HUGH ROY CULLEN (July 3, 1881 – July 4, 1957)

Born in Denton County, Texas, July 3, 1881, to Cicero and Louise Beck Cullen, Hugh Roy Cullen was the grandson of Ezekial Wimberly Cullen. Ezekial had come from Georgia to Texas in 1835 seeking fame and fortune and had fought in the early days of the revolution against Mexico, eventually settling in San Augustine, the seat of the new revolutionary government.

Home of Ezekiel Cullen, San Augustine, Texas

Home of Ezekiel Cullen, San Augustine, Texas

There he contributed to the formative growth of the new state as a judge as well as a state senator, in which capacity he authored a bill that established the educational system of the State of Texas.

Raised by his mother in the frontier town of San Antonio, Cullen was forced to grow up in a hurry. He attended public school only through the fifth grade before he started work at age 12, sacking candy at three dollars a week while he continued self-imposed studies at night. In 1897, at the age of 17, he moved to Schulenberg to enter the cotton business, operating as a buyer and factor in both Texas and the Oklahoma Territory. There he met Lillie Cranz, daughter of a successful rancher and merchant. They were married five years later when Lillie turned 21. Lillie became his staunchest supporter and lifelong companion, later sharing in the planning and execution of their many philanthropies. Together they enjoyed 54 years of marriage blessed with five children. Their only son Roy Gustav Cullen was born in 1905. Later followed four daughters: Lillie, Agnes, Margaret, and Wilhelmina.

 H. R. Cullen

H.R. Cullen as a young cotton broker

 

Having developed a successful career in the cotton business, as well as a reputation for hard work, tenacity and integrity, Mr. Cullen moved his family to Houston in 1911. There he continued his cotton business and began to invest in real estate until he became interested in the newly emerging oil industry. Very quickly, Cullen found himself deeply immersed in the business and political life of his adopted city. Mr. Cullen discovered his first producing oil field in 1921. In 1928, he teamed up with wildcatter Jim West and the two of them quickly built a successful partnership. By 1932, Mr. Cullen had formed his own oil company, Quintana Petroleum, and almost immediately discovered several major oil fields, the largest of which - The Tom O'Conner Field in South Texas - still produces oil today. The primary attribute that led to Cullen's immense success was his willingness to explore formations in fields that others believed were exhausted. He also avidly studied geological structures and developed new techniques to enable deeper drilling.

 

By 1936, just as Mr. Cullen was becoming one of the richest men in America, he lost his son Roy in a tragic oil field accident. It was about that time that he and Lillie began to turn their energies to politics and philanthropy. In 1938, the Cullens made their first major gift - a contribution of $260,000 to build the Roy Gustav Cullen Building on the new campus of the University of Houston in memory of their son. That was the first in a series of generous and thoughtful gifts to the University, as well as to hospitals and cultural institutions of Houston, most of which were unsolicited. The University of Houston was especially close to Mr. Cullen, as he saw it as a place where young men and women without significant means (like himself in his youth) could acquire a sound education without having to incur the expense of leaving home. 

 

   H.R. Cullen waiving UH flags    

H.R. Cullen waiving UH flags

In 1947; the Cullens donated a substantial part of their wealth to create The Cullen Foundation. Their $160 million gift was, at the time, one of the largest individual endowments ever funded in the United States. The first Trustees were their daughters Agnes, Margaret and Wilhelmina. Mr. Cullen's philosophy of giving was straightforward. He knew wealth was difficult to come by - he had worked long and hard to achieve it - but it was of no use unless something was done with it. In his own inimitable way Mr. Cullen stated that, "Giving away money is no particular credit to me. Most of it came out of the ground - and while I found the oil in the ground, I didn't put it there. I've got a lot more than Lillie and I and our children and grandchildren can use. I don't think I deserve any great credit for using it to help people. It's easier for me to give a million dollars now than it was to give five dollars to the Salvation Army twenty-five years ago."

 

Mr. and Mrs. Cullen

Mr. & Mrs. Cullen

 

As a student at the University of Houston, Jack Valenti wrote: "The riches that the Cullens have extracted from the earth, they have given back to their fellow-humans. All this they have done with simple directness and genuine tenderness; and with no thought of thanks, or the praise of other citizens, or public eulogies. Lillie and Roy Cullen want this world to be better when they leave it. This is Christian goodness at its height…"