Wortham, Gus S., 1891-1976Alternative names
WORTHAM, GUS SESSIONS (1891-1976). Gus Sessions Wortham, businessman and civic leader, son of John Lee and Fannie (Sessions) Wortham, was born in Mexia, Texas, February 18, 1891. He attended Tarleton State University and the University of Texas at Austin, and served in World War I as an aerial gunnery instructor and commander of the 800th Aerial Squadron of the United States army. Wortham's career in the insurance industry started in 1912, when he was hired by the Texas Fire Rating Board in Austin. In 1915 he and his father moved to Houston and cofounded an insurance agency, John L. Wortham and Son. Eleven years later, Wortham, along with Houston businessmen Jesse H. Jones, James A. Elkins, and John W. Link, organized American General Insurance Company (later American General Corporation). Incorporated in Texas, the company was one of the first "multi-line" insurance companies in the nation. Multi-line underwriting allowed smaller companies with fewer customers to compete with insurance companies based on the east coast, which dominated the industry at that time. Wortham served as chairman of the board and chief executive officer of American General for almost five decades. Under his leadership, the company expanded from two agents to more than 12,000, with operations in every state in the nation. American General is now a $61 billion diversified financial services company and one of the largest publicly traded companies with corporate headquarters in Houston.
Wortham was instrumental in building civic support for the Houston Symphony Orchestra and other cultural organizations. He established the Wortham Foundation to continue his support of cultural activities and development of parks in the Houston area. The Wortham Theater Center, which was built entirely with private donations, is home to the Houston Ballet and Houston Grand Opera. Wortham was also a member of the "8-F Crowd," a group of Houston business leaders and friends who frequently met for lunch in Suite 8-F of the Lamar Hotel in downtown Houston. Along with other 8-F members, he played an important role in Houston's civic affairs, including the building of Rice University's football stadium in the 1950s and the Harris County Domed Stadium (the Astrodome) in the 1960s. He also was extensively involved in cattle ranching, primarily raising Santa Gertrudis cattle, at several ranches in Texas, Louisiana, and New Mexico. He served two consecutive terms as president of the Houston Chamber of Commerce and was a director of Texas Commerce Bank, Texas Eastern Transmission Company, Longhorn Portland Cement Company, the Missouri Pacific Railroad, Rice University, Texas Children's Hospital, and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Wortham also took an active interest in politics throughout his life, starting with his father's service as railroad commissioner and secretary of state of Texas under Governor Oscar B. Colquitt. He was an adviser, friend, and benefactor of many state and national politicians. In addition to the Wortham Theater Center, several other public places in Houston are named for Wortham, including Gus Wortham Park, Gus Wortham Memorial Fountain, Wortham Fountain at the Texas Medical Center, Wortham House (home of the University of Houston chancellor), Wortham IMAX Theater at the Museum of Natural Science, Wortham World of Primates at the Houston Zoo, and Wortham Tower in the American General Center. Wortham was married to Lyndall Finley (see WORTHAM, ELIZABETH L. F.) of Sherman and Galveston on October 4, 1926. They had two daughters. Wortham died in Houston on September 1, 1976.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Fran Dressman, Gus Wortham: Portrait of a Leader (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1994). John A. Adkins Handbook of Texas Online, "Wortham, Gus S.," http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/WW/fwo34.html (accessed November 7, 2006).
WORTHAM, ELIZABETH LYNDALL FINLEY (1892-1980). Lyndall Finley Wortham, civic leader and benefactor, was born in Sherman on July 22, 1892, to Alfred Phillip and Eudora (Traynham) Finley. She attended public schools in Sherman and graduated from Kidd Key College in 1909. After receiving a bachelor of arts degree and teaching certificate from the University of Texas in 1912, Finley taught in Galveston and New York City. In 1924 she financed in part a 4½-month cruise trip around the world by working as a hostess on the ship. Her letters to her mother, which were posted from Panama, Hawaii, Japan, China, the Philippines, India, Egypt, Greece, Palestine, and various points in Europe, were published serially in the Dallas Morning News from March 1924 to July 1925. They were published again in 1968 as a travelogue titled Around the World on a Frayed Shoestring. Finley lived in New York City for a short period after her trip and then returned to Texas in 1926. She married Gus S. Wortham, whom she had known during their days at the University of Texas, on October 4, 1926, about six months after he organized American General Insurance Company. The couple made their home in Houston and had two daughters. Gus Wortham parlayed his insurance company into a multimillion dollar business, and Lyndall Wortham devoted her time and energy to serving the Houston community. She worked as a volunteer in local hospitals, served as secretary of the Harris County Cancer Society, and was a vice president of the Houston Speech and Hearing Center. She expressed her concern for disadvantaged girls by taking a special interest in Girlstown U.S.A., serving on the board of directors from 1959 to 1973 and as president of the board from 1970 to 1973.
Wortham also supported the Theater under the Stars program, was vice chairman of the board of the Houston Grand Opera, and served as a member of the advising committee of the Ballet Foundation of Houston, the board of directors of the Miller Memorial Theater, and the Society for Performing Arts. With her husband she established the Wortham Foundation, through which they funded a number of gifts, including a fountain on Allen Parkway, landscaping plans for a park in the Buffalo Bayou area, and the Wortham IMAX theater at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. The foundation also made a substantial contribution to the Gus S. Wortham Theater Center, a $72 million opera and ballet facility. The Museum of Fine Arts, the Houston Symphony Orchestra, and the United Fund also received support from the Wortham Foundation.
From 1963 to 1979 Wortham served on the University of Houston's board of regents. She was also active in the YWCA, Houston Garden Club, Galveston Historical Foundation, Colonial Dames of America, Harris County Heritage Society, Ex-Students' Association of the University of Texas, and Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority. A supporter of Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, Wortham was a charter member of his American Foundation of Religion and Psychiatry in New York City. She was awarded the Theta Sigma Phi Matrix award as outstanding woman civic leader of Houston in 1964. Wortham filled her home with fine antique furniture and a collection of paintings by artists such as Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, George Inness, George Elmer Browne, and Porfirio Salinas. Lyndall Finley Wortham died on July 12, 1980, in Houston and was buried in Magnolia Cemetery. Her contributions to the arts community are commemorated by the Lyndall Finley Wortham Theatre on the University of Houston campus, established in her honor by her husband.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Houston Post, July 14, 1980. Vertical Files, Barker Texas History Center, University of Texas at Austin. Kendall Curlee. Handbook of Texas Online, "Wortham, Elizabeth Lyndall Finley," http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/WW/fwo37.html (accessed November 7, 2006).
From the guide to the Gus S. Wortham family and business records MS 514., 1864-1997, (Rice University Archives, Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library, Rice University)
- Philanthropy and society