WHO'S WHO - GUS S. WORTHAM
When Gus S. Wortham passed away in 1976, he was eulogized by The New York Times as "a cattle baron and an insurance tycoon."
Included among his many spreads was the famous Bar Nine Ranch, where astronauts rubbed shoulders with ambassadors and socialites at auction cocktail parties. The genetics research Wortham funded kept Houston at the forefront of the science internationally for decades.
Wortham explained his fondness for land investments succinctly: "They arenít making any more of it."
Land transactions helped spur the growth of the insurance company he founded in 1926. Conceived as a "multi-line" agency, American General moved aggressively into mortgage financing in 1939, the year Houston led the nation in new residential construction.
During half a century of his leadership, the company grew apace with the Houston economy and became a multi-billion-dollar financial services giant.
Wortham threw his weight behind several significant civic projects, with the Houston Symphony Orchestra a major beneficiary. Built entirely with private donations, the Wortham Theatre Center houses both the Houston Grand Opera and the Houston Ballet.
A two-term president of the Chamber of Commerce, Wortham was praised for his remarkable ability to get Houstonians to go to work for the general welfare of the city. He convinced government planners to swing more than $250 million worth of defense contracts to Houston during each year of World War II.
During the fifties, Wortham helped orchestrate the construction of a football stadium for Rice University. During the sixties, he helped make the Astrodome happen.
He led by example, and established a Wortham Foundation to continue his support of cultural activities and the development of a greener Houston. His name echoes throughout the city at Gus Wortham Park, Gus Wortham Memorial Fountain, Wortham Fountain at Texas Medical Center, Wortham House (home of the University of Houston chancellor), Wortham IMAX Theater at the Museum of Natural Science, Wortham World of Primates at the Houston Zoo, and Wortham Tower in the American General Center.
Once American General was up and running, Wortham began to indulge his love of acreage. In 1944, he bought Randle Lake Plantation in Milam County. Once he realized his real interest was breeding cattle, Randle Lakeís perfect quilt of oats, clover and maize became dotted with shiny red heifers, bulls and calves.
In 1959, Wortham held the Houston areaís first registered Santa Gertrudis sale. These "citified" auctions became glitzy social events. "Big Men, Big Money, Big Day at the Bar Nine," blazed a Chronicle headline in 1961. In one sale, a half interest in Bull 099, the son of El Capitan, was sold for $32,500, a record price.
At the end of his career, Wortham turned American General over to a new generation of management, and pointed out to his successors how strenuously he expected them to uphold his sterling traditions. One of Worthamís last remarks before his death was an allusion to his gravesite, from whence, he promised firmly, "Iíll be watching you."