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(1927 – 2010)Robert A. Mosbacher, Sr.

One thing many people did not know about the late Robert A. Mosbacher, Sr., is that the Houston oil tycoon who was Secretary of Commerce under President George Bush and that he was also an accomplished sailor. He won several lucrative races, in fact, by staying competitive, disciplined, prepared, having high-quality equipment, and assembling top-notch crews—"people whom I like and respect," he once said.

That may have also been the right recipe for Mosbacher’s success in the oil business. A transplanted New Englander, he came to Houston over half a century ago as an oil and gas wildcatter seeking his fortune in the opportunity-rich Southwest. Today, his Mosbacher Energy Co., of which his son, Robert A. Mosbacher, Jr. is the current chairman, is one of the most successful independent exploration firms in the country. Before Mosbacher, Sr. passing his personal worth was estimated in the hundreds of millions.

Mosbacher was born in 1927 in Mount Vernon, New York. His father was a wealthy stock trader who cashed in most of his holdings before Wall Street crashed, so the family did not suffer during the Depression. Mosbacher graduated from Washington & Lee University in Virginia in 1947 with a degree in business administration.

About a year later, Mosbacher decided to head west, where his father had some oil investments, and try his luck at wildcatting. He planted himself in Houston, where he promptly began poring over county records searching for oil leases.

The first hole he drilled was dry, but in 1954 he found a million-dollar field of natural gas in south Texas. "There was no doubt I was just very, very lucky," Mosbacher said of this early years in business. Since then the company has continued to do well, and its operations extend not only throughout the United States, but also into Canada, India, and other countries. Like others in the oil and gas business, the sharp drop in prices in the 1980s took its toll on Mosbacher’s company, but he weathered the storm well, in part because he kept his debt low.

But that is only part of the Mosbacher story. As he excelled at business and made powerful contacts around the country, Mosbacher became more and more involved in government. He spent decades as a highly respected fund-raiser, raising tens of millions of dollars for Republican candidates, including such names as Ford and Nixon, as well as for the national GOP. After he raised $75 million for fellow wildcatter and longtime friend George Bush, the new president tapped him as Commerce Secretary. Mosbacher held that position from 1989 to 1992. He also has served as general chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Mosbacher said he enjoyed melding his business and government interests over the years but never had the desire to run for public office. "I'll leave that up to my son," he said of Robert A. Mosbacher Jr., a one-time candidate for Houston mayor in 1997 and chairman of the company his father founded.

Charismatic, amiable, and always quick to laugh, Mosbacher said that his government service is really no different than volunteering at a hospital or helping out at community centers. "I think it is basic human instinct to be helpful," he said.

Robert Mosbacher, a longtime Republican fundraising power and influential adviser to President George H.W. Bush, died on January 24, 2010, of complications from pancreatic cancer in Houston at the age of 82.

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