Obituary: Benjamin Johnson Fortson Jr. 1932-2024

Ben J. Fortson (Photo courtesy Fortson family)

Benjamin Johnson Fortson Jr. was born in Fort Worth, Texas, on June 9, 1932, the second child of Benjamin Johnson Fortson Sr. and Katherine Stripling Luckett. From the boardroom to the oilfield, Ben, as he liked to be called, was known for integrity, loyalty, and generosity both in business and in his personal life. He lived by a simple motto that he inherited from his great-grandfather, Fort Worth entrepreneur W.C. Stripling: “Integrity is the most important thing of all.” After a short illness, Ben passed away peacefully on Sunday, May 19, 2024, surrounded by his family and loved ones.

After spending two years of high school at The Choate School in Connecticut, Ben returned to Fort Worth’s Paschal High School to fulfill his dream of playing basketball for Charlie Turner, a demanding coach and tough disciplinarian who became a father figure to young Ben. Earning all-city accolades in his senior year, Ben later studied at The University of Texas at Austin before entering the Army in 1953. After his discharge, he completed a business degree at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.

Ben often recalled how, at age four, he accompanied his father on a trip to an oil derrick, which left a lasting impression and influenced his later choice of a career in the oil and gas business. Ben began his career as a landman at Champlin Oil in Oklahoma City, where he learned the art of leasing and negotiations. He formed Fortson Oil Company in the early 1960s and became one of the true wildcatters in the industry. Over a career spanning four decades, he drilled wells all over the U.S. Ben’s word was his bond and he often completed oil deals with only a handshake. For Ben, that was as good as any written contract.

In 1957, he married Kay Kimbell Carter, the only child of country physician and business executive Dr. Coleman Carter and his wife, Mattie, and the niece of Kay Kimbell, the legendary entrepreneur and art collector. Since Kay Kimbell and his wife Velma had no children of their own, their niece inherited the responsibility of building what Mr. Kimbell envisioned as a “museum of the first class.” That began a life- long labor of love for both Ben and Kay Fortson. The result was the Kimbell Art Museum, which is internationally known for its outstanding permanent collection and its world-renowned architecture. While Ben publicly downplayed his role at the museum, always giving Mrs. Fortson all the credit, he was engaged from the museum’s early years and the opening of the acclaimed Louis I. Kahn building in 1972, and he was the driving force behind the construction of the Kimbell’s Renzo Piano Pavilion, which opened to the public in 2013. The close working relationship between Ben and the architect Renzo Piano resulted in the poetic conversation between the iconic original building and the Pavilion.

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Eric M. Lee, Director of the Kimbell Art Museum said of Ben: “We will forever remember Ben as a kind and wise leader whose impact on the Kimbell – especially through the building of the Piano Pavilion and his oversight of the Kimbell’s investments and finances for half a century – is incalculable. He was a true gentleman, and his devotion to the Kimbell, always accompanied by grace and a sense of humor, was profound. He leaves a powerful and enduring legacy.”

Ben’s involvement in the Kimbell Art Foundation – where he served as the Executive Vice President and Chief Investment Officer for over 50 years – is one of his most lasting legacies. He began investing in oil and natural gas minerals and royalties in the late 1990s on behalf of the Kimbell Art Foundation. One of his proudest moments was when this substantial portfolio was used to establish Kimbell Royalty Partners (KRP), which had its initial public offering in February 2017. Ben continued to serve on the board of KRP into 2024, was very proud of the management team, and always loved hearing the latest company news from them.

Dee Kelly Jr., partner of Fort Worth law firm Kelly Hart said, “Ben Fortson leaves an indelible mark on Fort Worth. He was a pillar of the arts community, a successful businessman, and a friend to everyone. Every member of the Kelly family loved Ben Fortson.”

Ben always believed in people and willingly aided in opening doors to launch someone’s career. Countless employees benefited from his generosity, enabling them to further their education in any area they wanted to pursue. Through his example of integrity, humility, and taking the high road in all situations, he gave others the confidence to believe in their own abilities and achieve more than they thought possible.

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While he continued to work on the museum’s business and his oil and gas interests even into his last years, these were always secondary to his love for his wife Kay and his commitment to his family, including four children, eleven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Ben is survived by his wife of 67 years, Kay Carter Fortson; daughters Kimbell Wynne (Mitch), Karen Fortson Davis, and Lisa Burton (Bill); former daughter-in-law Lisa Fortson Myers; grandchildren Lisa Alcorn (Peter), Christopher Burton, David Burton, Michael Burton, Katherine Davis, Paul Davis, Ben Fortson IV, Cole Fortson, Hannah Ryon (Kevin), David Wynne (Grace), and John Robert Wynne II (Whitney); four great-grandchildren; niece Kingsbery Baldwin; and nephew Karl Baldwin. He was preceded in death by his son, Ben Fortson III and his sister, Kay Fortson Baldwin.

The Fortson family would like to express its appreciation to all the wonderful caregivers and staff who cared for their father; to Dr. Robert Kelly, longtime physician, for his wise counsel in treating Mr. Fortson until his death; and to the nursing staff and team of doctors at Harris Methodist Hospital who provided excellent care while he was hospitalized.

A memorial service will be held June 5, 2024, at 3 p.m. at St. Andrews Anglican Church, 917 Lamar St., Fort Worth, TX 76102. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that contributions be made to the charity of your choice.