I’m putting the cart ahead of the horse by writing about dad’s death when I have so many stories to tell about his life that I plan to publish, when and if I get to them. He had deserted mom and I when I was just a baby. We fought poverty as mom and I did farm work and she was a wash lady, washing on a scrub board and ironing with a sad iron. So it was, you can’t redo the past, you only recall it.

Clay had used up his nine lives. He knew it. His death was a shock to everyone else. To all who knew him, he was bigger than life. He had beaten the odds time and again. The delay I experienced because of traveling through a snowstorm to reach the hospital had extended his life by two hours. He died on the operating table of what today would have been a simple laser procedure to remove a gallstone.

My uncles had one of their pilots fly me home. The next day they picked Phyl and I up at College Station in their twin Bonanza. Dad’s funeral would be the next day. We gathered at Uncle Ernest’s mansion on President’s Row, in an exclusive part of Dallas. I was raised in a shotgun house with no conveniences and in extreme poverty. The wealth I was surrounded with was a culture shock. Even though Clay was a wealthy man, earning his wealth the hard way, there was no comparison to what these guys had accumulated.

Knowing their background, their simple upbringing in northwest Texas under very difficult conditions, I couldn’t help but admire their drive to succeed. They had started in business with mule-drawn wagons, hauling the oil in barrels.

We gathered in a large room at my Uncle Ernest’s house with dads brothers Carl, Hobby, Ellis and Ernest and their wives. For the most part, I didn’t know these people very well. The women were all second wives, considerable younger than their husbands. I don’t believe any Dunn, besides Phyl and I and my grandparents, Allen and Laura, ever had just one marriage. Ernest explained that several years ago, after a bad heart attack and under duress Clay had been coaxed into making a will and Earnest had been named executor.

Clay was not a poor man and had holdings from Burleson to Orange County. When Dad signed the will that Jewel, Ernest’s wife, had dictated, she didn’t know about me. She knew in his condition, before he was transferred from one hospital to another, he needed a will. She asked Ralph Shanks, who was H.L. Hunt’s attorney, to prepare one. He did so as a favor, she said. Dunn Brothers and Hunt shared the same office building. She said she explained to Clay that he could change it whenever he got better.

Well, Dad never did change it. Everything was left to his ex-wife, Judy, and her three nieces, whom they had partly raised. I got nothing; however, Ernest said Clay had give him his six-karat diamond ring to give to me, and he would do so when the estate was settled. I never got the ring either.

Dad’s last words kept running through my head, “You have two strikes against you; one is being my son, the other you’ll find out about.” That puzzling statement came to light with the reading of the will. He meant I would inherit his enemies but not his money.

Privately, Uncles Ellis and Hobby, suggested that I should sue Ernest and the estate, explaining that Clay had already settled with his ex-wife years ago and I was his only heir I knew something that they didn’t however, before Dad and Judy separated he had put some Orange County property in my name, and I had purposely not transferred it back. Not even Clay was aware of that. So I wasn’t shut out altogether, even though it was only a drop in the bucket.

Under threat of a lawsuit, I was able to buy the package store, restaurant and club on the Brazos River. I couldn’t afford the ranch, plus it was oil producing and I knew they wouldn’t separate from that. I had never had anything before that I didn’t earn. I’ve never been one to fret over anything I don’t have any control over. The inheritance, however, would have helped my family and I could have done something for Mom.

I had to share in the blame. Dad wanted to change his will before he went into the operating room for surgery. He insisted I get him an attorney and I had insisted that wasn’t necessary.

I slept little the night before Dad’s funeral. His last ride from an Irving Funeral Home to Sipe Springs, the place of his birth, was a long haul. After a short service at a small Methodist church in Rising Star where he had attended school, Clay was taken to the cemetery on the hill and laid to rest next to his parents. His Dad, Allen, had come to the territory from Arkansas after his father was killed during the Civil War. He was only 8 years of age when he traveled with his mom and aunt in a covered wagon to Texas. It was a new frontier. John Wesley Hardin, the notorious outlaw from the county of Comanche, wasn’t yet in his prime.

I realized Clay wasn’t coming back when I looked back and saw them throwing dirt in the hole. Clay had left behind quite a legend. He had given me more than material things. He passed on a pioneering spirit, good work ethic and some useful knowledge. Years later, on the date of his death, my eldest son Mark and I visited the gravesite of Dad and his folks. Everyone in his family had passed on. Mark had visited the cemetery several times in the last few years. It had been years since I had been back where so many of my roots are buried.

I guess I’ve fared pretty well. I’m the only survivor, including the young wives. I found it ironic that Jewel, who was in charge of ordering Clay’s headstone, got the date of his death wrong. He died Feb. 19, but the marker is dated on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17. I chuckled at the mistake. Clay took great pride in being Irish, but even in death, his facts are distorted. He would have approved, even though St. Pat he was not.

The pictures above of Roy and Clay Dunn were taken about the same time period, a couple of years before Clay died.

About Dr. Roy Stanford

Dr. Roy Stanford Jr. is the Orange County Extension agent for agriculture.