Garrett, Jess Jenkins (1914–2010)

By: J. C. Martin

Type: Biography

Published: December 27, 2013

Updated: October 2, 2020

Jenkins Garrett, lawyer, businessman, and philanthropist, was born in Caldwell, Texas, on December 14, 1914, the son of Jesse and Sudie Garrett. Jesse Garrett was an attorney who decided to become a Baptist minister and moved his family to Fort Worth to assume the pastor’s position at Rosen Heights Baptist Church. While attending North Side High School in Fort Worth, Jenkins went to work for the Leonard Brothers Store and began a lifelong friendship and business relationship with the Leonard family.

In 1931 Jenkins, at age sixteen, graduated from high school and entered the University of Texas. He quickly became involved with numerous organizations, including the YMCA, the Baptist Student Union, and the Tejas Club, and in his senior year he was elected president of the Student Association. He graduated in 1937 in a special six-year program in which he earned a bachelor’s degree and a law degree simultaneously. In his junior year he took a class from historian Walter Prescott Webb that instilled in Garrett a lifelong, deep interest in the history of Texas and the Southwest.

After graduation he entered Harvard Law School, where he worked in a school cafeteria and graduated in 1939 with a master’s degree in legal letters. He returned to Fort Worth and took a position with the firm of Walker, Smith and Shannon until 1941, when, recognizing the likelihood of a second world war, he attempted to enlist in the military. He did not qualify due to color vision deficiency and instead went to work with the FBI in California and later served as regional counsel for the War Production Board in Dallas. On November 26, 1941, he married Virginia Williams, who he had met at Rosen Heights Baptist Church in Fort Worth and with whom he had three children.

Following the war, Garrett returned to Fort Worth and went to work as in-house counsel for J. Marvin and Obadiah Leonard, a position he held until 1965, when he and his friend Robert Stahala opened their own practice. In the meantime, he continued his strong interest in Texas history, and in the 1950s he began his collecting of Texana in earnest.

In addition to his law practice, Garrett was active in several business interests, including serving as a director of News Citizen Newspapers; State Reserve Life Insurance; Chemical Lime, Inc.; and Western Savings and Loan Association. Garrett was strongly devoted to education and public service. His numerous positions included service on the Board of Trustees, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (1960–68); Governor John Connally’s Committee on Education Beyond the High School (1963); Chairman, Board of Trustees of the Tarrant County Junior College District (1965–71); and member of the University of Texas System Board of Regents (1969–75). While on the Board of Regents, Garrett served as chair of the Land and Investment Committee, and he vigorously supported the Regents’ investments in UT Austin’s Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, which achieved international acclaim.

In 1965 Arlington State College was transferred from the Texas A&M University System to the University of Texas System, and in 1967, with Garrett’s support, it became the University of Texas at Arlington. In recognition of the new university’s potential, in 1973 he and his wife donated their extensive Texas history collection to UT Arlington. Early in his collecting, Garrett recognized the importance of the Mexican War in Texas and American History, and he gave that area special emphasis. As a result, in 1995 Texas A&M University Press published his The Mexican American War of 1846-1848: A Bibliography of the Holdings of the Libraries, The University of Texas at Arlington.

During the many years in which Garrett bought thousands of historical materials of every type and form, his wife Virginia exhibited a strong interest in historic maps, and she soon began collecting maps important to the development of Texas, as well as the Gulf of Mexico. From 1990 to 1997 the Garretts donated their extensive atlas and map collections to UT Arlington. Their gifts collectively make up the Jenkins Garrett Library and the Virginia Garrett Cartographic History Library, serving as companion libraries in the UTA Library’s Special Collections.

Garrett also served in leadership positions in historical and professional organizations, including the Texas State Historical Association, the Philosophical Society of Texas, Texas Map Society, Society for the History of Discoveries, and many more. In 1992 he began serving of counsel with the Fort Worth firm of Harris, Finely, and Bogle. His countless awards from dozens of organizations reflect the high level of respect and appreciation he earned throughout his life. Honors include the Mirabeau B. Lamar Award from the Association of Texas Colleges and Universities (1981), the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s B. H. Carroll Award (1985), the Philanthropic Award of the Texas Library Association (1991), the Good Scout Award by the Boy Scouts Longhorn Council (1996), and the Texas Historical Commission’s Award of Excellence in Preserving History (2003).

Jenkins Garrett died in Fort Worth on January 28, 2010. He was survived by his wife and three children—Donna Garrett, Dianne Powell, and Jenkins Garrett, Jr. He was buried in Greenwood Memorial Park and Mausoleum in Fort Worth.

Austin American Statesman, January 31, 2010. Fort Worth Star-Telegram, January 30, 2010. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Vertical Files, Former Regents, University of Texas System, January 28, 2010.

  • Education
  • Patrons, Collectors, and Philanthropists
  • School Trustees and Regents
  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Civic Leaders
  • Lawyers
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Fort Worth
  • North Texas

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

J. C. Martin, “Garrett, Jess Jenkins,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 27, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 27, 2013
October 2, 2020

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: