City Portrait

Houston’s Power Players

Four Houstonians who continue to prove that the city has a very big heart

Photo: Jody Horton

Marilyn Oshman
Arts Patron

Marilyn Oshman’s father, Jake, opened the first Oshman’s Sporting Goods store in Houston in 1931, and Marilyn herself was closely involved in the business. But art was always her passion. In the early 1970s as board chair of the Contemporary Arts Museum, she was instrumental in the hiring of director James Harithas, an often provocative former curator at D.C.’s Corcoran Gallery of Art who was a great champion of emerging artists and helped change the face of art in Texas. Since its inception thirty years ago, she has also been among the staunchest supporters of the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art, an entity that preserves such treasures as the Orange Show Monument, the Beer Can House, and the Art Car Museum and Parade, an event that attracts 250,000 people each year. The Orange Show mottoes, “Art for the sake of art” and “Art for everyone,” are the mantras she lives by.

George H. W. and Barbara Bush
First Couple

Most folks think of George H. W. and Barbara Bush’s Texas lives as based in Midland, but in truth it is Houston that has long been their actual as well as spiritual home. “Through all the storms of political life, no matter what happened, Houston was always where they returned,” says Jon Meacham, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author who is at work on a biography of the forty-first president.

“It was often suggested that we would go back east,” says Barbara Bush. “No way! We were sent to Washington, China, the UN.” At the end of each stint, she adds, they were invariably lured back by the city’s energy and the “big hearts” of its citizens: “George always felt like the future was in Houston.”
The Bushes arrived in 1959, and George Bush began his political career in Houston, first as chairman of the Harris County Republican Party and later as the first Republican to represent Houston in Congress. After his 1992 presidential defeat, the couple built a townhouse in the Tanglewood neighborhood. They’ve since more than embodied Houston’s much-vaunted spirit of giving back. In 2004, Bush’s weekend-long eightieth birthday celebration, attended by the likes of Mikhail Gorbachev, John Major, and Nolan Ryan, raised a whopping $58 million for his three favorite charities: the MD Anderson Cancer Center, the Points of Light Foundation, and the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation. The George and Barbara Bush Endowment for Innovative Cancer Research at MD Anderson has raised more than $50 million since its founding in 1998; at the celebration officials thanked the Bushes by unveiling the Robin Bush Child and Adolescent Clinic, named for the couple’s daughter who died from leukemia at age three.

Each April since 1995, one of the most popular events on the Houston social calendar has been A Celebration of Reading. The festive evening, for which members of the extended clan always gather, features readings by best-selling authors and raises millions annually for the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.

Charles Fraser

Though Charles Fraser grew up in Midland, and he married into Houston medical royalty (his wife, Helen, is the daughter of legendary heart surgeon Denton Cooley), he’d planned to live out his career at the Cleveland Clinic—until he was offered “an unparalleled opportunity to build a program at Texas Children’s,” now the largest pediatric hospital in the United States. Fraser, surgeon in chief, chief of congenital heart surgery, and cardiac surgeon in charge, arrived in 1995. Now the heart center’s team has five hundred full-time employees, performs almost a thousand heart surgeries a year, and developed the nation’s largest pediatric lung transplant program. “I view myself as a surgeon first,” says Fraser, who operates at least three days a week. “When you’re operating on little babies, the outcome of the operation is viewed in terms of decades of life. That keeps you coming back.”