InMarket: Bob Bolen, the public/private partnership

Robert Francis

I probably got to know Bob Bolen because I was homesick. I was working for Fairchild Publications in Houston and though my hometown was only five short, traffic-headache inducing hours away, I still missed the Tex-Mex, Bar-B-Q as well as friends and family.  

So when I got a chance to pursue a story up this way about plans for Alliance Airport, I naturally phoned Mayor Bob Bolen to chat about economic development. He liked talking economic development and manufacturing, my beat at the time. And bicycles, bike trails, Benito’s, Massey’s, Angelo’s and other topics that brought joy to those of us who live in Fort Worth. When I finally met Bolen in person, he recalled me from that era, but he would always look at my name tag and shake his head. “Oh, Francis, I got in a lot of trouble for misspelling that,” he would say.

- FWBP Digital Partners -

Bolen’s wife, Frances, spelled her name with an “e,” while Bob, apparently for many years spelled it, like my last name, with an “i.” When Frances Bolen found Bob spelling her name with an “i”, several years after they had been married, she apparently wasn’t too happy. In fact, when I sat next to Bolen at a Fort Worth South banquet last March, he still recalled it. “Wives don’t like it when you misspell their name,” was the savvy advice he offered. Words to live by, I’d say. Bob Bolen was apparently good at giving advice. Just ask Mike Berry, president of Hillwood Properties. “He has really caused me to have a different perspective on things than I would have, had it not been for the influence and the opportunities to spend time with someone as wise as he was,” Berry said. “He was a wise, wise man and he had a unique ability to bring people together throughout his entire life, both in his business and political career, and then later on in civic and community roles.”  

Bob could also be inspiring by how he went about his business. One cold, icy morning I had a breakfast to attend at Texas Christian University. I bundled up, grousing about the weather, the fact it was cold, early and who knows what else. I got to TCU and who do I see walking briskly across the parking lot, looking like he was whistling, no overcoat and happy as a lark: Bob Bolen. He was probably 85 or so then and had a few health problems. I immediately put a cap on my complaints. If Bob could have a good attitude, so could I. While Bolen usually talked about big projects like Alliance Airport, downtown Fort Worth and other far-reaching economic impact issues, he liked talking about bicycles as well. He particularly liked talking about the fact that Fort Worth has a pretty good system of bike trails. That he saw as something good for both the city and for bike shop owners. He noted that Fort Worth’s bike trails run close to where he once ran his bicycle shops. Maybe that was the seed of his well-known public/private partnership philosophy that has generally served Fort Worth well in this modern era.  

In our 25th Anniversary issue published Dec. 23, 2013, Bolen recounted what may have been the deal that laid the groundwork for Fort Worth’s modern era, the printing plant. Bolen gathered Ed and Lee Bass, Tandy Corp. CEO John Roach and American Airlines’ Robert Crandall, held a 20 minute meeting to discuss what to do about the $3.5 million shortfall needed to nail down the city’s bid for a new currency plant. Following the meeting they had the required funds. From the story: “Fort Worth’s victory in the nationwide competition for the currency plant boosted the city’s nascent pursuit of business at the same time as the state was reeling from the real estate and savings and loan collapse, and it highlights a significant part of Bolen’s legacy as mayor.” Bob was proud of his city. At that same Fort Worth South Annual Banquet in March, he was thrilled about Magnolia Avenue and the development around the area. Bolen told me with joy in his voice: “You go to any city, anywhere in any country and you won’t find anything better. I love it, just love it.” You can fake a lot of things in life, but joy isn’t one of them.

Got an idea for InMarket? Email Robert Francis at

- Advertisement -