If you worked at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram well into the 1990s, there were six words you dreaded to hear when someone called the newspaper: “If Amon Carter were still alive …” What followed those words was never praise.
That generation of loyal Star-Telegram readers is fading away now, but to those readers, Carter loomed large even in death and was a symbol of fiery support of Fort Worth and West Texas. While the legacy he left behind in Texas and in Fort Worth may dim, it will never die out.
Carter himself died in 1955 at age 76. But what he left behind speaks to the entrepreneurial spirit so treasured in this city where the West begins. Carter came to Fort Worth in 1905 and became advertising manager of the Fort Worth Star. Three years later he bought the newspaper and merged it with the Fort Worth Telegram, forming the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
His fortune came primarily from oil, rather than the publishing company, and he was fiercely committed to Fort Worth, Texas and the half of the state he considered to be West Texas.
The late Ben H. Procter catalogues a series of accomplishment writes in his quick biography of Carter in the Handbook of Texas Online:
— 1911: Chaired a committee that brought the first airplane to the Fort Worth area; by 1928, he was a director and part owner of American Airways, which became American Airlines.
— 1920s: When oil was discovered in North Texas, he helped pursued oil men and their families to locate in Fort Worth
— 1922: Opened WBAP, Fort Worth’s first radio station. It became the first television station in the South and the Southwest in 1948.
— 1923: Chaired the first board of directors of Texas Technological College, now Texas Tech University, in Lubbock in his beloved West Texas.
— 1936: The Texas Frontier Centennial, Fort Worth’s special observance of the Texas Centennial, that included the initial version of Casa Mañana and helped brand Fort Worth as a center of Western culture.
—1942: What was locally known as the “Bomber Plant” — officially it is Air Force Plant 4 — was built in part because of his influence in Washington. It’s now Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co.
In 1945, he and his wife, Nenetta Burton Carter, incorporated the Amon G. Carter Foundation with initial funding of $8.5 million in 1947 after the sale the Wasson Field oil interests. The foundation reports that as of Dec. 31, 2015, the Amon G. Carter Foundation had made charitable gifts totaling more than $560 million.
His will provided for the establishment of what is now the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, which opened in 1961.
The late Jerry Flemmons, a legendary Star-Telegram writer, chronicled Carter’s life in the 1978 book AMON, later updated and rereleased as Amon: The Texan Who Played Cowboy for America, once told me I probably would not have liked Carter, but I would have found him fascinating. Even in death, he cast a huge shadow.
“He was there, and, to an arguable point, still is there, perhaps always will be.” Flemmons wrote in AMON. “It was impossible not to be confronted by Amon, the quintessence of him, if not in person. People spoke as though he had not succumbed to illness and old age but had just stepped out for a moment to give another cheer for Fort Worth. His name dropped easily and casually into conversations, and more often than not, ‘Mr. Carter’ was uttered with a reverence and awe I could not understand. … Politicians and civic leaders conjured up his memory and deeds to emphasize this and that project. Amon Carter would not go away.”
And he remains among us still.