Antonio Rodolfo Sánchez, Sr., Tejano oilman, banker, and philanthropist, was born in Laredo, Texas, on August 27, 1916. He was best-known as Tony Sánchez and was a descendant of Tomás Sánchez de la Barrera y Garza, the founder of Laredo in 1755. Antonio Sánchez married Alicia Marroquín, and they had three children: Antonio Rodolfo Sánchez, Jr. (Tony Sánchez, Jr.) in 1943, followed by George Marcel Sánchez in 1947, and Iris Veronica Sánchez in 1954. Sánchez Sr. is best remembered as a successful businessman in oil and banking and as a philanthropist in supporting higher education, especially Texas A&M International University.
During his early life, Sánchez was relatively poor and struggled to make ends meet on a daily basis. His family had lost considerable wealth and ancestral land after the Mexican Revolution of 1910. Sánchez was forced to quit school at an early age to help support his family. He ran after trains during the Great Depression to scoop up pieces of coal to place in the stove in order to keep the family house warm. For a time, he also worked delivering the local newspaper and as a milkman. At the outbreak of World War II, Sánchez volunteered to serve in the United States Army Air Forces. This gave him ambition to provide the American dream for border residents.
In downtown Laredo, Sánchez came to own an office supply shop that he operated for twenty years. He sold typewriters and office machines. At the time, Laredo had high unemployment, no manufacturing, and limited retail business. His son Tony Sٕánchez, Jr., later recalled that, on some nights, his father gazed across the border at the successes of Pemex oil wells along the Rio Grande. He believed oil had no political boundaries, and it was time to take a risk in the oil industry in South Texas.
Sánchez, along with his son Tony Jr. and a friend, geologist Brian E. O’Brien, concluded that Texas had one of the largest pools of natural gas in the United States—bigger than the Hugoton Field that stretched southward from Kansas to the Texas Panhandle. In 1973 they drilled their first successful well on the Nopalosa Ranch in Webb County. After a couple more successful wells in 1974, they established the Sánchez-O’Brien Oil and Gas Corporation. That same year, they discovered a large natural gas field in Webb and Zapata counties. After many companies such as Exxon had failed to find oil in the area, Sánchez had succeeded. Much of his fortune came from the oil industry.
Sánchez now possessed the economic resources from his success in the oil industry to realize his dream for political change in Laredo. In 1966 he, along with a few friends, founded the Bank of Commerce-Laredo where he became co-owner and the chairman of the board. Through his influences in Bank of Commerce (now known as International Bank of Commerce [IBC]), he was able to create an environment for success by helping small businesses on both sides of the border. Sánchez embraced two cultures and had a personal commitment to create economic and educational opportunities for South Texas. IBC started with less than $1 million in assets and had grown to more than $11 billion by 2017. Sánchez was also a majority stock owner in Tesoro Savings and Loan.
Although a prominent Democrat and deeply involved in local and state politics, Sánchez never ran for office. (His son Tony Jr. launched an unsuccessful run for governor as a Democrat in 2002.) Much of his effort was aimed at defeating the dominant and corrupt political party in Laredo, the Independent Club (or Partido Viejo) that dominated Laredo and Webb County and was headed by J. C. “Pepe” Martin. To compete against Martin, Sánchez Sr., along with his son Tony Jr., supported local candidates and financed businesses as a way to assist owners in resisting Martin’s political machine. On July 4, 1978, the father and son established the Laredo Daily News as a daily newspaper to compete with the well-established Laredo Times. Laredo Daily News operated as a morning newspaper that prompted the Laredo Times to switch from an afternoon to a morning newspaper.
In 1981 Sánchez filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against the Laredo Times for invasion-of-privacy. He accused the Laredo Times of using Small Businesses Administration records to estimate his private fortune at $50 million. In 1984 Sánchez filed a second unsuccessful lawsuit against the Laredo Times for what he perceived as a libelous headline that falsely tied the family-owned Tesoro Savings and Loan to Mexican drug trafficking. After nine years of competition, he sold the Laredo Daily News to the Hearst Corporation in 1986.
Antonio R. Sánchez, Sr., died of leukemia on April 19, 1992, at the age of seventy-five. He was buried in Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Laredo.