Deborah Duncan: Welcome back to Great Day. He’s worked for presidents, made an impact on Houston civil rights movement, build homes on part of the Astros and has written the Salt Grass Trail Ride more times than anyone. Finally at 90 years old, Welcome Wilson decided to share some of his experiences in a book, Always Welcome: Nine decades of Great friends, Great Times & (Mostly) Great Deals. I sat down with him recently to find out more. Let’s start with where the name Welcome came from.
Welcome Wilson Sr: The doctor told my parents I would be a girl. So they had a girl’s name picked out. My brother, older, already had my father’s name. So I surprised my parents and the doctor by being a twelve pound boy.
Deborah Duncan: Wow!
Welcome Wilson Sr: So the doctor folded his bag and left. I was born at home, the custom of the time, 90 ago and they started discussing what to name the boy. So three days went by, now they’re arguing about what to name the boy. A week went by, two weeks went by, three weeks went by, they’re still arguing.
Deborah Duncan: Used to have no name. You’re the boy with no name.
Welcome Wilson Sr: My father arrived home from work twenty two days after I was born and said, why don’t we name him welcome so he’ll know his welcome though he’s not a girl.
Deborah Duncan: Oh that is so cool. That is a real name. What were your earliest memories of life growing up?
Welcome Wilson Sr: When I was three years old, my earliest memory was on pullman train coming from El Paso to Corpus Christi. And I remember looking out the window from the lower bunk with my mother, I was three and seeing all the telephone poles who is by the train. That’s my earliest memory
Deborah Duncan: Yeah. Houston was a different time by the time you entered into the business world. If we went back in time to when you were a child and said, when I grow up I want to be, what would your answer have been as a young boy?
Welcome Wilson Sr: Probably a newscaster because that’s what I was.
Deborah Duncan: You see how he said that? He was looking over here.
Welcome Wilson Sr: Yeah.
Deborah Duncan: Because this is a man who doesn’t have just one job in his life. He has all kinds of jobs. You ended up in business, it is something that your personality and that your brain certainly did well and you had to balance the vision of hard work and homework all at the same time. That was something that is the principal even still today but you were very successful in business. Real estate one of the things that you were in?
Welcome Wilson Sr: I’ve been a real estate developer 61 years.
Deborah Duncan: And Houston has changed so much. You’re a big part of the Houston livestock show and rodeo. You’ve written that Salt Grass Trail Ride how many times?
Welcome Wilson Sr: I’ll be back there again this year. It would be my 63rdyear.
Deborah Duncan: Wow, with real estate and rodeo, I have to ask this question. What should we do at the astrodome?
Welcome Wilson Sr: It would be so short sighted to tear the Astrodome down. I was there when we built the Astrodome. I’ll never forget a survey taken up Houstonians 53% said that when they took down the superstructure, the roof had caved in. So when we finished construction of the Astrodome and we started taking down the superstructure, one foot down, the roof came with it. Two feet down. Three feet. It was eleven feet before the roof stopped coming down. And then varsity stayed up but the Alamo in 1904 was owned by private developer and he was going to tear it down and build an office building.
Deborah Duncan: Wow!
Welcome Wilson Sr: And fortunately, it was saved. But the point is in 1900 and 1903, it wasn’t old enough for people to think how historic it is. If you ask somebody from London about what’s special about Texas, they’ll mention the Alamo and the Astrodome.
Deborah Duncan: Yeah, the eighth wonder of the world, the Astrodome, which is so iconic hearing such an example of ingenuity here in the whole but Welcome you’re a voice for that kind of guy who bridge the gap between all races, all religions, the whole bit. There was a time in Houston when they were going through the whole struggle of desegregation where the leadership came to you and said help us and one of the things that you helped to do was kind of soften the transition when lunch counters had to open up and allow African Americans to come in and sit at their lunch counter.
Welcome Wilson Sr: Deborah, all across the south there had been riots about lunch counter sit-ins. People were killed, people were jailed. It was just terrible. In Houston, the business community has always come together to solve problems. So the mayor called me and said, some very well dressed African Americans from Texas State College of Negroes, now TSU, were catching the bus downtown and sitting at lunch counters to be served and they weren’t served. So the mayor called me and said, “Welcome, come down and help me do something.” So I went down.
I called a meeting of all of the 8 property owners who had lunch counters downtown—Walgreens, Rexall, Foley’s and others—to get them to solve the problem. About 2 hours later, they were still arguing. So then I turned to Bob Dundas, who is a vice-president of Foley brothers. And he kind of took the lead. And he said, “Look guys, this is coming. We’ve got to do it. If we’d all do it the same day, it wouldn’t be a problem.
Deborah Duncan: Yeah, it is gonna done.
Welcome Wilson Sr: So that’s what they did. So they agreed, everybody agreed that the next Monday at 12 o’clock, everybody would be served. So I called the leader of the movement at TSU and told him to bring enough people down to sit all 8 lunch counters. And I called the three newspapers, Houston Press, The Daily Press and The Post and The chronicle. And asked them not to play it up. I said you can write a story but write in the back pages.
No banner headlines.
Deborah Duncan: Things are gonna run smoothly. Don’t fuel a fire that’s not there.
Welcome Wilson Sr: And there were two radio, 2 TV stations at the time so I called both of them. And asked them to play them. Everybody agreed that that wouldn’t happen today by the way.
Deborah Duncan: Yeah, you’re exactly right and things went smoothly and again Houston was an example that we still have today as we saw like after Harvey. We have a couple of people in the audience this morning. We have Paula and Laverne. And Paula is there in the black and gold and she just came up to say hello to you before the show started because Paula she actually worked at your house and got herself through college and got your master’s degree, didn’t you? Amazing. Amazing.
Welcome Wilson Sr: Paula is great. Paula is great.
Deborah Duncan: And you in turn you’ve worked for presidents, how many people can say that? They’ve worked for presidents and done things as well. Alright, in writing this book, what is it that you want the reader to get from this book?
Welcome Wilson Sr: Well, Two things. One is that the Houston business community solves problems. In Houston, we do things differently and started with Jesse Jones. In the Great Depression, two banks were about to fail so Jesse Jones called all the banks in Houston together in his office and made them bailout the two banks. Houston had solved the problems forever by coming together and that’s what we need to do.
Deborah Duncan: Yeah and that’s what this book shows?
Welcome Wilson Sr: Yes.
Deborah Duncan: It shows that you can have tough times but tough time sometimes create community, don’t they? And here in Houston we’re an example of that.
Welcome Wilson Sr: Right. And the second thing is the University of Houston, which has been my passion. I’ve always had pure passion for my God, my family, my country, in the University of Houston.
Deborah Duncan: University of Houston is such a cool school right now. They’re doing such great things. I went to UT but I’ll all get my PhD at UFH. How about that? Can you put in a good word for me? Ok, good. If it comes from Welcome Wilson, I think it is amen. Right? And then I’m gonna end with this. We don’t have royalty here in Houston but you’re close to it and you’re going to be coronated by the Heritage Society.
Welcome Wilson Sr: Well I’ve been selected to be king. It’s called, notsuoh. It is Houston spelled backwards and in 1898, in 1989, and 1900, they had this tradition of the Heritage Society and Jesse Jones was king one year.
Deborah Duncan: You’re in good company and you deserve to be king. So welcome let me just say to you, happy trails to you, until we meet again.
Welcome Wilson Sr: Welcome Wilson’s book Always Welcome: Nine decades of Great friends, Great Times & (Mostly) Great Dealsis available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and the publisher brightskypress.com.