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WORTHAM, GUS SESSIONS

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 Corporationqv). 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 Astrodomeqv) 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

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

John A. Adkins, "WORTHAM, GUS SESSIONS," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fwo34), accessed November 23, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.