From building much of early downtown and organizing the plan to save Houston's banks during the Great Depression, Jesse Jones helped shape the city's history with his business investments, leadership and philanthropy. The Houston Endowment, created by Jones and his wife, Mary Gibbs, celebrates its 75th anniversary Monday. Just more than six months into the job, President Ann Stern sat down with reporter Jayme Fraser to talk about the foundation's past and future.
Q: In a nutshell, who was Jesse Jones and why did he create the endowment?
A: He was a Houston businessman who loved the community and was really involved in building the community. He was called to Washington and ended up commerce secretary for FDR. So, he played a role at a national level, but when that was over he was in a hurry to get back to Houston and get engaged in this community.
He always had this notion Houston would have to thrive in order for him to be successful. So part of it was an interest in his own success, but I believe he also had a genuine desire to help people. … I'd say his original passion was around education. He had an eighth-grade education. His wife was a college graduate, and he always felt like he would've been so much better, so much more effective if he'd had an education. He was a very progressive thinker.
The original scholarships went to women as well, which was a big deal back then. And, he always had a number of scholarships that went to minorities. In his mind, it was as important for them to go to college as white males.
Q: There came a point when no one at the endowment had known Jesse Jones personally. How do you keep his vision alive today?
A: That is a great question. I have to say yesterday we had a lunch with our former board members. I told them that one of things that has most impressed me about this place in six months is the importance of that Jones legacy to this foundation today. I think it's really phenomenal how it has carried on despite the fact that no one here knew him personally. I think organizations have a culture. I think they have a DNA, a cultural organizational DNA. And if I think about the things that were important to Jesse Jones they sort of got inculcated in this culture and leadership and was carried along the way.
Q: What changes do you see on the horizon for the endowment?
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