Tuesday, January 25, 2022
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Richard Connor: Tex Moncrief was a giant. His passing leaves another void in Fort Worth’s leadership.

🕐 6 min read

I was new in town and as I made my way around the social circuit I constantly heard people bemoaning low oil prices. They were making dire predictions and whining about the unexpected downturn in the value of Texas’ greatest resource.

It was 1986 and I had come to Fort Worth at the tender age of 39 to run the Star-Telegram. I came from the east – the northeast to be exact.

Shortly after my arrival I received a phone call from Tex Moncrief’s office. He wanted to meet with me.

About what, I asked?

About oil and oil embargoes, I was told.

“I’ll get our editorial board together,” I said.


Tex said that if was the one in charge of the paper, the last stop on the decision ladder, he would just start and end with me. Clearly this was a buck-stops-here leader and decision maker and he expected the same, not someone supposedly in charge but shielded by a committee.

My recollection is that he came with sons Charlie, who died last January, and Dick. I have been friends with both through the years.

I decided to act as if I knew what I was talking about, which I didn’t. I wanted the young Yankee to look smart, prescient. Coming from the east coast, all I knew about oil was that we used it to heat our house. But I wanted to make conversation and put everyone, especially myself, at ease.

I did know that oil prices, adjusted for inflation, had dropped in half from $68.64 a barrel in 1985 to $36.12 a barrel in that one year of 1986 and had been sliding since an all time high of $124.72 in 1980, so I said: “Tough time in your business.”

Tex did not bat an eye. He was a wildcatter, a risk-taker who had seen oil and oilmen’s fortunes go up and down. Didn’t matter to him. Didn’t scare him. He had learned how to make the best out of whatever conditions existed while he went out to find more oil.

Tex did the rest of the talking but was brief and to the point. He believed in free markets. He looked me square in the eye.

“Mr. Connor,” he said firmly, with sanguine assurance and without bravado, “my family made money when it was way lower than $36 and we still do.”

His was the wildcatter’s optimism fueled by the thrill of the hunt and the fearless edginess of risk-taking and a confidence in tomorrow and the next day. He neither needed nor wanted sympathy. Just the opportunity for a fair chance to compete.

He wanted public policy to help his industry, which had received a boost from President Jimmy Carter when the windfall profits tax was lowered in 1981. By 1988, with Ronald Reagan as president, the windfall profits tax had been removed, ending “disincentives to U.S. oil producers,” according to industry experts. Tex saw the need for that in 1986.

As our meeting ended, I mumbled and stumbled and said the newspaper would support the editorial position that was best for Texas and best for the oil business – and best for Moncrief Oil.

Tex thanked me and, quietly, he was gone.

He had been kind enough not to take me to the woodshed and remind me I knew not a damn thing about his business. He was gracious that way.

Recalling all this now, more than three decades after that meeting and just a day after Moncrief’s death at the age of 101, I can’t help but think about the “old Fort Worth,” about a time when we were not the 12th largest city in the country (and still growing), as we are today. Many of the everyday folks who live here now would not know what or who we were talking about if we just said, “Tex.”

But there was a time when all it took was one word, one name and everyone knew who you were talking about. It’s a distinction earned by only a few in any field of endeavor – those who achieve a unique and towering presence. Actor John Wayne was “Duke.” John Madden, the famed football coach and broadcaster who died Dec. 28, was “Coach.”

So, sure, stories about Tex Moncrief conjure up memories of “the old days” but those days remain symbolic of the foundation Fort Worth and Tarrant County were built on – a foundation that benefits everyone who’s here, not just those of those of us who are lucky enough to remember a time when “Tex” was an unmistakable, one-word, three-letter reference to a Fort Worth giant named Tex Moncrief.

Some folks, even then, might have used “Tex” as a flippant nickname for a stereotypical TV Texan, but Tex Moncrief gave the name dignity and stature.

No matter that he was born in Arkansas. He came to embody the larger-than-life notion of the wildcatter who followed in the footsteps of his wildcatter daddy and whose children maintained the family tradition.

Along the way, they got rich. Forbes magazine’s 2014 billionaires list put Tex Moncrief’s net worth at $1 billion, but the estimates in those rankings are usually on the low side.

Tex was part of a Fort Worth leadership echelon that believed in philanthropy. Folks like Amon G. Carter, Sid Richardson, Perry Bass, Anne Burnett Tandy and her daughter Anne Marion, and many others. They are gone and another has joined their mists. They made the city better through gifts to the arts and civic causes – in contrast to the wealthy who seek personal glory and headlines by embracing projects that line their pockets while boosting their egos and lavish lifestyles. To such individuals, the word civic means how can I make more money and feel important in public?

Tex gifted money, lots of it, primarily to health and education. You can look no further than the Moncrief Cancer Center and all of his work with UT Southwestern. His family name opens doors for those in need at M.D. Anderson in Houston. TCU and his alma mater, UT, have benefited greatly from his philanthropy.

Tex might have been born on his family’s kitchen table in Little Rock but he grew into a man of regal bearing and countenance. He was an imposing figure, tall with wavy gray hair, always courteous and respectful. There was a quietness to him that meant he did not have to speak to be heard. His presence was enough.

I see his passing as the loss of another tall oak from Fort Worth’s fading generational forest of great leaders. His absence expands the void once filled by giants he worked with, other titans who helped build this town. I think particularly of the late Dee J. Kelly, a great Fort Worth leader, who represented Tex not so much as an attorney but as a friend.

Call me parochial. Call me nostalgic. Tell me I’ve been in the Fort Worth media saddle too long. But such leaders enriched our lives and history. We have not seen their like emerge for many years, and perhaps we never will.

Richard Connor
Richard Connor is the owner and CEO/Publisher of DRC Media, the parent company of the Fort Worth Business Press. he also owns newspapers in Virginia. Mr. Connor held a number of corporate media executive positions before founding his own company. He is an award-winning columnist and at one time wrote a weekly column on national politics for CQ Politics, the online version of Washington, D.C.-based Congressional Quarterly.

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