Law—who was then Caroline Wiess—was the chairman of the Pops committee—a young woman—lovely lady. All the Wiess children were lovely women—Jim Elkins married one of them—smartest business deal he ever made. I don’t mean that critically—a lovely lady. Well, the Pops were a big success. The first man I brought down here was Oscar Levant—you might not have known Oscar, but he was big-time. And we made $7,500 on the first concert. Oscar Levant gave the concert, but I would use the money—you understand, we presented Oscar in a personal appearance, and I took the money to finance the Pops concert next season. Well, Mr Cullen got sick, and while he was sick, Hoffmann went over to the hospital and told him it was a damn shame that he would pay all the deficit of the operating of the symphony society and I took the money for one of my hobbies. My idea of the Pops concert was to make it on Sunday afternoon for children to go to when they were out of school. I think a dollar was the top price—I can’t remember exactly—I think I’m right. Well, of course, that wasn’t so. [20:57] ??s/l The ret and minister are meeting over there.?? And Cullen wrote me a dirty letter, and I’m not so proud of the answer that I wrote him—very ugly. I’m not proud of it—because he really was somebody, and I wasn’t anybody—relatively—financially—that’s why I resigned.
[21:32] So several years later, we met in that elevator—I didn’t talk to him for three years. We were both drunk and met in the elevator at the Houston Club. And he looked at me and commenced to laugh. He said, “Did we ever make up?” Well, I said to myself, “What the hell,” and I shook hands with him. Well, a little later on—oh, some years later—we never were quite as close as we had been before, but we were friendly. So one day I got a call from General Bruce—he was an army general retired—and Cullen loved brass buttons. Bruce was made chancellor of the University of Houston. Well, he phoned me twice. I didn’t want him—I knew he was going to ask me to do something.
LM: It was the second time—I thought it was disrespectful—he asked me could he come to see me. I said, “General Bruce, I’m not important enough for you to come see me. I’ll meet you down at my apartment.” I went down to my apartment. He says, “The University of Houston”—I think I’ve got this right—“wants to give a testimonial dinner to Mr Cullen and Mr Jones, and I’ve been instructed to ask you to be the Master of Ceremonies.” I said, “General Bruce, you are a fine guy, and I’d hate to see any harm come to you, but if Mr Cullen knew that you were down at my apartment and asked me to be chairman of a testimonial dinner in his honor, he’d fire you.” I never will forget—Bruce stood up, and he then became the general. He said, “I beg your pardon.” (laughs)
“Mr Cullen instructed me to ask you.” “Oh,” I said, “that’s different.” So in the meantime, Cullen got sick, and on the day of the testimonial, his doctor—
[24:18] ??s/l Dr Aezu??—was on my board at Children’s Hospital—a medical advisor—A.D. wouldn’t let him go to the banquet. And maybe—I don’t know—maybe a hundred people there—something like that—and of course, I did my best. I didn’t—I wrote the best thing I ever wrote in my life about Cullen. And everything I said was true, but I embellished it to the limit of my capacities.
LM: [24:58] So after the banquet—it was a big success—all of Cullen’s kinfolk were on the platform—all of Jones’ kinfolk were on the platform—and the rest of them—and we presented them all with some kind of plaque—I’ve forgotten. So Andrew came to me and said, “Lep,” (laughs) “give me that paper you wrote about Mr Cullen.” Well, I never read from a paper in my life—he knew I had written it—and if I couldn’t say anything, I’d find something to say. But I put my hand in my pocket, and I said, “Here, I don’t want it.” So he took it out to Cullen the next day—being the banquet was in the evening, of course—and Cullen was very happy. He wrote me a letter—nice letter. A few days later, he went into a coma and died—never came out of the coma. And I was happy that—before he died—despite all these peculiar circumstances—that down deep he thought as much of me as I did of him. You understand?—fundamentally.
MI: You did some work with him on the University of Houston Library, didn’t you?
LM: I—no. (laughs) I have to laugh. I worked with him on the University of Houston, and with him—and I worked with him on the symphony—primarily. I’ll tell you something else that happened—made me mad—but getting back to the library. Somebody had a dinner party—said it was sad the University of library—the University Houston needs a library—and turned to me and says, “Lep, why don’t you help that situation along.” He likes the University of Houston. And I organized the Friends of the Library of the University of Houston. So I never was mealy-mouthed about asking people for money, and he heard about asking you for the money for some books, and he asked me to come over—he didn’t ask me—he’d tell me—when he said, “Come on over.” He used to phone me every three or four days—he was a hell of a guy. He says, “What’s wrong with this I hear about you asking people about books for a library?” I said, “Yeah.” He says, “God dammit, I can buy all the books I want. You don’t have to ask anybody for anything.” I says, “You don’t buy books like you buy pipe. You’ve got to have guidance. You have to understand what intellectuals think about this.” He says, “Aw!” He says, “I don’t care about all that foolishness. You let me know what books you want. I’ll buy them.” I paid no attention to him. I went on organizing the library and made a big success out of it—by the way. We got a good library. We got about 1,000,000—about 1,100,000 books now. I always give them books. I got three from [28:50] ??s/l north seminole gold??—books over there. I—anyhow—we got over that.
[29:00] But here was a peculiar thing—I can’t think of Mr Cullen without laughing. Mr Cullen could not drink. He liked to drink, and he was like—he didn’t drink any more than I drank. It wasn’t a matter of the amount of consumption. He couldn’t assimilate—and he used to cry. Every time he’d get tight, he’d cry. And I swear to God, you almost cried with him. He was copious tears. But I’m thinking about the time that Wilkie ran for the presidency. Cullen was backing Wilkie, and it fell out—as usual.
LM: And he made a—he put something in the paper—it was terrible—made him look like a chump. So I saw him that day. I said, “Now Mr Cullen, I have a—” Oh, yeah, he sent for me. “What’d you think of that newspaper article?” I said, “Well, I read it, but I’m worried more about what Wilkie said in reply.” He said, “What did he say?” “He said, ‘Well, some people did it because they stuck a hole in the ground—think they’re an authority on all subjects including the length of women’s’ dresses.’” I says, “Mr Cullen, I want to tell you something that has worried me for a long time. You need a public relations man. You like publicity. You like to have a part. You have something to say. I think you’re entitled to it—especially when we’re in the city of Houston, where everybody owes you something. But you must be scientific. You can get the best public relations man in Texas for $50,000 a year, and that’s as much as fifty cents to me.” He says, “You don’t think I’ve got sense enough to hire my own public relations man?” I said, “I know damn well you don’t.” Well, he didn’t like that—he didn’t get a public relations man neither.
LM: But that was my trouble with Mr Cullen. I have refused to be overrun by his wealth like most people were. They were deferential to him. I don’t believe most the people thought as much of him as I did.
Leopold Meyer Oral History Interview
Oral History 227 02 D2
Interview 2 of 2
April 26, 1978
LM = Leopold Meyer
MI = Male Interviewer
MI: [32:08] April 26, 1978. Interview with Mr Leopold Meyer—second session.
LM: I’m of the opinion that some very ardent workers for the community—(loud noises) On in interview that we had recently, I made some references to Mr Jesse Jones. I could talk about him indefinitely and never tell the story of this fantastic man. Besides being brilliant—besides being handsome—on the basis of no education—he did the impossible. One of the wise things that Mr Jones did was to pick capable assistants and associates. I’d like to make specific reference to Mr Fred Heyne. He served Mr Jones for several years. He was positively the boss when it came to the handling of Mr Jones’ personal affairs. And in proof of Mr Jones’ affection and appreciation for Heyne—whom I knew very well—is a building in the Medical Center in Mr Heyne’s name that Mr Jones paid for.
I also think of his banking interests. There was a man named Sam Taub. I knew Mr Taub since I was a very, very young man. He was a member of a very unusual family—perhaps the smartest one of all. He was the positive boss of the National Bank of Commerce—which was Mr Jones’ bank. It later became the Texas National Bank. Now when I think of bankers, I think of a man named Maurice McAshan. Maurice was the president of Commercial—hold on—the South Texas Commercial National Bank. They may not be the exact name—it’s the best that I can recall it. Every banker in Houston always said that Maurice McAshan was the best banker in Houston, and the individual bankers would say, “But I’m the next best.” Nobody challenged Maurice McAshan’s wisdom.
[36:00] I remember one time (laughs) that my associate and I called on
Mr McAshan. At that particular time, I was a manager of the American Maid Flour Mills—of which Mr Ross Sterling was the president. American Maid did not do well and ran into considerable difficulty. And Mr Robert I. Cohen and his son, George—with whom I was associated in business—took over the operation of the American Maid mills. I was really working for Mr Cohen—or the Messrs Cohen—when I served as temporary manager. The other Mr Cohen said he thought that in the reorganization, it would be wise to clear up all past obligations and start over with a clean slate—it’s a little off-color—it’s all right. So Mr Cohen and I—I’m talking about Cohen Jr—called on Mr McAshan—explaining our situation. And at that time, we had just paid off a relatively small obligation of $25,000—which was perhaps a year past due. But when we applied for operating capital on the reorganization, McAshan listened to us very carefully when he said, “Gentlemen, in banking I apply to a lesson I learned when I was a very young man. I never take a chance on catching venereal disease from the same woman twice.”
LM: (laughs) And he never cracked a smile. My brother-in-law—he got mad.
MI: He walked out—your brother-in-law?
LM: Got mad and walked out, yeah.
MI: What year was this?
MI: What year did this occur—or approximate year?
LM: I don’t know—approximately ’36—1936. Now another remarkable man was Mr J.R. Neal—who owned—practically—the Second National Bank—which later became the Bank of the Southwest. Mr Neal had been induced to take the general chairmanship of the United Fund—although I don’t remember the exact year—I think it was maybe the early ‘40s. Mr Neal was really not qualified for the job. The job called for organization ability, and although he had some fine, high-priced assistants, they were not trained in this kind of work. Well, evidently he ran to some man—or men—who suggested to him that they call on me—that he call on me—for assistance, and if they could—if he could get me to do the work in his name, they thought he would be a success. Mr Neal called me and asked to call on me at my office. Mr Neal was a man very much my senior. I said, “Mr Neal, I think it would be presumptuous to ask you to call on me. I’ll call on you.” I went to his office. He frankly said he didn’t know how to do the job. If I would do it, he would pay me liberally—any reasonable amount that I asked for. I told Mr Neal that it would not be right to take money for doing charity. If I did it for him, I was doing it for the community—that I had the highest regard in the world for him—I would serve. And I took the campaign in his name and was successful. After the campaign was over, he insisted that he owed me money. I couldn’t conscientiously take anything from him—although he was rich, and I was relatively not rich.
[42:11] Well, sometime later—I believe I’ve made a mistake in saying when I assisted Mr Neal. I think it’s more like the middle ‘30s than the middle ‘40s. Now my goodness to Mr Neal paid off handsomely. He had a rather hardboiled president of his bank named Beverly Harris—a brilliant banker. I wanted to start a Morris Plan bank. I had been operating a finance company as a privately owned thing, but the finance company was making too much money, which made me question the character of the operation, which I wasn’t personally giving my attention to. To get a charter, I needed $100,000—which I didn’t have. I approached Mr Harris, who was blustery. “Why—ridiculous. You have no basis for a loan.” I said, “Mr Harris, I am a professional credit man. I know more about small loans than you know. I am as sound-minded—as sound as you are in your major banking operation.” But when it was about time for Mr Harris and I to fall out, old man Neal happened by the desk. I remember his very words. He said, “Lep, you get along all right with Bev?” I said, “Famously.”
LM: Although I lied, I didn’t want to create a circumstance for Mr Harris. Mr Neal says, “I’m glad of it.” And then he turned to Beverly Harris and said, “Bev, give this young man what he wants. If he don’t pay the note, I will.” So my little courtesy to Mr Neal—and I call it little—to me it was part of a day’s work—paid off handsomely because I know I only had $11,000 of my own money and needed $100,000 to get this charter. And then when I sold the bank, I sold it for $1,250,000. I do not think I could have ever organized the bank without Mr Neal’s pat on the back. It’s a happy thought—happy recollection—and I was always friendly with Mr Neal until he died—and by the way, I was with Mr Harris on his deathbed. We became very good friends.
[46:02] Now, we have made references in our interview about some very important people. We never take into account the fact that these very important people must have very important assistants to ensure they’re making good themselves. For instance, I may make a reference to Dr Cooley—whom I love. I think Dr Cooley would be the first to admit that my assistance was indispensable, and that after his getting organized in the Heart Institute, he was then supported and still is being supported by Mr Robert Herring—president of Houston National Gas Company.
I can talk about Dr DeBakey here. Mr DeBakey is a brilliant man whose reputation is not overrated. Dr DeBakey would be the first man to admit that Mr L.F McCollum has been his ace-in-the-hole. He raised money locally to ensure Baylor’s growth. I also have to mention Mr Ted Bowen—the administrator of Methodist Hospital—through whom—through whose institution Dr DeBakey did all of his work. Ted Bowen was a fine organizer. It’s all right for us to talk about these great doctors—and we have them—I could name them by the dozens—but we can’t—couldn’t—get anywhere without competent administration. I think Mr Boone was remarkable—nothing could be said to exaggerate his contribution. I think of Mr French—Noel French—the administrator of Children’s, St Luke’s, and the Heart Institute. The men—these administrators I’m referring to worked night and day—they had no hours. We’ll never pay our debt—it can’t be paid in money.
I want to make a reference to Mr R. Lee Clark of the Anderson—M.D. Anderson Hospital Research Center. I don’t care what the Research and Tumor Center—as it’s technically known—and I don’t care what it ultimately amounts to—it will owe its growth to R. Lee Clark. He is a phenomenal man and is the whole brains of M.D. Anderson institution. I mention these men because I think they’re worthy of special attention. And Children’s Hospital—with which I’m most familiar—I have to mention Dr Russell Blattner—a genius. I’ve called on him so many times in emergency cases that I can’t count them. He’s retired now within the last year and has been called back as a consultant. But—you know—the Medical Center with all its greatness is only one factor in our community’s growth. I doubt that there’s a finer medical center in the world, and God knows what it’s going to become in the next decade. It’s magnificent—beyond comprehension.
[51:06] Well, let’s think of another field—oil field. I guess I know more about Humble’s life than I do about any other monster in that field. I know every president they’ve had since the beginning. Mr Sterling—I knew Mr Sterling when I was a boy in Galveston—Mr Sterling. Mr Will Farish—a giant—Will Farish Sr, of course. Then Mr Harry Wiess—a little eccentric but capable.
MI: Eccentric in what way?
MI: Eccentric in what way?
LM: Mr Wiess was not a man that you could get very close—I know a hell of a lot about him. He was really too dignified. I remember one particular instance involving Reed Roller Bit. I don’t know the real facts in the case, but presumably, Mr Steve Farish had made an expenditure of a considerable sum of money that proved to be unfortunate. Mr Wiess made a motion that Mr Farish be limited in his expenditure and operation to $50,000, beyond which he had to consult the executive committee of the board. When he finished talking, Mr J.S. Abercrombie asked the chair to consider his motion before concerning Mr Wiess. With the chair’s permission, Mr Abercrombie made a motion that Mr Farish be fired. There was quite an uproar at the meeting, and when it quieted down, Mr Abercrombie says, “I’m absolutely right. Either Mr Farish has full authority as the president or he isn’t qualified for the job.” And the vote was in Mr Abercrombie’s favor, and according to my—his say, Mr Wiess did not attend regularly any more Reed Roller Bit meetings. I don’t think he would stand it. Following Mr Wiess—I think—was Mr R.L. Blaffer. Blaffer was hard to explain. I served on several boards with him. By the way, he graduated from the same university—Tulane—that I graduated from. I think Blaffer originated in Louisiana. He was a very positive, capable man and insisted on the proper evaluation of his thoughts. By the way, he served on the board on American Maid Flour Mills—of which I made previous reference. After Mr Blaffer—according to my recollection—there was Carl Reistle—I knew Carl very well—not intimately but very well. After Mr Reistle came Morgan Davis—one of the sweetest men I ever knew—a really lovable character and—in my opinion—one of the most capable men that Humble could boast of. After Davis—and I haven’t kept up in recent years—I believe the last man that I was personally acquainted with was Mr Mike Wright—who at the present time is president of Cameron Iron Works. He became president of Cameron Iron Works after his retirement from Humble—or Exxon as it was then called.
MI: [56:30] You mentioned Ross Sterling’s name a few moments ago, and I wonder if we could talk a bit about him.
LM: I knew Mr Sterling from about 1930. I seem to feel that I knew before, but I can identify 1930. Mr Sterling was really the original—was a founder of Humble Oil and Refinery Company. Mr Sterling had a great organization. I personally don’t think he knew anything about the oil business, but he had a number—W.S. Farish Sr, R.L. Blaffer, Harry Wiess, and Wallace Pratt, and that combination could do anything they wanted to. But Mr Sterling had pretty [57:31] ??____??, and although I don’t believe he was politically founded—or founded in politics—he thought he could do the state some good. According to my recollection—and I may be wrong off a comparatively small amount—I think he sold out his interests to Humble Oil Company to Magnolia Oil Company, and I think he sold out for $16,000,000 cash—which was a hell of a lot of money at that time. I would not say that Mr Sterling was a phenomenal success as a governor. I do know that financially, he turned out to be most unfortunate because I know that at the end, he was practically broke. I’m not prepared to say what—how he lost his money, but I think (laughs) he lost a lot like I did—in buildings. Of course, my fortune was never anything in Mr Sterling’s class. But he was a good man.
MI: You knew him personally very well?
LM: Oh, I worked for him, and I came to know him because he was president of American Maid Flour Mills when I was manager. I think at that very time he was also governor—I’m not so clear on the timing. I never heard anybody say anything unkind about Mr Sterling. I knew his brother Frank—not so well. I knew his sister very well and am particularly fond of his son Walter—who has been relatively successful and who has served brilliantly as the president of Hermann Hospital. In the oil—as far as oil is concerned, I knew two other very prominent men—when I say I knew them, I should say I was acquainted with them. One was W.B. Sharp—who, if he lived—had lived—would have been a giant in the industry. I would say with Mr Sharp, the real oil business of Texas began. Mr Sharp died when he was forty-three years old. He had two sons—one named Dudley and one named Bedford—both of whom I knew very well. Bedford died. Dudley is still living. I have served on boards with both of them. Mr Sharp could also boast of a very unusual wife. I knew her very well—Mrs Sharp. I served with her on committees—one particularly was what was known as the Child’s Guidance Center. Mrs Sharp and Mr K.E. Womack, Ms Ima Hogg, and another man that I know best of all—though I can’t remember right now—and I were charter members. There is one lady by the name of—hold on there, will you?
Another very important man identified in that particular undertaking was Mr Fairfax Crow, and I would say that between Crow, Mrs Sharp, Ms Hogg, Womack, and I—the thing was very successful and did a lot of good with the community. I think that the idea was developed originally by Mrs Sharp and Ms Ima Hogg. Mrs Sharp served in many capacities—was known as a very charitable—