There were giants – and their footprints remain

Editor’s note: We asked Fort Worth businessman, author and frequent Business Press contributor Don Woodard to add his insight to our 25th anniversary edition by reflecting on influential members of the business community who have passed from the scene but whose legacies live on in the progress we see today. His column focuses on two men he knew well and particularly admired, Sid Richardson and Babe Fuqua.

In the Bible Genesis tells us that “There were giants in the earth in those days and the same became mighty men of renown.” Eons later starting in the year 1849 AD, there were giants in what would become Fort Worth when Major Ripley Arnold and his dragoons built a fort on the bluff overlooking the confluence of two rivers. Down the halls of time would come a legion of giants, one of whom was Amon G. Carter, showman and publisher. He put Fort Worth on the map. Streets, buildings, stadiums, airports bear his name. And what shall I more say, for time and space would fail me to name all the rest. They’re all gone. Some sleep in dull, cold marble. Some sleep in Pioneers Rest. Some in Greenwood’s manicured lawns. Some in ill-kept country cemeteries God knows where. No matter. All had a hand in building a gleaming alabaster city of world renown out Where the West Begins.

I will tell you a tale of two of these city builders – Sid Richardson and Babe Fuqua. Fast friends. Wildcatters. An oil patch Jonathan and David. Babe, who headed up Gulf Oil’s Fort Worth Division, was recognized as a preeminent geologist in West Texas. In 1949 he left Gulf to become CEO of Texas Pacific Coal & Oil Company and chairman of the Fort Worth National Bank. He would become The Man to See, the acknowledged successor to Amon Carter. Babe would lead the fight to build D/FW Airport between Dallas and Fort Worth. On the night of the 1967 bond election when Tarrant voters said Yes but Dallas voters said No, Fuqua told me through clenched teeth at the Fort Worth Club: “That airport will be built.” It was. He never gave up. Sid was a hustler. Although he made and lost more than one fortune, he would never admit defeat. Like Babe, he would always try again. He would drill just a little deeper. An example:

On Sept. 15, 1942, Amon G. Carter and The Pure Oil Company commenced drilling the J.B. Walton No. 2C in Winkler County. Location of the well was on the shallow producing Keystone Cattle Ranch. Sid with nearby leases had more than a passing interest in the outcome of the operation. When the Carter-Pure well reached the Silurian formation, Amon had seen enough, but Sid and Babe Fuqua’s Gulf Oil, also with leases in the immediate area, had a hunch that the big pay would be in the lower-lying Ellenberger and agreed to pay the costs of deepening the well to that formation. On June 6, 1943, the Walton hit the Ellenberger at 9,524 feet, flowing at a rate of more than 6,500 barrels a day to open Winkler County’s fabulous Keystone Ellenberger field. Sid Richardson’s drill a little deeper philosophy paid off. Oil reserves from this mammoth field were worth more than a billion dollars. In 1946, Sid and Amon bought the Texas Hotel in downtown Fort Worth and opened a swank club-restaurant on the lower (Ellenberger?) level of the hotel. Its name? The Keystone Room.  

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Fast forward to Nov. 22, 1963. It was in this same Texas Hotel that President John F. Kennedy spent his last night, ate his last breakfast and gave his last speech before flying off to Dallas, a city where Amon Carter once said he always took a paper sack lunch. And the Texas Hotel was not all that came out of the Keystone Ellenberger discovery. When you think of Fort Worth, don’t the Bass 40-story skyscrapers come to mind? I call the Main Street skyscraper El Sid and the one on Commerce The Uncle Babe.

None of this is intended in any way to minimize the genius, persistence and financial wizardry of the Bass Brothers – Sid’s nephews – in bringing good things to pass. What they have done to capitalize on good fortune and inheritance to rebuild downtown Fort Worth with skyscrapers, Opera House and Sundance Square is miraculous and marvelous and a thing of beauty and joy forever. It’s like St. Paul, a Sid Richardson of his day, wrote to the Corinthians: “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.” Now let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of these two giants, Babe Fuqua and Sid Richardson. I attended the funerals of both in Fort Worth churches – Sid in 1959 in Broadway Baptist, Billy Graham preaching, and Babe in 1988 in First Presbyterian, Pastor Robert W. Bohl preaching.

At the end of his sermon, Billy turned to the casket and spoke directly to his friend: “Mr. Sid,” he intoned. I do not recall the exact words, but I seem to think it was an acknowledgement of Sid’s strong support of his ministry, followed by a Baptist credo like “I’ll Meet You In The Morning.” At Babe’s funeral Dr. Bohl paid this tribute: “Herbert Breedlove Fuqua (affectionately known by his mother and us as Babe) had a sense of high moral principles. He had integrity and honesty. He was a consummate businessman and, behind the scenes, a consummate politician, always looking out for what would be good for this City, this State, this Nation. He knew how to weed out the nonessentials, and could get quickly at the heart of the matter. It is true that his Yes was Yes and his No was No. But he was always fair.” I knew both of these City Builders. I know they would say with the poet Edwin Markham:

We are blind until we see That in the human plan Nothing is worth the making If it does not make the man. Why build these cities glorious If man unbuilded goes? In vain we build the building Unless the builder also grows.

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Don Woodard is the author of Black Diamonds!Black Gold!: The Saga of Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company.