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Texas Medical Center Legacy Makers – The Cullen Family

A 2011 family portrait: (l-r) Meredith Cullen, Roy Henry Cullen’s youngest son;  Mary Cullen, and Roy Henry Cullen, who died three months ago. photo - Evin Thayer Studios

A 2011 family portrait: (l-r) Meredith Cullen, Roy Henry Cullen’s youngest son; Mary Cullen, and Roy Henry Cullen, who died three months ago.
photo – Evin Thayer Studios

More Than 150 Years Of Influence In Houston And Texas

The affluent and iconic Cullen family has been making Texas and Houston a better place for all, for over 150 years. Yet, as this family and the community said goodbye to the greatly respected and honored family patriarch, Roy Henry Cullen, in April 2014, other members of the family are continuing the traditions and legacy.

“Houston and all of Texas lost one of the most remarkable men of our time recently, and he will be greatly missed. Mr. Roy Cullen was indeed one of the most influential and impressive men that helped shaped our city, and for this, we thank him,” said Ruth Ransom, executive director, Harris County Hospital District Foundation.

To the world, he was an amazing businessman, community activist, major philanthropist, visionary, oil tycoon, sports enthusiast, stout supporter of education, and so much more.

“The world saw Roy as ‘The’ Mr. Cullen, but to me he was my husband. I saw him as Roy, to our six children, he was Pop, and for the grandkids he was grandpa or great-grandpa. He was an extraordinary man, very kind, giving, loving and his family came first. He loved his family very deeply, and he showed that love every day of his life,” said Mary Cullen, Roy’s widow.

The Roots of Leadership

Born in Denton County, Texas, July 1881, Hugh Roy Cullen was the grandson of Ezekial Wimberly Cullen. Ezekial came from Georgia to Texas in 1835, seeking success. He contributed to the formative growth of the new state as a judge and later a state senator. As a senator, Ezekial authored a bill that established the educational system for the State of Texas.

Hugh Roy Cullen was raised by his mother in the frontier town of San Antonio. He left school after fifth grade and began working, sacking candy at $3 a week while he studied on his own at night. In 1897, at 17, he entered the cotton business successfully and soon meet his wife, Lillie Cranz, daughter of a successful rancher and merchant. They enjoyed 54 years of marriage and five children. Their only son Roy Gustav Cullen (father of Roy Henry Cullen) was born in 1905, and four daughters followed: Lillie, Agnes, Margaret, and Wilhelmina.

In 1911, Hugh moved his family to Houston, where he invested in real estate and entered the emerging oil industry. Very quickly, Cullen became a wildcatter, and involved in Houston’s politics. By 1932, Cullen had his own oil company, Quintana Petroleum, and discovered several major oil fields, the largest – The Tom O’Conner Field in South Texas still produces oil today. Hugh is considered one of the most important figures in Texas during the oil boom era.

By 1936, just as Hugh was becoming one of the richest men in America, he lost his son Roy Gustav in a tragic oil field accident. Two years later, the Cullens made their first major gift, of $260,000 to build the Roy Gustav Cullen Building at the new University of Houston campus, in memory of their son. Other gifts to the University, hospitals, and cultural institutions of Houston followed. In 1946, Hugh Roy also contributed the land that later became Texas Southern University.

In 1947, the Cullens formed The Cullen Foundation with $160 million, which was largest individual endowment ever funded in America at the time. The first Trustees were daughters Agnes, Margaret and Wilhelmina.

Roy Henry Cullen was born in Houston, on Oct. 29, 1929, the oldest child of Roy Gustav Cullen and Katherine Thompson Burton Cullen. When his father passed away, Roy Henry was only 7. His mother, with support from grandparents, Lillie Cranz and Hugh Roy Cullen, raised Roy and his siblings, Cornelia Cullen Long and Harry H. Cullen.

The Family Man

Sitting in her home in River Oaks, the elegant, soft-spoken, community activist,   Mary Cullen speaks about her beloved husband. With her are her son, Meredith, and the Executive Director of The Cullen Foundation, Alan Stewart.

“Roy married young and had five children, Lillie, Roy Walter, Katherine, Melinda and Robert. His daughter, Lillie, was diagnosed when she was young with Parkinson’s Disease. We lost her when she was 54. We lost Katherine in a car accident five years ago,” Mary said.

“We met through a friend 46 years ago,” she continued. The couple clicked and a few years later they married. “I joined Roy’s household with his five children and a few years later, our son, Meredith, made six.”

All who knew Roy knew he loved to tell stories. “Roy was very understated, comfortable in his own skin and believed in humanity. All of the family can tell many stories about him. One of my favorites was when Lloyd Bentsen and George H. W. Bush were running for the senate. Both men approached Roy for support. Roy said he would rather wait until after the election and help pay off the debt of the loser. After the election, Roy met with Bush,” Mary said.

Roy had a tremendous respect for all people, and appreciated the best in everyone. “If my father heard us gossiping, he would get upset,” said Meredith Cullen. “He found something good in all people, and gossiping was disrespectful in his eyes. This was a good lesson, and today, we too have learned to appreciate all people. Like my father said, it is not about how much a person has, his job, or if he has an education or not. It is about a person’s integrity, character, and their good qualities.”

Roy was known for asking his family’s opinion. Meredith shared, “Once, when I was six or seven years old, we were fishing at Big Lake, and my father asked me what would I think if they paved the lake over. I said, ‘They shouldn’t do it.’ My father said he thought I was right. It really meant something to me that he;d asked my opinion.”

Mary added, “Roy asked my opinion on all things. One day I asked him why. He said his grandfather never made a decision without consulting grandmother. That’s the way he was, he followed tradition.”

“When the children were young, every night when Roy came home from work, , he spent time with each one,” Mary recalled. “He treated each of his children as individuals, not as a group. He carved out time for each one. These are the things that made me love him for so long and so deeply,” Mary said.

Meredith added that his father never pushed him into any one career field. “My father told me to do what I was passionate about, what I loved, and that was what life was about,” he recalled. “For a while I had a hunting and fishing resort… but today I have joined the family business and I’m a rookie at the Cullen Foundation.”

Roy graduated from Lamar High School and attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, where he studied engineering. He learned the oil business from his grandfather and discovered and developed oil fields operated by Quintana Petroleum Co., where he was an officer and director. He also obtained numerous patents for oil and gas equipment, and had a gift for investing in real estate and venture capital investments. He was one of the original board members of Cullen Bank, served as chair of the Cullen Foundation for over 15 years, and served in leadership roles for the University of Houston

The Cullen Foundation

Over the past 67 years, the Cullen Foundation has distributed over $450 million in grants to the University of Houston, hospitals in the Texas Medical Center, the cultural arts, education, and many other causes.

“Gifts from the Foundation to only hospitals and medical colleges since our 1947 inception total almost $100 million. Most of those are focused on the Texas Medical Center. In addition we funded the Cullen Trust for Healthcare with a number of gifts between 1979 and 1982 that totaled $18.7 million. Since that Trust’s founding, it alone has donated over $70 million in grants to various healthcare related institutions,” said Alan Stewart.

The list of those receiving funds from the Cullen Foundation would fill books. “The foundation does not prefer naming opportunities. Instead we prefer non-profits to offer those to other generous individuals, corporations and foundations. One of the few exceptions however, was the Cullen Park in West Houston, which Roy was very involved in. It was funded by the foundation for $5.5 million, and it is named for the foundation as well,” Stewart said.

The Cullen family is a very large extended family, with numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren, most all of whom are active in giving back to Houston. Many of this legacy family sit on multiple boards within the city and are active with the Cullen Foundation, and make a difference in their communities every day.

An Enormous Loss

“Wednesday, before my father died on Friday, my wife and I met him and mom for dinner. We were pulling into River Oaks Country Club and there were my parents walking to the restaurant holding hands; they really loved each other and it showed,” Meredith recalled. “Roy and I were a love story. We treated each other with dignity and respect. I miss him very much,” Mary said.

Prior to Roy passing away, he had numerous surgeries, and was worried about being a burden to his family. Meredith disclosed, “Before he died, we had an intimate talk. He said he did not want to be a burden. I told him that he had always taken good care of his family and now we wanted to care for him. He asked me to take care of my mom, and I told him not to worry. I told him he was my best friend and it was an honor to be his son. A day or so later, he was gone. He was such a special man, and a great father.”

(L-R) Meredith Cullen, his mother Mary Cullen, and Alan Stewart, Executive Director of The Cullen Foundation. photo-Rebecca Maitland

(L-R) Meredith Cullen, his mother Mary Cullen, and Alan Stewart, Executive Director of The Cullen Foundation.
photo-Rebecca Maitland

Texas Medical Center Legacy Makers

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