Wyly, Charles Joseph, Jr. (1933–2011)


By: Peter Worger

Type: Biography

Published: February 16, 2022

Updated: February 16, 2022


Charles Joseph Wyly, Jr., Dallas billionaire and philanthropist, was born on October 13, 1933, in Lake Providence, Louisiana. He was the great-great-grandnephew of Alamo defender Christopher Adams Parker. His parents were Flora Elizabeth (Evans) Wyly and Charles Joseph Wyly, Sr. They were both college-educated. Charles Sr. was a newspaper publisher who ran the Delhi Dispatch in Delhi, Louisiana, and Flora was a dance teacher and the first female captain of the women’s prison at the Angola prison farm. The family owned a cotton farm in Lake Providence but lost it in the early 1940s. The brothers were raised as Christian Scientists, and Charles Jr. professed this faith throughout his life.

Charles Jr. and Sam, who was a year younger, played football together at Delhi High School. Charles delayed graduation for a year so that he and his brother could play their last season together, and the team won a state championship that year. After graduating in 1952, the brothers enrolled at Louisiana Polytechnic Institute (later Louisiana Tech University), where Charles attended on a football scholarship and earned a bachelor of business in 1956. Charles Wyly married Caroline “Dee” Denmon on May 31, 1955. After college he went to work for IBM in Dallas. After attending graduate school in Michigan, Sam joined his brother at IBM in 1958. Citing unexpected relocations, Sam left the company in 1961 and started his own business—University Computing Company, a data processing service bureau at Southern Methodist University, in 1963. Charles followed him six months later. The two also founded Earth Resources Company, an oil-refining and mining company, in 1968 and co-founded Sterling Software with Sterling L. Williams in 1980. They also purchased Bonanza Steakhouse Corporation in 1967 and sold it in 1989. In 1982 they bought Michaels, a chain of arts and crafts stores, which they sold in 2006 for $6 billion.

Charles and Sam Wyly donated heavily to the Republican party beginning in 1968 during Richard Nixon’s campaign. According to their own estimates, they donated about $10 million to Republican causes and candidates over the years. They were among the largest donors to George W. Bush. During the 2000 Republican presidential primary, the brothers contributed $2.5 million to the front group Republicans for Clean Air to run an ad campaign attacking the environmental record of John McCain and defending that of Bush. The actions of Republicans for Clean Air and similar groups that concealed the identities of their contributors during the 2000 election led to the passage of increased disclosure requirements for political groups, supported by McCain. The Wylys also contributed to the controversial Swift Boat Veterans for Truth’s attack campaign against Bush’s opponent, Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, during the 2004 election. Under George W. Bush, Charles Wyly was a member of the White House Advisory Council for Management Improvement.

In addition to Republican political donations, the Wylys used their wealth to support the arts in the Dallas area. Charles and his wife contributed $20 million to help build the AT&T Performing Arts Center in Dallas. The Dee & Charles Wyly Theater at the Center was named after them. Charles was also chairman of the Communities Foundation of Texas board of trustees, a member of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra board of directors, and a member of the National and the Dallas Advisory Boards of the Salvation Army. 

In 2006 the U. S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations reported that the brothers had used nominally independent offshore trusts in the Isle of Man and the Cayman Islands to avoid U. S. tax obligations and moved hundreds of millions of dollars from these trusts into their Dallas-based hedge funds, Maverick Capital and Ranger Capital. These trusts also held millions of dollars worth of stocks in companies that the brothers owned and had been used to purchase real estate and luxury items for the brothers’ personal use. Money from these trusts was also used to fund the construction and operating expenses of Charles’s Stargate Horse Farm in Denton County. The brothers were also investigated by the Internal Revenue Service and by a New York district attorney for financial misconduct during their time operating Michaels. In 2010 the Securities and Exchange Commission accused Charles and his brother of hiding $550 million in offshore accounts that they made through insider trading. The brothers were found guilty of securities fraud in 2014, and their estates were ordered to pay $299 million to the government. The Internal Revenue Service also demanded that Charles’s estate pay $800 million in back taxes.

Charles Wyly and his wife lived in Preston Hollow, a wealthy neighborhood in Dallas where George W. Bush also owned a home. Their family also had a vacation home in Woody Creek near Aspen, Colorado. Charles Joseph Wyly, Jr., died on August 7, 2011, in a car accident in Aspen. He had five children—Martha, Charles Joseph III (Chip), Emily, Jennifer, and Clara Elizabeth, the latter of whom died at the age of four. He was buried at Sparkman-Hillcrest Memorial Park in Dallas.

Aspen Times, August 11, 2011. “Charles Joseph Wyly Jr.,” Find A Grave Memorial (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/107587184/charles-joseph-wyly), accessed October 26, 2021. “Charles Wyly,” Notable Names Database (https://www.nndb.com/people/496/000118142/), accessed October 26, 2021. Dallas Morning News, August 26, 2006. Dallas Observer, February 14, 2017. Forbes, August 7, 2011. Fort Worth Star-Telegram, July 31, 2010. Interview with Sam Wyly, Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Oral History Collection, No. 374, December 6, 2002.

Categories:
  • Business
  • Founders and Pioneers
  • Company Founders
  • Patrons, Collectors, and Philanthropists
Time Periods:
  • Great Depression
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Texas in the 21st Century
Places:
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas

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

Peter Worger, “Wyly, Charles Joseph, Jr.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 14, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/wyly-charles-joseph-jr.

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February 16, 2022
February 16, 2022

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