Why Ray Hunt is so powerful

By Gary Jacobson

September 24, 2007 at 6:47am

The first family of Dallas is not named Perot, or Cuban, or Jones or Hicks.

And it won’t be Bush when the president leaves the White House in 2009 and returns to Big D.

The first family of Dallas is Hunt.

It has been ever since Haroldson Lafayette Hunt moved his oil company to the city in the 1930s so he could be closer to his banker and good train service.

It’s even truer today because of Ray Hunt, the most powerful Hunt - and there have been a lot of them - since old H.L. While H.L. was always trying to find a U.S. president who would listen to him, his son has found one in George Bush.

Ray Hunt’s close ties to Bush raised eyebrows when his company, Hunt Oil, recently signed an exploration and development deal with the Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Iraq. Hunt is a major political contributor to Bush and a big backer of the proposed Bush Library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

When H.L. moved to Dallas after the Great Depression, he was already wealthy because of the ocean of oil that he helped discover under the pine forests of East Texas. In Dallas, he became fabulously wealthy. The East Texas field, the largest in the world at the time, helped fuel the Allies’ victory in World War II.

Hunt had 15 children, with three women, in overlapping households. All the kids called him dad. Hunt thought he had superior genes and wanted to disperse them as widely as possible, according to a book written by his eldest daughter.

His first family, with wife Lyda, produced seven children, many of them famous on their own.

Lamar Hunt, who died last December, co-founded the American Football League, helped engineer a merger with the NFL and coined the name - Super Bowl - for what has arguably become the biggest single sports event in the world. He owned the Kansas City Chiefs, part of the Chicago Bulls and launched professional tennis and soccer leagues. He once tried to buy Alcatraz Island.

Caroline Rose Hunt, through her Rosewood companies, owns and operates some of the top luxury hotels in the world, including The Carlyle in New York, The Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas and several in the Middle East.

Nelson Bunker Hunt became his own brand of tycoon. He had a large oil concession in Libya before Moammar Gadhafi nationalized his holdings. As a Thoroughbred breeder and owner, Bunker rivaled any Saudi prince. Indeed, he was an American version of a Saudi prince.

Beginning in the 1970s, Bunker and a brother, William Herbert, tried to corner the world silver market. When prices collapsed in 1980, the scheme caused widespread financial panic and eventually led to bankruptcy, including the loss of Bunker’s thoroughbreds.

Asked at a congressional hearing what it was like to lose so much money so fast, Bunker Hunt said: “A billion dollars isn’t what it used to be.”

Ray Hunt is from H.L.’s third family. When Lyda died, the Patriarch married Ray’s mother, a former Hunt Oil secretary who already had four children by him. Ray’s parents married 14 years after he was born.

H.L. thought the children from his other families were well provided for, so shortly before he died in 1974 he changed his will and gave most of Hunt Oil to Ray’s mother, Ruth.

Ray kept the third family’s holdings completely separate from his half-siblings. He branched out into real estate, building Reunion Tower, the signature structure in downtown Dallas. Meanwhile, Hunt Oil discovered a bonanza field in Yemen. Beginning with H.L., the Hunts have always had a knack for finding oil where others couldn’t.

Today, Hunt Oil remains one of the largest privately held, independent oil companies in the world. Independent even from other family ties.

“The companies directed by Ray L. Hunt have no affiliation with, nor ownership interest in, Hunt Petroleum, Hunt Exploration, Hunt International Petroleum Corporation, Rosewood Resources or Petro Hunt, LLC,” says a note on the Hunt Oil web site.

Ray Hunt is sincere about his civic responsibility. He is active in Dallas affairs, at SMU, his alma mater, and as an adviser to the Bush administration. He is also on the boards of directors of Bessemer Securities, Electronic Data Systems, King Ranch and PepsiCo.

While old H.L and his son certainly share an affinity for business and risk-taking, there are many differences.

H.L.’s politics sometimes tended toward the extreme. He (and Bunker) supported the John Birch Society. And H.L. had a tendency to lecture, trying to change the system from the outside.

Ray is conservative, but more mainstream. His sister, Swanee, was appointed ambassador to Austria by Bill Clinton. Ray works quietly and within the system. Before James Oberwetter was ambassador to Saudi Arabia, he was a Hunt Oil executive. Before that, Oberwetter worked for Bush’s father, then a Houston congressman.

Ray’s son, Hunter, now a Hunt Oil executive, worked for the first George W. Bush presidential campaign.

H.L. lived on a big estate on a lake near central Dallas and was happy to send his kids from his first family to exclusive private schools. Ray’s son, Hunter, attended Richardson High School, located in a very good, but not great, public school district near their home in a nice, but not spectacular, neighborhood of Far North Dallas.

Ray Hunt is his mother’s son as much as his father’s.

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