Posts Tagged ‘Hugh Roy Cullen’

The Hugh Roy Cullen Legacy

March 15, 2011


Ezekiel Cullen Building, University of Houston.

Hugh Roy Cullen was one of those people who did very well in life, but who also came to the clear realization that holding on to money that could be used for some noble and larger purpose was the most foolish form of greed and miserliness. No miser was he.

Born July 3, 1881 in Denton County, Texas to Cicero and Louise Beck Cullen, Hugh Roy Cullen was the grandson of Ezekiel Wimberly Cullen. Ezekiel came from Georgia to Texas in 1835 seeking a better life. He. fought in the Texas Revolution against Mexico, eventually settling in San Augustine, Texas the seat of the new revolutionary government.

Raised by his mother in San Antonio, Cullen left school after the fifth grade, taking work at age 12 as a three dollars per week candy counter for a manufacturing concern. Cullen continued to study on his own, reading the classics and also further honing his math and science skills and knowledge. At age 17, he moved to Schulenburg and took to the cotton business like white on rice, becoming a successful agent in the sale and purchase of cotton. In Schulenburg, Cullen also met his future wife of nearly 55 years in the form of Lillie Kranz. The couple was married in 1902.

The Cullens moved to Houston in 1911, where Hugh Roy transferred his discovered skills in the business of land management to the booming new oil exploration industry, and right at the moment it was exploding as the big new American industry, especially in the area around Houston. Bringing in his first successful oil field, Cullen soon formed partnerships that helped him to put together his own oil company, Quintana Petroleum, and, by the mid to late 1930s, he was well on his way to becoming one of the richest men in America,

Then something happened.

Cullen’s only son, Roy, was killed in a tragic oil field accident in 1936, putting a major heartache on the Cullen family, but also opening the Cullen heart to give of himself in ways he may never before imagined possible. Cullen never forgot the obstacles he faced when circumstances limited his early family education. He looked around and found the University of Houston, just as the new school was struggling to find its feet as a provider of higher education to students could not afford to leave home in pursuit of a college education. In 1938, for starters, Cullen donated $260,000 for the construction of the Roy Gustav Cullen Building on the UH campus in honor of his deceased son.

By 1947, and now established as one of the wealthiest men in America, Cullen established the Cullen Foundation to handle the award of gifts to charitable causes, especially to those serving the needs of students with limited means for higher education. The foundation was governed directly by three of Cullen’s adult daughters and, in 1948, further substantial contributions to new building and program expansion at the University of Houston, Without the help of the Cullens, UH could never have become the force it is today in higher education, and a university now legitimately postured for becoming one of America’s designated Tier One universities.

The Cullen Foundation also provided the money and land purchase assistance that led to the establishment of Texas Southern University in the early years following the conclusion of World War II. Cullen Foundation support also provided support for programs served through Baylor University, In the end, most of the Cullen family wealth was donated to their foundation for distribution to worthy educational causes that primarily benefitted the needs of Houston’s college-age population.

Hugh Roy Cullen passed away on July 4, 1957 in Houston, one day after his 76th birthday. He died a complete success as a human being.

The legacy of Hugh Roy Cullen shall always be that he gave of himself to cause that were larger than any his own modest wishes for personal acquisition. That may have come easier for Cullen than some others for he was one of those people whose wealth was merely a by-product of his passion and never the goal in itself.

Cullen put it this way:¬†“Giving away money is no particular credit to me. Most of it came out of the ground – and while I found the oil in the ground, I didn’t put it there. I’ve got a lot more than Lillie and I and our children and grandchildren can use. I don’t think I deserve any great credit for using it to help people. It’s easier for me to give a million dollars now than it was to give five dollars to the Salvation Army twenty-five years ago.”

The Cullen legacy was love. By any other name you may wish to call it, that’s what it still comes down to. As one of those kids you helped make education affordable, I just want to say again: “Thank you, Mr. Cullen, for being the man you were. I couldn’t have done it without you.”