What is Houston’s gift to humanity? This was the challenge Eric Berger at the Houston Chronicle offered me several weeks before the new year. How would you respond in 500 words or less? Here is my response as it appeared in Eric’s Houston Chronicle blog (SciGuy) on Christmas morning.
Houston’s gift to humanity
One hundred years ago on November 10, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson left a cabinet meeting and rushed to the Oval Office to push a button that remotely fired a cannon in Houston, signaling the opening of the Houston Ship Channel. Behind the scenes, a Houstonian named Jesse Jones couldn’t be prouder as his city took a major step forward in the eyes of the world.
When I think of Houston and its contributions to humanity, I think of its people and the example of community service Houstonians past and present have modeled for all to see. Houston names like Jones, Rice, Hogg, Hermann, Brown, Cullen, Hobby, and in more recent times, McGovern, are just the beginning of a long list of those who have exemplified service and giving for the good of others. Few cities in the country can match the spirit of giving that the names adorning so many of our buildings and institutions exemplify.
Names like Bush and Baker speak to familiar Houstonians who have served the nation at the highest level. They follow a long list of Houstonians in Washington. Col. Edward House was the right hand to Woodrow Wilson through World War I, Jesse Jones served Wilson and was Roosevelt’s Secretary of Commerce through World War II, Oveta Hobby became the first head of what is today the National Institutes of Health.
That we have the world’s largest medical center is no accident thanks to George Hermann and Monroe Dunaway Anderson. They gave their vision, fortunes, and names to two of the best hospitals in the nation.
Following in their footsteps, John P. McGovern arrived in Houston in 1956 to join the fledgling medical center. McGovern, who died in 2007, quickly saw that this was a special city where a fortune could be made in medicine and investments. As carefully as he built his foundation, he gave back his wealth in the form of a children’s zoo at George Hermann’s park, a library, scholarships, a medical museum dedicated to families and education, and much more ongoing to this day.
The spirit of giving and service exemplified by these individuals has been contagious in the most positive way. Look around at the good things happening every day that come from the hearts of Houstonians young and old. Whether it is a hurricane named Katrina, a tornado-ravaged town in the Midwest, or nation ravaged by a tsunami, Houston is a place known worldwide for stepping up and getting it done.
To me, in 2014, Houston’s gift to humanity is the gift of Houstonians. Opportunity and giving back is the legacy of this city, born on the muddy banks of a bayou way back in the year of the Alamo, San Jacinto, and a man named Houston. Our gift to humanity is a community sense of improving the lives of others — the living example of Houstonians who rise in times of need and put the being into human.
‘Bout Time is about connecting our past to our present. Dr. Bryant Boutwell is the John P. McGovern Professor of Oslerian Medicine at the McGovern Center for Humanities and Ethics and a Distinguished Teaching Professor. He is the author of two books on the history of Houston and the Texas Medical Center and writes this column to share the stories of our past – stories that define who we are and how we got here.
February 28, 2014 » Jesse Jones: Behind the Houston skyline
February 14, 2014 » Unsung heroines of the Texas Medical Center
January 31, 2014 » Fred Elliott and the UTHealth School of Dentistry
January 17, 2014 » Houston's gift to humanity
January 03, 2014 » From forest to Texas Medical Center