Editor’s note: Legendary Fort Worth entrepreneur/developer Holt Hickman passed away Nov. 15 at the age of 82. Savvy, smart and shrewd, he was a colorful Texas character of the first order, a ferocious competitor, and a true gentleman. Richard Connor wrote this reflection on Hickman’s class and dignity earlier this year.
The late Bob Bolen, the man who turned the Fort Worth mayor’s job into a full-time position, is not here to defend himself but that’s okay. He would not need a defense.
It was springtime, several years after Bolen’s 1991 departure from the mayor’s office, when he phoned me at the Star-Telegram where I was president and publisher. Said he’d be “right over,” and had important news to tell me. Bringing a friend with him.
Bob Bolen took Fort Worth boosterism, molded it like clay in his hands, and turned it into an art form.
Within an hour he was at my office and introduced me to Holt Hickman, owner of the Stockyards. Now, Holt did not own all of the Stockyards but along with a partner or two he owned enough of the real estate there to be able to claim proprietary rights.
This is a column about how I started out slowly but over time realized how smart Holt Hickman was, is and continues to be. I also came to admire the way he never gives up. If he has an idea – and he has many – he will not let obstacles stand in his way.
“Holt’s bringing in some new partners and they are going to go full out to promote the idea of casino gambling in Texas,” proclaimed Bolen. “And one of the first casinos will be right here in the Stockyards.”
By my side at the meeting was Bill Thompson, an editor and a columnist at the Star-Telegram. He and I worked on editorial page positions together as well as reporting projects. Mike Blackman was the editor of the paper but was out of town that day.
“I told Holt you will be in full support of this project,” said Bolen. He was smiling broadly.
I shook my head back and forth in a manner that normally indicates the word “no” will soon be spoken. Bolen grimaced.
“Not going to happen,” I said.
Bolen was stunned and Hickman even more surprised. I had the distinct impression he had been assured by Bolen that I would agree and be supportive of virtually anything that Bolen thought was good for Fort Worth.
I like to point out in these stories that I was barely 40 years old. My hope is that I will get consideration for the impetuosity of youth. But, the fact is that bad manners are bad manners.
I displayed bad manners.
Thompson and I had previously worked in Pennsylvania, I said, and we had each read what was known as the “Pennsylvania Crime Commission Report.” It was damning about the deleterious effects of casino gambling and it implicated the Mafia at every turn of a page.
“We will come down squarely and vehemently against casino gambling here,” I said. “Don’t need to discuss or debate it. We know how we feel about it.”
The room grew silent.
Bolen at moments such as this would usually tell me how disappointed “Amon” would be that I was sitting in his chair. The group solemnly marched out of our offices.
I wrote an editorial against casino gambling in the Stockyards and it won a number of journalism awards. I was most likely smug in my acceptance.
Several years later I was on a trip with friends and their wives for a weekend in Florida. Holt and his lovely wife, Jo, were in the group.
At cocktail hour the first night, I walked up to Holt to tell him that since that first meeting with him I had reflected on my behavior and found it rude and inappropriate.
He looked me in the eye, kindly, and said he remembered the encounter well. He paused.
“Thank you,” he said. “You were just doing your job as you saw it. Now, let’s forget it and move on.”
I have never forgotten either my behavior on that day long ago or his graciousness.
Richard Connor is chairman of the Business Press’ parent company, DRC Media. Contact him at email@example.com.