Houston 101: Will Hogg, Houston's Forgotten, Eccentric and Downright Badass Philanthropist

What better time than Memorial Day to remember Will Hogg, the man who founded Memorial Park?

If that (and the Arboretum) was all Will Hogg gave Houston, that would rank as one of the grandest local legacies anyone has ever achieved. But Will Hogg did so much more.

He founded and developed River Oaks and built Bayou Bend, now an outpost of the Museum of Fine Arts, which he also helped found. He made the real estate deal that left us today with Bayou Place, City Hall, the downtown public library, Jones Hall and Jones Plaza, the Hobby Center, hell, the entire Theater District. Will Hogg also spearheaded the foundation of the local YWCA and as if all of that was not enough, the pretty little Heights-area neighborhood Norhill was another of his creations.

And today, Will Hogg is all but forgotten. No prominent Houston parks, buildings or other institutions bear his name. (Hogg Middle School honors his father.) While that great Houstonian Tila Tequila does apparently merit a quite extensive Wikipedia entry, Will Hogg has none. Is that where we are as a people today?

Ms. Tequila aside, William Clifford Hogg probably wouldn't have had it any other way. The rotund son of (equally august) Texas governor Jim Hogg, Will was vehemently, almost violently modest. In this city of flamboyant philanthropy, Houston has not seen his like since.

According to Virginia Bernhard's 1984 Ima Hogg biography (Ima Hogg: The Governor's Daughter), when the MFA wanted to honor him at a banquet, he fled town. Another time he uncovered a plot wherein some prominent citizens wanted to surprise him by giving him a medal. On the appointed day, he pretended to be sick, left his office early and spent the night in bed. He once told a Houston Post columnist friend not to publicize another of his charitable feats in no uncertain terms:

"If you put my name in your column of tripe, I'll kick you so hard you'll taste the shoe leather for the rest of your life."

So that's one reason you probably have not heard of Will Hogg. Another is that he died relatively young. In those days of relatively primitive health care, the hefty Hogg men tended to keel over in their 50s and Will was no exception: While vacationing in Germany with his sister Ima, he died at 55 of the aftereffects of emergency gallbladder surgery. There was no third act to Will Hogg's life.

And he also happened to be the brother of Ima Hogg, whose own philanthropic efforts and amusing name made her world-famous for a time. (Famous enough to make it in the New York Times crossword puzzle, at least.)

But let's examine what Will Hogg did for Houston in the 11 years after his family made their fortune through a 1919 oil strike on their West Columbia plantation and his death in 1930.

Will Hogg believed that Texas's oil belonged to Texas, not himself alone. "The government made a mistake in not reserving for its own use all the wealth below the soil," he once said. "What I don't pay back in taxes on the oil which should not have been mine, I'm glad to give back away for the public welfare."

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