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Greer, DeWitt Carlock (1902–1986)

Richard M. Morehead Biography Entry

Dewitt C. Greer, civil engineer, was born on July 27, 1902, in Shreveport, Louisiana, the son of Samuel Rufus and Mary Lou (Carlock) Greer. When he was three weeks old, the family moved to Pittsburg, Texas. Greer graduated from Pittsburg High School in 1918 and enrolled at the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (now Texas A&M University) that fall. He graduated in 1923 with honors, a degree in civil engineering, and a second lieutenant's commission in the United States Army. He worked briefly as a landscape engineer in Dallas, then became the first engineer for the new State Parks Board, assigned to construct a park near Boerne using thirty trusted prisoners on work detail as his workforce. Greer recalled this as "the most interesting year in my life," although he never received the pay he was promised because the Texas legislature failed to make an appropriation for his salary. The park project ended after gubernatorial pardons freed all of his workmen. After returning to assist a real estate developer in Dallas and Athens, Greer became the first Athens city engineer in 1925. Later he claimed he "spent their [city bond] money...built them some roads...and married the prettiest girl in town," Helen Colton, daughter of an Athens grocer. They were married on June 21, 1928, eight months after Dewitt Carlock Greer began his distinguished career as an engineer for the Texas Highway Department (now the Texas Department Transportation).

He began the job as an instrument man laying out a highway system for Henderson County. In 1929 he was appointed acting district engineer of the Tyler district, later district engineer. The Greers' only child, Ann Colton Greer, was born in Tyler in 1935. In 1936 Greer moved to Austin to head the department's division of construction and design, appointed by state highway engineer Gibb Gilchrist, Greer's mentor in highway administration. Gilchrist became dean of engineering at Texas A&M in 1937, and in 1940 the Texas Highway Commission appointed the thirty-seven-year-old Greer to be state highway engineer over several senior engineers. He largely followed the policies established by Gilchrist, stressing integrity, economy, and delegation of responsibility to district offices and division heads. World War II interrupted his plan to launch an expanded program of highway development, as work was performed largely on military roads and many highway department employees joined the armed forces. Greer's attempt to enlist was rejected by military authorities.

When the war ended in 1945 the Texas Highway Department had plans ready for what became at the time the greatest construction program in the history of the world: "getting Texas motorists out of the mud" by adding 50,000 miles of paved highway to the 26,000 miles of all-weather roads existing in 1944. Much of the postwar funding, mostly from the federal government, built interstate highways, in which Texas led the nation. More than 40,000 miles of paved farm roads also were constructed in Texas. As state highway engineer, Greer supervised the spending of $4.5 billion without any scandal marring his department. He was noted for frugality with the taxpayers' money as well as his own, for diplomacy, fair dealing, brevity with words, and a sense of humor.

He received nearly all of the honors in engineering and state administration circles during his career. Scholarships and grants were established by friends in his name at Texas A&M and the University of Texas at Austin, where he taught as a professor of engineering practices from 1968 until 1972. After his twenty-seven years as chief administrator, Greer served as a member of the Texas Highways and Public Transportation Commission for twelve years. In 1969 Governor Preston Smith appointed him chairman of the highway commission, a position he held from 1969 to 1972. When Greer retired in 1981 the state highway headquarters building in Austin was named for him.

"Putting the money under the rubber" became a policy that Greer established and successors continued. Since most state funds for highways come from motor-fuel taxes and other levies on road users, Greer insisted that the funds be applied for maximum benefit to taxpayers. During his administration, in 1946, Texas voters adopted a Highway Users' Amendment to the state constitution directing that all special taxes collected from road users be spent for highway purposes, except the one-fourth allocated to public schools.

Greer was a Methodist, Rotarian, and member of various professional organizations. He had no hobbies but declared, "My work is my hobby." He died on November 17, 1986, at his home in Austin and was buried in the State Cemetery. The Texas Department of Transportation spent $8 million to build the 263-foot Dewitt C. Greer cargo and passenger ferry boat, which launched on January 27, 1994, at the Bolivar Ferry Landing for service between the east end of Galveston Island and Port Bolivar.

Dallas Morning News, November 18, 1986. Galveston Daily News, July 3, 1994, December 19, 1994. Richard Morehead, Dewitt C. Greer (Austin: Eakin Press, 1984).

Time Periods:

  • Texas in the 1920s
  • Great Depression

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

Richard M. Morehead, “Greer, DeWitt Carlock,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed April 19, 2021,

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August 11, 2020