Cats, supposedly, have nine lives. Professionally, I am in my sixth! My second life was as a college and university professor and administrator. In the 1950s, while serving as vice president of Austin College in Texas, President John Dean Moseley and I were fortunate in recruiting the three founders of Texas Instruments — Cecil Green (known and loved by many San Diegans when he and Ida moved here in retirement), Erik Jonsson, and Gene McDermott — to serve as trustees and to help us build a more meaningful small, church-related college.

One day, I drove Erik from our campus back to his home in Dallas. We talked about Dallas, the city, and the difficulties it faced. We agreed: It had good leadership, but not great. It had some good industry, but it needed more.

It had a strong retailing base, but pretty much confined to Dallas.

People in Dallas knew Dallas, but people in Texas knew little about this growing city. In the capitol, Austin, the legislature was a workable group of “old-boy” Democrats (influenced by U. S. Rep. Sam Rayburn and Senator Lyndon Johnson), who knew Austin and Houston, but rarely saw or heard from Dallas.

Same scenario in Washington: a weak delegation from north central Texas hardly knew each other and had to (they felt) listen to Sam and Lyndon.

Using Austin College as an example, Erik Jonsson thought about the almost- daily contact he and his new Trustee-associates had with us, the counsel we sought from our volunteer leadership, the influence he felt we accepted from some men (sorry, ladies, this was the 50s) to accomplish what we all were certain had to occur to assure a much stronger college.

He asked: “What if I tried to do the same thing for the city of Dallas?”

Erik talked to his partners, Cecil and Gene. They talked to Stanley Marcus of Neiman Marcus, and to prominent oilman Toddie Lee Wynne, to political activist, Robert Strauss, to entrepreneur Ross Perot, to developer Trammell Crow, and to a dozen other leaders in business, industry, education, architecture, development, the arts.

Soon there was a relatively quiet “committee” of a hundred Dallas-centered leaders who began to act and interact to build a better city.

When there was an elective position coming vacant in Dallas — e.g. mayor, City Council, school board; in Texas’ capitol of Austin, e.g. Dallas-area representation in the Legislature; Congressional posts — this group recruited, trained, and financed candidates who were strong, fit, physically and mentally, with background, education, and experience, who loved Dallas . . . and saw that the voters were exposed to these candidates and believed they should represent them at whatever level of service they now sought.

For decades it worked. It made a difference. Dallas became strong. Dallas won more funding and support. The city changed n- many feel, for the better and the best.

When I came to San Diego in 1970, I did a study which included one-to-one interviews with 75 women and men whom Scripps Clinic Trustees felt represented the leadership then of San Diego. The same 20 men were on everyone’s lists.

They worked with Mayor Frank Curran and two or three of his successors to build a very young and aspiring City.

Today, 75 interviews would produce a list of 150 to 200 community ‘leaders’ but no nucleus of 25 or 50 that everyone agreed really are the “committee” that can heal and grow this precious place.

I wish Erik (who later became Dallas’ Mayor), Cecil and Gene were here to help.


Leave a comment

We expect all commenters to be constructive and civil. We reserve the right to delete comments without explanation. You are welcome to flag comments to us. You are welcome to submit an opinion piece for our editors to review.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.