Porter, Gladys Sams (1910–1980)

By: Violet K. Springman

Type: Biography

Published: December 1, 1995

Gladys Sams Porter, philanthropist, was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on February 18, 1910, the daughter of Earl C. and Lula (Ammerman) Sams. Her father was cofounder and for many years chairman of the board of J. C. Penney Company. She graduated from Finch College, where she majored in music. She married Dean Porter of Brownsville in 1929 and moved to the Rio Grande valley in the 1930s. The Porters engaged in ranching and real-estate development at Olmito, a few miles north of Brownsville; they later moved to Brownsville, where their two daughters were reared. The Porters were members and supporters of the First Presbyterian Church of Brownsville. Porter was instrumental in the founding of the Brownsville Junior Service League, which assisted in inoculation, tuberculosis testing, and supplementary food programs. During World War II she was the chairman of the Nurses Aid Program under the American Red Cross. She also served for many years as trustee of Trinity University in San Antonio, and a gymnasium there bears the Sams family name. She was a director of the First National Bank of Brownsville and sat on the board of the Texas Tourist Council. In 1946 the Earl C. Sams Foundation was formed. The foundation, funded entirely by Earl Sams's money, accomplished many projects in South Texas on the premise that they would remain undone if left to civic funding. Upon the death of her father in 1950 the leadership of the foundation passed to Porter. The foundation assisted hospitals, universities, community funds, boys' clubs, community theaters, scouting programs, rest and convalescent homes, parks, wildlife conservation programs, and other projects throughout Texas. Of the projects funded by the Sams Foundation, the most extensive was the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, which opened on September 3, 1971. The same year, Mrs. Porter received the Governor's Tourist Development Award for her philanthropies in the state. She was recognized for outstanding service to the Southmost Soil and Water Conservation District and in 1973 was presented the annual Morris Foundation (Denver) Award for her contributions to conservation and welfare of animals through the zoo. In 1975 Gladys Porter was named Mrs. South Texas by the George Washington Birthday Celebration Committee in Laredo. In 1977 she was awarded the Alban Heiser Award by the Houston Zoological Society, given annually to an outstanding Texan who has contributed significantly to the preservation of nature, and in 1978 she was designated Humanitarian of the Year by the Mzuri Conference Foundation. Gladys Porter served as president of the Valley Zoological Society in Brownsville from 1971 until her death. She died on March 26, 1980, at a hospital in Houston, after a brief illness.

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

Violet K. Springman, “Porter, Gladys Sams,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 08, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/porter-gladys-sams.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1995

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