Historic encounter: Kennedy visit leads to a lifetime of service

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Courtney & Courtney

5322 Wedgmont Circle N.

Fort Worth 76133


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Will A. Courtney Sr. had no idea he would witness a historic and life-changing moment when he accompanied his father to a Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce breakfast at the Hotel Texas on Nov. 22, 1963.

“My dad said, ‘Let’s go hear what the president has to say,’ ” recalled Courtney, 82.

The two men paid $3 each for breakfast and chose seats near a side entrance to slip out quickly and avoid the crowd after President John F. Kennedy delivered his speech to chamber members.

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The moment they stepped into the hall, a Secret Service agent “grabbed my arm and said, ‘You come with me,’ ” Courtney said.

The agent took the men to a roped off area where Kennedy and his wife, Jackie, would walk past to get into their limousine for their fateful trip to Dallas. The president walked over and acknowledged Courtney, then 28, who had a pipe in his mouth at the time.

A newspaper photographer caught a shot of the Kennedys getting into the limousine with Courtney standing off to the side.

“And, just think, he only lived about an hour after all this happened,” Courtney said.

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Courtney said he wanted to attend the breakfast because he had been impressed by Kennedy’s famous words from his inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

The combination of the events of that morning and Kennedy’s inspiring words became a life-changing experience for Courtney. Right then, he committed to a lifetime of community service in Fort Worth.

About a month after Kennedy’s assassination, Courtney received a call from Raymond Kelly Sr., inviting him to join the Fort Worth board of Goodwill Industries. With no community leadership experience, Courtney was a little intimidated but he accepted the challenge.

Fifty-four years later, Courtney is still on the Fort Worth board. Known as “Mr. Goodwill,” he continues to volunteer for the local and national Goodwill organization.

As a result of volunteerism and philanthropy, he was named the 2014 Elsine Katz Volunteer Leader of the Year by Goodwill.

He was also inducted into Goodwill’s Hall of Fame, just the second volunteer to receive the honor since the organization was founded in 1902.

He is also a Goodwill Industries International Emeritus board member.

“Will Courtney has been so dedicated to the cause of Goodwill for so many years, that some people assume the charity was named for him … good Will!’”, said David Cox, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries of Fort Worth. “While that’s not the case, we do indeed consider him as our very own ‘good Will.’ ”

“Through Will’s dedicated service and leadership over the past 54 years, Goodwill has grown into a force that has touched countless lives in our community,” Cox said. “The experience, history and business savvy that he brings to our organization is priceless.”

But Goodwill is just one of Courtney’s many community service contributions. He has been involved with many other nonprofits, including the USO World Board of Governors, the Van Cliburn Foundation, Downtown Fort Worth Rotary Club, Fort Worth Public Library and the Ronald McDonald House of Fort Worth.

And because of his admiration for Kennedy, he was a benefactor to the Fort Worth JFK Tribute in downtown’s Gen. Worth Square.

Courtney remains involved with Courtney & Courtney Properties, a commercial real estate firm that owns and manages shopping centers and other properties in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Courtney formed the company in in the late 1950s after making one of the most lucrative deals of his lifetime.

After earning a degree in farming and ranching at Texas Tech University, Courtney attended Southern Methodist University in Dallas to learn and earn his credentials in real estate. SMU was one of only two schools in Texas to offer this program at the time.

As part of his training, he interned with the legendary Dallas real estate brokerage firm of Henry S. Miller.

He was then hired by the firm, where he had the good fortune of selling a piece of land in downtown Dallas that was part of the large acquisition made over time for what is now Bank of America Plaza, the 72-story skyscraper that is the tallest in Dallas and the third tallest in Texas.

Courtney used his earnings to buy a block of property for a shopping center across the street from the SMU campus.

He was eager to get back to Fort Worth and Henry S. Miller offered Courtney the opportunity to open a Fort Worth office for the firm.

But Courtney turned down the offer because of his wife Esther’s health problems as well as a desire to open his own firm with his father, Quinn P. Courtney Sr., who had already acquired about 500 acres of land in the Fort Worth-Saginaw area as part of his real estate dealings.

“I thought it was best if I just looked after our own properties,” Courtney said.

Most of Courtney’s business is in the Dallas-Fort Worth area except for a shopping center he owns in Colorado Springs.

During one of his many family visits to The Broadmoor hotel in Colorado Springs, he recalled that he got bored sitting around and went out for a while and ended up buying a shopping center.

Now a father of two and a grandfather of two, Courtney still goes into the office every day and is still living a life of service.

Courtney continues to smoke a pipe, just like he did when he caught the attention of JFK as one of the last admirers the late president interacted with that tragic day.

To this day, Courtney said, he believes it was his pipe that impressed Kennedy and drew the president to greet him.

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