Crossroads Ten Most Powerful - #7 Robert Hewitt Sr.
May 6, 2009 at 12:06 a.m.
Robert Hewitt Sr. is a longtime independent oil operator, investment manager for one of the wealthiest families in the region and trustee on several local and regional boards.
The 80-year-old began work as a boat hand. His professional life, however, soon took a positive turn, one that led to vast wealth and prestige.
WHAT OTHERS SAY ABOUT HEWITT
"Let me just tell you what my husband thought of him. He just loved him, just loved him."- Lola Bade, wife of the late Dr. Craig Bade.
"He carries powerful financial weight. I think he's used it wisely."- Charles Spurlin, local historian.
"Well, he doesn't tell too many lies and he's as good as his word." - Kerry McCan, a rancher and longtime friend.
"He's the most friendly man I ever met and the most generous person I've known." - David Engel, longtime friend.
"I think the fact he's so direct is a great part of his charm. He's been my mentor, my teacher and my dear friend." - Morgan Dunn O'Connor, a distant cousin.
"You better give him extra lemons in his tea." - Melody Ancarrow, owner of Hungry Thirsty's.
What's on his desk?
Medicine, stacks of cluttered paper, a number of eye glasses.
Read, watch TV, "60 Minutes." "I'm too old to play tennis."
What does power mean?
"Real power is power that's there but seldom used. If you use power too much, you lose it."
How do you wield power?
"I don't go around using power, but if I don't like something the city council does, I let them know about it."
1947: At 18, works on a boat for the late Dennis O'Connor, who grows fond of him and unofficially adopts him.
1948: With approval from his biological parents, moves from Rockport to Victoria.
1951: Graduates from the University of Texas business school and later Wharton School of Business, courtesy of O'Connor's support and funding.
1951: Joins the U.S. Air Force and serves in Korean War.
1953: Biological parents die. O'Connor makes him partner in Refugio car dealership.
1967: Appointed to the Victoria College Board of Trustees.
1979: Named chairman of the Galaxy Ball, which educates the public about mental health.
1984: One of 538 U.S. Electoral College members to vote the late President Ronald Reagan into office.
How Hewitt gained power
Learned the banking, oil and gas and investment industries from his late stepfather, Dennis O'Connor.
Worked as vice chairman of Victoria Bank & Trust Co., became an oil company president, managed his adoptive family's businesses and later started his own oil company.
Became active in the Texas Republican Party as early as 1960. In the 1980s, he was financial chairman for the Reagan-Bush presidential race in the 14th Congressional District.
Served on local bank and school boards of directors, and began donating large sums to charities.
Quoted on Nov. 24, 1984, as saying, "I certainly have an element of free spirit and free thinking. I'm not a follower."
Who was your mentor and what did you learn?
"Dennis O'Connor, the father who adopted me. I learned to be honest and forthright, techniques about how to invest. Don't bite off more than you can chew. Everything you do is not a success, so be sure you can accept failure down the road."
What is your favorite cause?
"Through my foundation, we built the Dorothy H. O'Connor Pet Adoption Center. Through my own funds, I built Trinity Middle School. I funded 80 percent of it."
What one thing would you change about the Crossroads? Why?
"I think it's going along fine. The city is progressive enough. I have no problem with it."
Favorite book: "I like to read history. I read about James Polk, a former president. Under his presidency, the size of the country doubled. I guess I like how it was back then. I think it was tough as hell."
Best friends? "Kerry McCan, David Engel and several others. I don't like naming a few without naming a lot."
Immediate family? "My children Dennis, Robert and daughter Mary Hewitt."
Any pets? "Five hunting dogs and no cats. I have had cats and I'll probably get another."
SPEND A LUNCH WITH ROBERT HEWITT SR.
Friends call him "Bobby."
They also say he's apt to be late for Monday lunches at Hungry Thirsty's, the restaurant he's dined inside most every week for 36 years.
As predicted, Hewitt walked in the last of about a dozen friends - local bankers, former state politicians, doctors, oil men and ranchers.
He pulled his khakis high, flattened the crinkled dress shirt just above his belt line, sat and grumbled.
Even though friends teased him, Hewitt's presence straightened those at his end of the table. They laughed at his jokes, gave him tips about new vehicles to consider. Another man offered to buy his lunch.
"He's uniquely Victorian," said Joe Wyatt Jr., a former U.S. congressman, who sat near the middle of the long lunch table.
Hewitt sat near the end. There, he discussed how his professional life began.
The late Dennis O'Connor, a longtime Victoria businessman, hired Hewitt to work as a hand on his boat. O'Connor, whose family name is linked to vast wealth and success, instantly liked the young Hewitt.
With the blessing of Hewitt's parents, O'Connor unofficially adopted him. With no children of his own, O'Connor paid for Hewitt's extensive schooling and then partnered with him for decades in several businesses. Twenty years ago, and before his death, O'Connor officially adopted the adult Hewitt.
"I miss his integrity, his sense of fairness. He always did more than his share no matter what he got involved in, and didn't expect to receive anything additional for it," Hewitt said, biting into a hamburger. "He was the most unselfish person I ever knew."
Hewitt inherited much of O'Connor's wealth, as well as many of the traits his late stepfather held, those close to Hewitt say.
"He's generous with his time, his financial resources," said Morgan Dunn O'Connor, Hewitt's distant cousin. "Bobby is the type of person who always is there for people when they need help."
Hewitt listened to the chatter at the table and added a joke every now and then. He talked about a tomato plant that began to bear fruit, and his passion for gardens.
"I like looking at them," he said, "but I don't like working in them."
Editor’s note: This project is not a scientific measure of power. During a three-month period, Advocate readers voted for candidates via e-mail, online survey, snail mail and phone.