Jess Hay was a good man. His steadfast faith, devotion to family, loyalty to friends, unflinching optimism, and uncompromising integrity inspired everyone who knew him. He was renowned for his advocacy for education – from early childhood development to the great research institutions of our state, he was sought after for his political support and advice, he was engaged for his business acumen, and he was respected for his complete dedication to any task he undertook. His influence will be felt for decades by the people he knew and the institutions he has served. Jess Hay, a true gentleman and a gentle man, will be missed by many. Jess Hay died at home in Dallas, on April 13, surrounded by his family.
Bob Bohannon, former CEO of Viad and a close friend of Hay shared, “I have believed for a very long time, that if God has made a better person than Jess Hay, I haven’t met him or her and I don’t think that I ever will. And, for those that knew him, most, if not all, would agree with me.”
Jess Hay was born in Forney, Jan. 22, 1931. He was married to Betty Jo Peacock Hay from Aug. 3, 1951, until her death on Feb. 16, 2005. Betty Jo and Jess have two daughters, Deborah Hay Spradling and Patricia Hay Bush; two granddaughters, Jessica Werner Epperson and Rachel Hay Spradling; one grandson, Jess Albert Hay; and two great-granddaughters, Kathryn Elizabeth Epperson and Virginia Anne Epperson.
Throughout his life, Hay was an active member of the Methodist Church, and an enthusiastic supporter of most of the denomination’s teaching, social, medical, and spiritual outreaches. He helped found Ridgewood Park United Methodist Church in 1954 and is currently a member of Highland Park United Methodist Church. His core spiritual perspective called for intense renewal of one’s sense of personal accountability, and for steadfast commitment to the Biblical challenge to love others and to serve the broader interests of our society. Affirmation of one’s faith meant responding positively and creatively, and in gratitude for God’s redeeming grace, to the call to service and sacrifice. According to Hay, “The main driver is a commitment to the fundamental notion that the Christian calling is about caring for one another, about serving others, and about being reasonably humble in relationship to other people and certainly in relationship to God.”
Hay was a graduate of Southern Methodist University, from which he received a BBA degree in 1953 and a law degree, magna cum laude, in 1955, graduating valedictorian and standard bearer from his law school class. In March 1977, Hay received the Distinguished Alumni Award presented by Southern Methodist University. From 1955 through 1965, he practiced law as an associate and then partner of Locke, Purnell, Boren, Laney & Neely in Dallas. Hay then served as chief executive officer of Lomas Financial Corporation and its subsidiaries from September 1965 until his retirement in December 1994. Hay was designated as one of the Chief Executive Officers of the Year in March 1986 evidenced by the Bronze Award presented at a dinner in New York City by Financial World, a business publication. In 1995, Hay co-founded and served as Chairman of HCB Enterprises Inc, a private investment firm, until March 2007.
Hay’s external activities throughout the last half century have been extensive. For 12 years beginning in 1977, he served as a member of the Board of Regents of The University of Texas System, and for 2-1/2 of those 12 years he served as the Board’s Chairman. According to Dr. William H. Cunningham, Former Chancellor of The University of Texas System, “Jess Hay was a magnificent public servant. He adopted The University of Texas System and all of its component institutions when he joined the Board of Regents in 1977. During his tenure as Chairman, he single-handedly through the power of his personality was able to create a coalition consisting of all of Texas’ major universities and junior colleges. The coalition spoke with one voice to the Legislature and state-wide elected officials about the need to fund higher education, even during the economic downturn in the mid 1980’s when oil prices fell to $15 a barrel. Without Chairman Hay’s leadership, higher education would have sustained budget cuts that would have inevitably destroyed all of the state’s previous efforts to create colleges and universities that were designed to meet the critical educational needs of a growing and diverse population.
Jess Hay will always be remembered for his extraordinary service to Texas and its higher education institutions.” Hay received The University of Texas System’s prestigious Santa Rita Award in October 1991. In March 1987, he received The Distinguished Service Award and Trusteeship presented by The National Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. He was the first recipient from Texas to be recognized by the National Association. For approximately 10 years during the late 1970s and early 1980s, he also was a member of the Governing Board of Southern Methodist University. During the last 50 years, he also served on the boards of directors or trustees of Southern Methodist University, the United States Chamber of Commerce, the Texas Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts, The Dallas Citizens Council, The Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce, The Zale Lipshy University Hospital of The University of Texas Southwestern Medical School at Dallas, the Chancellor’s Council of The University of Texas System, The Hockaday School, the Southwestern Medical Foundation, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Dallas Symphony, the Methodist Hospital of Dallas, the North Texas Food Bank, the Dallas County Historical Foundation, the State Fair of Texas, and the C. C. Young Home of Dallas. For two decades or so immediately prior to his death, Hay served as chairman of the Texas Foundation for Higher Education and as chairman of the board of the Southwestern Research and Medical Political Action Committee. He also formerly served as chairman of Child Care Partnership of Dallas, and was an active advocate of enhancements to our nation’s education enterprise at all levels: child care, preschool, elementary, secondary, and higher education. Jess Hay’s involvement in politics was legendary. Hay was an active participant in the nation’s political process beginning in 1950, and in 1977 and 1978, he served as National Finance Chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
At various times since 1970, he served as chairman or co-chairman of the campaign finance committees of Senator Lloyd Bentsen, Governor Dolph Briscoe, Lt. Governor Bill Hobby, Governor Mark White, and a variety of other Democratic candidates in Texas. He also served as Texas finance chairman or co-chairman for President Jimmy Carter, Vice President Albert Gore, Vice President Walter Mondale, and Senator John Glenn. Vice President Walter Mondale once said, “If you are running for office in Texas, first visit the Alamo, then meet with Jess Hay.” Former Texas Land Commissioner Garry Mauro said of Hay, “Always the perfect gentleman even in the most heated of insider political debates, Jess Hay was the cool head, the soft spoken mediator, the most respected figure in the room. He never had to raise his voice. Texas will miss him.”
President Bill Clinton shared, “I mourn the passing of Jess Hay, my friend of more than 40 years. I first met Jess in Dallas in 1972. He was already a successful businessman and I was a young law student working on the Presidential campaign. In spite of the differences in our age and circumstances, he treated me with kindness and respect. That’s how he treated everyone. He was grateful for his family and his success, and he wanted others to have the same chances he did. So he devoted a lot of his life to spreading opportunity, boosting education, and improving health care for his Texas neighbors. Jess Hay was a good man, with a fine mind and a big heart. I’ll miss him. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.”
Hay served as a member and chairman of the finance and policy committee of the World War II Memorial Advisory Board, and at the date of his death he was a member of the advisory boards of The John Glenn School of Public Affairs at The Ohio State University, of Friends of the National World War II Memorial, of the Briscoe Center for American History Studies at The University of Texas at Austin, of The University of Texas Press, and of the Hobby Center for Public Policy at The University of Houston. During his career, Hay served on the boards of directors of 14 public companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange including-in addition to the five Lomas Financial Group of Companies-Exxon Mobil Corporation, SBC Communications, Inc. (now AT&T), Trinity Industries, Inc., Viad Corp (formerly Greyhound Dial Corp), Mercantile National Bank at Dallas, MCorp, MoneyGram International, Inc., Republic Financial Services, Inc., and Hilltop Holdings, Inc. Earlier, he also served as a director of Allied Finance Company, Dallas Airmotive, Inc., Verex Corporation, and First Financial Life Insurance Company.
Jess Hay was preceded in death by his wife of 53 years, Betty Jo Peacock Hay; his parents, Myrtle Roddy and George Hay; two infant children, his son Jess Richard Hay, and his daughter Mary Kathryn Hay; his mother-in-law and father-in-law, Kathryn and Duncan Peacock; his grandparents, Nettie and Jesse J. Roddy, and Sarah and George A. Hay; his sister, Patsy Hay Harlow, and her husband, Don Harlow; and nineteen aunts and fifteen uncles, including seven who for a time resided in the Dallas area, namely, Nora Roddy Bramblett, Jessie and George Dees, Mary Lee and Perry E. Roddy, and Allie and Rhea Roddy.
He is survived by his two daughters, Deborah Hay Spradling and Patricia Hay Bush; his sons-in-law, Ernest Webb Spradling and Paul Harris Bush; his three grandchildren, Jessica Werner Epperson, Rachel Hay Spradley, and Jess Albert Hay; his grandson-in-law, Charles Douglas Epperson; and his great granddaughters, Kathryn Elizabeth Epperson and Virginia Anne Epperson. Hay also is survived by his dear friend, colleague, and “right arm” for more than half a century, Ramona Taylor; and by his niece and nephew, Rhonda and Don Roddy Harlow, and their daughters, Kimberly and Karen Harlow; his aunt and uncle by marriage, Doris and Earl Albert; and numerous cousins, including among many, Patty and Richard Bramblett, Ruth Ann and Albert Shapiro, Mary Lee and Brad Reeves, Helen Jeanette Gambrell, Ruth Ellen and Terry Leever, Kathy and Allen Wadsworth, Polly and Don Crawley, Nancy and J. Paul Lane IV, Libby and David Albert, Mary Frances Albert, Elaine Terry, Lance Terry, Max Edgar Arterberry, and Ann and Vince Driver; and finally, two long-term and loyal assistants, Arnita Brown and Max Bowens. Special thanks goes to Dr. Randall Rosenblatt whose expert medical advice and compassionate care were greatly appreciated by Jess Hay and his entire family.
A Memorial Celebration of Jess Hay’s life is scheduled for 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday, April 21, in the Sanctuary of Highland Park United Methodist Church, Dallas. The Rev. Wallace E. Chappell and Dr. John Fiedler will officiate. Gene H. Bishop, Robert Bohannon, Richard H. Bramblett, Robert E. Byerley, Jr, R. Ted Enloe III, The Honorable William P. Hobby, Dr. Charles B. Mullins, Joe A. Stalcup, James W. Thomas, and W. Ray Wallace, will serve as pallbearers at the private family burial service the day prior to the memorial service.
In lieu of flowers and for any desiring to do so, memorial gifts may be made to The University of Texas System, Jess Hay Endowment for Chancellor’s Graduate Student Research Fellowships, c/o Office of External Relations, 210 West 6th Street, Suite 1.200, Austin, Texas 78701, or to Southern Methodist University, Betty Jo and Jess Hay Endowed President’s Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 750281, Dallas, Texas 75275-0281.