Former civic leader honored with statue in parking garage

Published on Saturday, 2 August 2014 22:19 - Written by Kelly Gooch kgooch@tylerpaper.com

R.W. Fair was raised as a “country boy” in the Arp area and grew to be known for his giving, faith and entrepreneurial skills. Now, his legacy is memorialized with a statue at the Fair Plaza parking garage downtown.

The statue, sculpted by Cherry Day and Jim Day, was unveiled Wednesday during the grand opening event for the garage.

The R.W. Fair Foundation, a charitable nonprofit organization founded by R.W. Fair and his first wife, Mattie, donated land for the parking garage, which was primarily paid for by half-cent sales tax revenue. Additionally, the R.W. Fair Foundation was generous with funds to help make the parking garage a reality, City Manager Mark McDaniel said.

R.W. Fair was born in 1886 near Arp. He went on to become a successful peach and pecan farmer, oilman and philanthropist, according to Fair’s Half Mile of History marker script. He also was a religious and civic leader.

Harold Beaird, who spoke Wednesday on behalf of the Fair family, said R.W. Fair’s parents were both teachers, and described Fair as a “country boy.”

According to a speech from 2006, Fair “was raised to appreciate hard work and education.”

“He graduated from Summer Hill Select School at Omen, Texas, with the equivalent of today’s high school degree at a time when it was unique for most people to get any education,” the speech reads.

According to the speech, Fair, at age 18, worked as a mail carrier on horseback.

In 1923, R.W. Fair, his wife, Mattie, and their family moved to Tyler, and within seven years they had established large peach and pecan plantations in the Lone Star State and Arkansas, according to the Half Mile of History marker script.

“One of his earliest ventures was the Texas Pecan Nursery located in Tyler, which was the largest paper shell pecan operation west of the Mississippi,” the marker script reads.

Beaird said Fair was devoted in his early career to the agricultural business and focused on peach orchard managing.

“He focused on what was doing the right thing in his business,” he said of Fair.

Then in 1931, he said, a big event happened: Fair leased one of his peach orchards to Dallas oilman H.L. Hunt, who drilled a successful oil well on the orchard.

Beaird said he believes R.W. Fair likely would think about the revenue that the oil well was making — compared to what his orchard had been getting only from the sale of peaches — and he suspects that Fair thought about good things he could do from oil revenue from his other peach orchard up the street. And so he said Fair did a historic thing that was almost unheard of: After much thought, deliberation and prayer, he chose to drill a well on his property.

Hunt “had drilled a successful oil producer on a farm just down the road,” according to Fair’s Half Mile of History marker script.

“Although R.W. Fair had no experience in the oil business, his entrepreneurial instincts took over, and he soon became the first individual to finance 100 percent working interest in a well drilled on his own property with 100 percent royalty interest,” the script reads. “The rest is history and Fair was in the petroleum business. … He successfully developed fields in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado, Louisiana and Mississippi.”

Beaird said Fair had done well in the peach orchard business, and he suspects that he prayed and thought about what more he could do for the Lord.

He said Fair likely put his life savings into that well.

Then in 1934, Fair and his wife, Mattie, established the R.W. Fair Foundation.

Bob Garrett, president of Fair Oil Company and vice president of the R.W. Fair Foundation, said Fair established the foundation long before he gained wealth.

“So it was foremost on his mind his responsibility to others from the very beginning and not just an afterthought,” Garrett said.

“You can’t say enough good things” about Fair.

As part of the R.W. Fair statue, there is a pamphlet that states, “A Better World Begins With Me.”

Garrett said he believes the story behind the pamphlet is worthy of attention because Fair was a man of deep faith, and when he formed the R.W. Fair Foundation, he not only saw his role locally but also nationally and internationally.

Garrett said millions of copies of the pamphlet — in various languages — were produced and sent all across the world, along with millions of translated Bibles.

He said the pamphlet had an interdenominational faith message about people’s responsibility to care for individuals in the world who aren’t as fortunate.

“For a guy that came from small beginnings, he thought really big,” Garrett said.

At one point, he said Fair called Cecil Blount DeMille, who produced and directed “The Ten Commandments,” and they produced a full-length film on the life of Christ and then shipped it all over the world.

“He was truly a man who lived out his faith in every way,” Garrett said.

Additionally, he said, Fair was on the board of trustees at Southern Methodist University for many years and personally paid for more than 1,000 four- year college educations for theological students worldwide.

Fair also served on the Lon Morris College board and was a longtime member of Marvin United Methodist Church, where he served as chairman of the Board of Stewards and taught men’s Bible study.

R.W. Fair married his second wife, Maude Jones, after his first wife died, and he stayed active in the Tyler community until his death in 1965, the marker script reads.

Among his activities, according to the marker script, were chamber of commerce officer, bank director, president of the Tyler Rotary Club, chairman of the Salvation Army, director of the East Texas Fair Association, president of the East Texas Boy Scout Council, Tyler ISD Board of Trustees and treasurer of the Texas College Advisory Committee.

He also was a founder and the first president of the East Texas Hospital Association and a trustee of Houston Methodist Hospital, according to the marker script. He received the T.B. Butler award in 1941.

“The ‘can-do” spirit and gracious support of the community shown by Mr. Fair personified the strong values of East Texans, and … his memory lives on through the buildings named in his honor, the organizations he founded and the secure economic foundation he gave to the people of Tyler,” the marker script reads.

Beaird said R.W. Fair was generous and a firm believer in the Bible teaching, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded.”

“That was the goal of his life — that and other things of that sort-so he recognized that he was fortunate that he had the talents to acquire and make a lot of money, but he was guided by two things,” Beaird said.

One of those things, he said, was his “sharp and active mind.”

“He studied and was able to make the most of the things that came along and were available to him,” he said.

Beaird said R.W. Fair also had “a good, generous and caring heart,” which prompted him to distribute, give and share.

“He spent much of his time, much of his money through the years, and was devoted for the purpose of doing God’s work in this world,” he said.

Beaird said Fair Oil Company also is highly respected in the oil industry “for … good management, their fairness and the decency of which they treat employees and those who are business associates.”

“Through hard work, a willingness to take risks, and some luck, he became a huge success and changed the face of the East Texas economy, not only for his generation, but for generations to come,” according to the 2006 speech about Fair. “His legacy may be summed up in one word-‘attitude.’”