GREAT CITIZENS - WALTER W. FONDREN, SR.
Sterling's partner in the Humble Oil Company, Walter W. Fondren, Sr., arrived in Houston from Beaumont with his wife in 1904. In 1911, he and Sterling organized the Humble Oil Company with an initial capital of $75,000. Because of extensive knowledge of drilling, Fondren served as director and vice-president in charge of field operations while Sterling handled management and financial affairs.
Fondren was born on June 6, 1877 in Union City, Tennessee, to Thomas Fondren, a farmer, and his wife. After the death of his parents in Arkansas, where the family had moved in 1883, Fondren moved to Texas at the age of seventeen where he began working in the Corsicana oil fields in 1899, just at the beginning of the oil boom.
Fondren's career, like Cullinan's, paralleled the growth of the oil industry in Texas. In 1901, he moved from Corsicana to Beaumont and became a drilling contractor and independent oil operator, at a time when oil men were developing the coastal fields. On Valentine's Day, February 14,1903, Fondren married Ella Cochrum in Corsicana.
Until he retired in 1933, Fondren served as vice- president of Humble Oil, thereafter forming the Fondren Oil Company. He also served as a vice-president and director of the National Bank of Commerce. In 1934, during the depression, Fondren accepted the position of district director of the Federal Housing Administration in charge of the recovery programs in 41 area counties. He was a director of the Seaboard Life Insurance Company and a national director of the derrick equipment standardizing for the American Petroleum Institute. In addition, he served as a member of the board of the Houston Methodist Hospital.
A leading layman in the Southern Methodist Episcopal Church, Fondren, throughout his life, worked for charitable causes and contributed to educational programs. In 1920, he was elected a trustee of Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Fondren died suddenly on January 5, 1939 in San Antonio, Texas, at the age of 61, while attending a Methodist Church meeting as a lay representative from Houston. His wife, Ella, continued his philanthropic endeavors. In 1946, she donated funds to Rice Institute for a new library. In 1968, the Fondren-Sterling and Ella F. and Walter W. Fondren buildings of Houston's Methodist Hospital opened as additional legacies of the Fondren Philanthropy.