Building Fort Worth: Legendary leader Preston Geren Jr. dies


Preston Geren Jr. courtesy of the family. 

Gail Bennison Special to the Business Press

A legendary architect and engineer, businessman, community servant, philanthropist and devoted husband and family man has left both tangible and intangible footprints on his beloved Fort Worth and well beyond. Preston Murdoch Geren Jr. died June 12 after a lengthy illness. He was 89. His wife, Colleen Edwards Geren, died in 2012. Preston Geren was born Dec. 16, 1923, in Fort Worth, the son of Preston M. Geren and Linda Giesecke Geren. After graduating from Arlington Heights High School in 1941, he attended Texas A&M University. Like many of the members of the Class of 1945, he interrupted his studies to join the Army in World War II. Geren was commissioned an officer in the Third Army and served with distinction in the European Theater. He was awarded the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart. “Preston was a product of our greatest generation,” says longtime friend and Fort Worth attorney Dee J. Kelly. “He was a war hero, highly successful architect, a great civic leader, and a wonderful husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather. What else can you ask of a man?” After the war, Geren resumed his education at Georgia Tech, where he graduated with a degree in architecture and engineering in 1947, and joined his father’s firm, Preston M. Geren Architects & Engineers. After his father’s death in 1969, Geren led the firm to become one of the largest and most respected in the state. Many of his favorite projects were for Texas universities, including Texas Christian University, the University of Texas Medical School, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, the University of Texas at Arlington, his beloved Texas A&M and numerous community colleges. The reach of his practice included many hospitals, churches, banks and office buildings. Geren was especially proud of his firm’s work as associate architect with Louis Kahn on the Kimbell Art Museum and in designing schools in 137 Texas school districts and many buildings on the Texas A&M campus, including the Clayton Williams Alumni Center. Geren believed that the greatest gift an individual could receive was an education. He sponsored seven scholarships at Texas A&M and was the first to receive the Fort Worth A&M Club Lifetime Achievement Award. “Preston was a wonderful man and a dear friend to me and my husband for many years,” said Kay Fortson, the Kimbell Art Museum’s board president. “We have very fond memories of working with him while the Kimbell was being built. He will be deeply missed.” Geren represented A&M’s “first family of architecture” for several decades, said Jorge Vanegas, dean of the Texas A&M College of Architecture. “His grandfather, Frederick Giesecke, taught the first architecture class in 1905, and like his father and uncle, Preston learned the architecture profession on the A&M campus and contributed to its design. He continued to embody that family tradition through unwavering support of the college as a member of advisory councils and through financial support, visibly represented by the Preston M. Geren Auditorium, honoring his father, and the Frederick Giesecke Lecture Series, honoring his grandfather.” Michael Bennett, principal and CEO of Bennett Benner Pettit Architects + Planners in Fort Worth, said that Geren’s legacy of commitment to the community and the quality of his firm’s work created a template that others continue to try to emulate. “I think he also understood that many of the problem-solving skills and creativity required to practice architecture can also be used to push forward community initiatives, which he did,” Bennett said. “Our firm is fortunate to have employed a number of his ‘alumni’ and they continue to pass along the craft of architecture that they learned under him to younger generations.” As a civic leader, Geren served as chairman of the Trinity Improvement Association, organizer and president of Streams & Valleys, president of the Exchange Club, and board member of the Fort Worth Children’s Hospital, Fort Worth Museum of Science and History and Fort Worth Symphony. Geren was a member of the President George H.W. Bush Library Committee and the Texas A&M Chancellor and President’s advisory committees. He also served as president of the 12th Man Foundation of Texas A&M and was elected to the Westover Hills City Council and the Tarrant Regional Water District. He was a lifetime member and two-term vestryman of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in downtown Fort Worth. As a businessman, Geren served on the board of directors of Ridglea State Bank, Equitable Savings & Loan, Fort Worth National Bank, Gibraltar Savings Bank, First United Bancorp, Enserch Corp., Pool Well Service Co. and Ebasco Services Co. He was a founder and director of Overton Bank & Trust, now merged into Frost Bank. Describing Geren as a great man and a remarkable architect, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said his vision helped shape much of the aesthetic character of Fort Worth. “Preston really had an incredible impact on our city in his career and his philanthropy. We will miss him greatly,” Price said. Geren is survived by his five children, Charlie Geren, Pete Geren, Eva Geren Motheral, Chandra Edwards Geren and Dr. B.T. “Toby” Erwin III, 11 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. “All of our lives, our dad has been someone we could look up to,” said Charlie Geren, a state representative and Fort Worth businessman. “Even when he was working non-stop, he always had time to take us hunting or on annual family trips together. There’s nothing he wouldn’t do for his family,” Charlie said. “Dad taught us to never be embarrassed about saying I love you. And don’t be late. Dad didn’t do late. And he was always loyal.” Charlie Geren said his father was incredibly modest and instilled in all of his children the importance of giving back, telling them that they were fortunate as a family. “He’s probably the greatest grandfather and great-grandfather any child could have,” Charlie said. “He cherished every one of them from the day they were born, and he loved to take them all to the Aggies football games. ‘If you do what’s right, don’t worry about the consequences,’ he would say, ‘as long as you’re doing what’s right.’ That’s the way he raised all of us.” Pete Geren, a former U.S. representative and current president of the Sid Richardson Foundation in Fort Worth, said his father lived his advice rather than speaking it. “He was a very disciplined man with a strong sense of duty and spoke by example,” Pete said. “His devotion to Colleen, particularly after she became ill in the early ‘80s, is what comes to mind when I think about him. His selfless commitment and devotion to her over the decades of her health struggles is among my strongest memories of him.” A recent memory with his dad will stay with Pete forever, he said. “He and I went to the Cotton Bowl together and watched A&M beat Oklahoma. He had a wonderful time that night,” Pete said. “A few minutes were left in the game, and I asked if he wanted to leave early and beat the traffic. He said, ‘No, I’m staying until the end.’ Going to countless A&M games was such an important part of us growing up and we all have wonderful memories of those times in the stands, and going to the pep rallies the nights before,” he continued. “In the last year of his life, I got to share one of those A&M football moments with him. I treasure it. And he was a wonderful ‘grandad.’ He worked hard to make sure they knew each other, had that family connection, and would never drift apart. And he succeeded.”