Houston is made so much more wonderful because of its leaders and legends who have expended exorbitant effort, energy, resources and pure love to improve the city and its residents. Knowing that there are many among us who go unrecognized and unsung as they venture out into the world, making a difference every day, we are reminded that “the world knows nothing of its greatest men.” These 25 individuals offer but a glimmer into the heart of Houston — the can-do, spirited, open-hearted, dynamic and talented citizens who have earned Houston its reputation as one of the most charitable cities in the world.
As a fashion consultant, Gayla Bentley realized the difficulty many women have in finding fashionable clothing in sizes larger than a 10. In 2001, she launched her design business, Gayla Bentley Collection with her own studio and with trunk shows across the country. (Her clothing is now available at NeimanMarcus.com and in the NM mail order catalog.) Bentley has chaired fundraisers for Big Brother and Big Sisters, served on the board of the Southern Dominican Fathers, and volunteered with the Fashion Group Foundation of Houston, Houston Ballet and The Partnership for Baylor College of Medicine. She also offers internships and scholarships to fashion students.
Those who know Jack Sawtelle Blanton describe him as the most humble man alive. Others give him credit for being one of the primary builders of the medical center, having served for years on the boards of the Texas Medical Center, University of Texas System, Methodist Health Care System, Harris County Hospital District, Houston Partnership, Houston Endowment and many others. When delivering the commencement speeches he so often is invited to give, the theme is constant: “Repay your debt to the society that nurtured you by serving others.”
Barbara Pierce Bush met her future husband, George H. W. Bush, when she was just 16. Four years later, they were married. When her husband was Vice President, she selected the promotion of literacy as her special cause. As First Lady, she called working for a more literate America the “most important issue we have;” and she helped develop the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, for which she serves as honorary chair and hosts its annual fundraiser. She helps many causes, including the homeless, AIDS, the elderly and school volunteer programs; and she serves on the Boards of AmeriCares and the Mayo Clinic Foundation and is a strong supporter of the Leukemia Society of America, the Ronald McDonald House and the Boys &Girls Club of America.
The nationally prominent pastor, Kirbyjon H. Caldwell, has witnessed Windsor Village United Methodist Church grow from its original 25 members to become one of the largest churches in the country. Under his leadership, the church and the Pyramid Community Development Corporation developed the 104,000-square-foot Power Center. Pastor Caldwell serves on the boards of the National Children’s Defense Fund, Baylor College of Medicine, SMU, Music Hall Foundation, Board of Visitors at M. D. Anderson, Greater Houston Partnership and many others. He founded the Patrice House, The Imani School and the Village of Hope.
One of the most prominent cardiovascular surgeons in the world, Dr. Denton A. Cooley has contributed to the techniques for repair and replacement of diseased heart valves and is widely known for his pioneering surgical treatment of cardiac anomalies of infants and children. He believes his major accomplishment has been the creation of the Texas Heart Institute and developing the Cooley Surgical Society. Among his more than 120 honors and awards are the National Medal of Technology, presented by President Clinton; the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, presented by President Reagan; and the Rene Leriche Prize, the highest honor of the International Surgical Society for cardiovascular contributions.
A native Houstonian, Rose Cullen has spent a major part of her life in the service of others. Currently, she is serving on the boards of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; University of Houston Moores School of Music; Friends of Nursing at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital; Houston Eye Associates Foundation; St. Agnes Academy Foundation; and The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston; as well as the executive committee and advisory board of The Ballet Foundation. She has worked to develop a merchandising endowment for the University of Houston Department of Human Development and has co-chaired The Assistance Fund Gala for four years.
Nancy Dinerstein started her community service as a candy striper, making milk shakes in the old Texas Children’s snack bar when she was just 13. She continues her relationship with Texas Children’s, having served as a founding member of the Development Council, a chairman of the “Hail to the Chief” Luncheon and an active participant in the 2001 Cow Parade. Much of her focus has been with the American Heart Association, where she chaired the “Heart of the Nile” Heart Ball, served on the AHA Board and chaired the inaugural “Go Red for Heart” luncheon. She is vice president of the Ronald McDonald House Houston and serves on the boards of Foundation for Teen Health, Holocaust Museum Houston and the Partnership for Baylor College of Medicine.
Clyde Drexler, nicknamed “Clyde the Glide” because of his grace on the basketball court, was a member of “Phi Slama Jama” at the University of Houston, a group dedicated to becoming the best student athletes they could become. Clyde made first-team All-American after leading the team to a second-straight NCAA Final Four and first NCAA championship game in school history. Reuniting with his buddy Hakeem Olajuwon, together they led the Rockets to the NBA championships. He became the Head Basketball Coach of his alma mater, and was named one of the 50 greatest NBA players in 1997. In 2004, Drexler was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame. He spends much of his free time supporting the community, particularly helping children.
Dr. Ralph D. Feigin is an internationally renown expert in pediatric infectious diseases and currently serves as the J. S. Abercrombie professor of pediatrics, chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at the Baylor College of Medicine and physician-in-chief of Texas Children’s Hospital. In addition to being named the senior vice president of Baylor College of Medicine in 1994, he also served as dean of medical education for Baylor College of Medicine, positions he held until his appointment as president and CEO in 1996. A member of the National Association of Children’s Hospitals Advisory Plan on Terrorism and Children’s Hospitals, he is chairman of the Medical Advisory Steering Committee of the City of Houston Task Force on Bioterrorism.
Richard Flowers has been recognized by the Houston Chronicle as the ultimate event planner in Houston for total event planning and production. Additionally, Flowers donates his time to many charitable causes and served as co-chairman of the 75th Houston Symphony Anniversary Gala, Chron’s &Colitis Winter Ball and Hermann Hospital Children’s Miracle Network Telethon. He also chaired the Heritage Society Ball, and has served on the boards of Chron’s &Colitis, Houston Symphony, Houston Grand Opera and Heritage Society.
After experiencing a troubled youth, George Foreman won the boxing heavyweight class gold medal at the Mexico City Olympic Games in 1968. Foreman then captured the world heavyweight boxing championship in 1973. He became an evangelical minister, pastor of a church, and in 1984, opened the George Foreman Youth and Community Center. He regained his title in 1994 at age 45 to become the world’s oldest heavyweight boxing champion. Foreman became even more famous as the spokesman for Meineke Muffler and the George Foreman Grill. In 2003, he was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Television viewers know Shara Fryer as an award-winning journalist and the longest running anchorwoman in Houston television. A surviving cancer patient, Fryer devotes much of her time to various cancer outreach programs and has established the Shara Fryer Cancer Research Fund in the Department of Surgical Oncology at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She is a fellow of the American Leadership Forum, director of Houston World Affairs Council and trustee for the Retina Research Foundation; and she has chaired numerous charitable events and serves on many boards.
E. J. “Jodie” Hoffer started Hoffer Furniture Company in 1977 and currently serves as the company’s chairman of the board. Giving back to the community has been an ongoing commitment throughout his lifetime. Hoffer helped found national and local chapters of The Furniture Bank, whose purpose is to aid those in need of household furnishings, and has served on its board of directors since its inception. He has held leadership positions for the March of Dimes, Theatre Under the Stars, Houston Grand Opera, American Cancer Society and many more.
Peter C. Marzio, the director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston since 1982, is generally credited with helping build public participation in MFAH activities to a record high and making the museum not only a cultural success, but a business success. He is reputed to be the most successful fundraiser the museum has ever had and one of the driving forces behind the funding campaign that raised $126 million for the Beck Building. Completed in 2000, the building more than doubled the museum’s exhibition space, catapulting it from 30th to sixth largest in the nation.
George Mitchell is the former chairman and CEO of Mitchell Energy and Development Corp. In the ’60s, it was Mitchell who envisioned a real estate project unlike anything ever seen in the Houston area: The Woodlands. Built on 25,000 acres, when sold in 1997, this master-planned community had a population of 48,000. Mitchell was instrumental in founding Houston Advanced Research Center and founded the Center for Global Studies. He and his wife, Cynthia, are largely responsible for the rejuvenation of Galveston’s historic Strand District and revived Mardi Gras celebrations in Galveston, which now draw 555,000 visitors annually.
The Hon. Robert A. Mosbacher Sr. is chairman of Mosbacher Energy Company and Trustee Emeritus of the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies. He was President George H. W. Bush’s secretary of commerce, and his nomination was unanimously confirmed by the U. S. Senate. He has served as chairman of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center’s Board of Visitors and on the boards of American Hospital in Paris Foundation, U.S. Naval Academy Foundation and Odyssey Academy Inc. Along with his wife, Mica, he worked on the “Bush 41 @ 80” birthday celebration, raising $56 million for the Bushes’ three favorite charities.
Gordon Quan was only three when he and his family fled China, due to the Chinese Revolution, bound for Houston. His firm, Quan, Burdette &Perez, is one of the largest immigration law firms in the country, and he was the first Asian to be elected to an At-Large City Council position. Quan has been a Boy Scout leader, Sunday school teacher and an officer in numerous cultural, civic, political and professional organizations. He currently serves on the boards of the Holocaust Museum of Houston, Asia Society, Aspiring Youth, Catholic Charities and Asian Pacific American Heritage Association.
A native Houstonian, Mickey Rosmarin opened a boutique, Tootsies, in 1973. With the goal of always offering luxury, sophistication, fun and creativity in fashion, Rosmarin has successfully created one of the most luxurious shopping experiences in the nation — now not only in Houston, but in Dallas, Atlanta and San Antonio. Some of his favorite causes to support and volunteer for are Dress for Success, AIDS Foundation Houston, Elves and More, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, March of Dimes, Mexican Women’s Initiative, Art Bridge and American Heart Association.
Dr. Sandra Sessoms is one of the foremost rheumatologists in the country. A diplomat of the American Board of Internal Medicine and the Rheumatology Subspecialty Board of the American Board of Internal Medicine, she lectures frequently on rheumatology subjects nationally and locally and has been widely published. Dr. Sessoms holds membership in many professional organizations, while performing as a volunteer physician for the San Jose Clinic for many years and serving as a board member of the Arthritis Foundation and the Lupus Foundation of America, Gulf Coast.
Former owner of Fiesta Mart Inc., Trini Mendenhall-Sosa founded the Mendenhall Asthma Research Laboratory at Baylor College of Medicine. She serves on the board of Catholic Charities and endows scholarships to inner-city Catholic schools and the College of Education of the University of Houston. She has served on the boards of Ronald McDonald House, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston Ballet Public Affairs, United Way’s Women’s Initiative, End Hunger Network and the Mexican Council of Entrepreneurs of Houston, and has chaired a multitude of benefits for Houston charities.
A St. Thomas High School alumnus, George Strake graduated from Notre Dame, served in the Navy and earned a Master’s Degree from Harvard University. Joining his father in the independent oil business, he is now chairman and CEO of Strake Energy. Strake is president of the Strake Foundation and has served on the boards of Boy Scouts of America, Rotary Club of Houston, Asia Society, Mexican Cultural Institute of Houston, Institute of International Education, Greater Houston Partnership and many more.
With more than 31 years in the business, Evin Thayer has established himself as one of Houston’s finest photographers. Additionally, he is dedicated to making a difference in the community, helping groups like the Body Positive Wellness Center, Bering Omega Community Services, AIDS Foundation Houston, Citizens for Animal Protection and more. He and Mayor Lee Brown created “The Mayor’s Millennium Makers,” a book filled with instrumental Houstonians that raises money for the Evin Thayer Scholarship Fund of the Greater Houston Community Foundation.
Restaurateur and antique collector Beau Theriot owns both The Brownstone restaurant and Brownstone Antique Gallery in Houston, as well as Comanche Canyon Ranch and The Oasis restaurant in Austin. He provides scholarships in interior design and art to students who attend his alma mater, Lamar University, and participates in a multitude of charitable projects in both Houston and Austin.
Martha Fuller Turner, a fifth generation Texan, taught school for 15 years before becoming president of her own real estate company, Martha Turner Properties. Involved with the Texas Business Hall of Fame, Leadership Texas, Crohn’s &Colitis Foundation, United Cerebral Palsy, 100 Club, Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, The Forum Club, Cultural Arts Council, Greater Houston Women’s Foundation and others, Turner was appointed by Gov. George W. Bush to serve on the Board of Regents for her alma mater, the University of North Texas in Denton.
In 1965, Tony Vallone opened his first restaurant: tony’s. Since then, he has served six United States presidents and dignitaries from around the world, consistently winning national and international accolades. He is the first Texan to be inducted into the National Restaurant Association Hall of Fame and the first American-born board member of the famed Gruppo Ristoratori Italiani of Italy. He also donates his time and talents to numerous local and national charitable causes, sitting on the boards of the Texas Heart Institute and the University of Houston Conrad Hilton School of Restaurant and Hotel Management.