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 Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical

Homer Bryce

by Archie P. McDonald, PhD
Archie McDonald, PhD

Homer L. Bryce of Henderson, Texas, was a legend in his own time on the campus of Stephen F. Austin State University.

Almost everyone called him "Homer," including a lowly history professor, when talking about him because despite possessing great wealth he retained the flavor of an East Texan. In his presence, "Mr. Bryce" was more commonly used because he was, after all, the Boss.

Bryce, a native of Shelby County, and his wife Velma--from Angelina County--attended SFA early in the 1930s. All his life Bryce retained a love for the school that grew steadily during his two terms on its Board of Regents.

He served as chairman of that board, 1978-1980, and was so supportive of all Lumberjack athletics that the school's football stadium was named Homer Bryce Stadium in 1986, and its first $1 million scholarship program was established by friends and business associates in 1985 in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Bryce. He also received SFA's "distinguished alumnus" award in 1971. Henderson, Texas, made national news about when Mr. Bryce, as chairman of the board of Henderson Clay Products, sold the company's oil and gas interests to Atlantic Richfield for $300 million and merged with Boral Limited of Sydney, Australia, to form the largest brick-making company in the world.

My most vivid memory of "Homer" involved, appropriately, a football game --played at night, against Lamar University in Beaumont

Mr. Bryce needed someone to drive him home from the game, so I got my first and only chance to drive a Mercedes. He told me early in the trip that the car would operate better at a speed greater than that allowed by law and I could do so if I would pay any tickets. I allowed that the car's performance at 70 mph was adequate.

Coming home on Highway 69 about 11:00 p.m., he told me Depression-era stories about "bumming" rides on freights seeking work. I asked about the founding of Henderson Clay Products, and he told me this fascinating story.

He said he was operating a cafe in Henderson in 1946 and one day his best friend, the Chamber director, came in and said he was moving to Dallas because it was too hard to get businesses to start in Henderson. Bryce said he invited the man up to his office to talk; analyzing assets, they decided that red soil and natural gas was abundant, "and they're hauling both of them to Dallas to make brick."

So, Bryce and his friend made a list of 20 local business men, plus five "spares." Nineteen on the list and the first alternate agreed to put up $100 for research and $4,900 more if they decided to make brick; this was later increased to a $8,000 investment.

Bryce said, "I guess it worked out -- each one of them received that much twice a year and several million dollars when we sold." I recall saying this to him: "Mr. Bryce, if you ever start another business, put me on your list.

All Things Historical
February 18-24, 2001
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
Published by permission.

(Archie P. McDonald is Director of the East Texas Historical Association and author or editor of more than 20 books on Texas)
Readers' Comments:
Great story on Mr. Homer Bryce.I grew up in Henderson and one of my childhood friends' dad was one of the original investors with Henderson Clay Products so I got a chance to spend a little time with Mr. Homer. He also gave me a job at the brickplant while I was working my way thru college. I tell people all the time about what a great man Mr. Homer was. He was truly a legend and we miss him but his kindness and legacy will live forever. - Robbie Stephens, Austin, 30/May/2002
 
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