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Margaret Williams-A Lifetime of Family Philanthropy

A Lifetime of Family Philanthropy
The Social Book celebrates Margaret Alkek Williams
and Recognizes the Legacy of Her Parents,
Albert and Margaret Alkek

Margaret Alkek Williams—a name synonymous with philanthropy, altruism and enormous generosity of spirit. This beautiful, gentle and kind woman, whose legacy originates from her mother and father, Margaret and Albert Alkek, has continued the family’s history of leaving our community, as well as the world, better than they found it. President Woodrow Wilson once said, “You are not here merely to make a living. You are here to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision and with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world. You impoverish yourself if you forget this errand.” The Alkek family has indeed amply shared the fruits of their achievements and vision to enable the world with a finer spirit of hope.

ALBERT AND MARGARET ALKEK

Albert, the son of Lebanese immigrants, was born in Houston, Texas, in 1909. Raised in Victoria, the family was prominent in the ranching and grocery trades. Later in life, he entered the business world with $250 he borrowed from his father at 6 percent interest and repaid every penny. This was the first and last time Albert would ever rely on borrowed money. Margaret was also Houston-born and a San Jacinto High School graduate. They were married in 1934 and were happily together for 61 years.

Albert’s first big break came when he met and forged a bond with Harry F. Sinclair, founder of Sinclair Oil Company. In 1948, the two created the Sinclair-Alkek Oil Company, which built and operated the first petroleum pipeline in Texas. Albert bought Sinclair out in 1952 and continued to operate the venture as Alkek Oil Company. Many times in his career, Alkek Oil Co. was the largest independent gasoline supplier in the state of Texas and the Southwest. From the earliest days of their marriage, Margaret encouraged her husband, kept the company’s books and inventory, and was physically involved in all aspects of the business.

The Alkeks served on the board of directors for many public and private companies and charitable institutions. Albert was appointed by the Governor to the Texas Public Safety Commission, on which he served until his death in 1995.

Albert and Margaret built an 11,000-acre ranch in Bandera, Texas, the Flying A, that included native species and exotic game. In his later years, he used the ranch as his “corporate headquarters” and Margaret kept an office at the ranch and served as her husband’s executive assistant.

Due to the fact that Albert never graduated from college, he was a fervent advocate for, and patron of, education. A number of institutions conferred honorary doctorates and awards during their lifetime. Two special awards given to him are the Twelfth Man award from Texas A&M University and the President’s Excellence Award from Texas State University–San Marcos. Education was as much a passion for Margaret as for her husband. She attended the University of Texas in Austin but interrupted her studies to marry Albert. She encouraged her daughter, named Margaret also, to get a solid, well-rounded education and, in the late 1940s, the senior Margaret herself returned to college and in 1951, graduated with honors from Victoria College in Victoria, Texas.

As the size of their charitable contributions increased, anonymity became more and more difficult. In 1988, the Houston Post featured an article on the Alkeks. The gift that prompted this article was a $25 million donation to Baylor College of Medicine, which to date has exceeded $100 million. This was, at the time, the largest individual charitable donation ever made to a Texas Medical Center institution. Five years later, they broke another record, with a $30 million commitment to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. To this day, the family’s cumulative giving, separate from Foundation grants, ranks the Alkek family as one of Houston’s and Texas’ most generous families. Their legacy to the community shows how one man, and then one couple, and finally one family, can truly shape Texas for the better.

MARGARET ALKEK WILLIAMS

The couple’s daughter, Margaret Alkek Williams, inherited her parents’ tradition of generosity. Though she wasn’t aware of “philanthropy” as a distinct concept, Mrs. Williams grew up believing that privilege came with responsibility. She watched her parents’ strong involvement in their community as a child, has practiced it in her own life, and modeled it for her son. She developed a deep love of music, particularly vocal performance, at the tender age of five. She performed in theatre productions throughout her early childhood and college years and had principal roles in several musicals and operettas. She performed in Philadelphia with the Gilbert & Sullivan Society and sang with the Houston Grand Opera Chorus in the 1960s. She particularly enjoys live performances, having a keen appreciation of the talent and hard work required. She maintains connections to Houston’s Symphony, Ballet and Opera because of her strong love for the performing arts.

Margaret is keenly aware that private funding for the arts is crucial to keeping many arts organizations in existence and to broadening their accessibility. Her influence across Houston’s cultural community is legendary. Grants to performing arts organizations have provided a major impetus for new productions, buildings, endowments and programs. Major gifts, directed by Margaret, have made possible the creation of the Margaret Alkek Williams Terrace Room at the Alley Theatre; the Margaret Alkek Williams Dance Lab at Houston Ballet; the endowment for the Margaret Alkek Williams Chair for the Artistic and Music Director at Houston Grand Opera; the endowment for the Margaret Alkek Williams Executive Director/CEO Chair at Houston Symphony; and the Margaret Alkek Williams CPAM Endowment for Arts Integration at Houston Methodist Hospital. She made a gift of several million dollars to the MFAH to endow the Director, and all future Directors in perpetuity, as the Margaret Alkek Williams Director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

This renowned philanthropist currently serves on twenty-two boards and their various committees and remains personally involved in their fundraising. She has been honored by and received awards from numerous organizations in Houston and has chaired or co-chaired many special events. Organizations receiving her gifts include:  Alley Theatre, American Heart Association, American Red Cross, Baylor College of Medicine, The Health Museum, Houston Arts Alliance, Houston Ballet, Houston Grand Opera, Houston Symphony, Legacy Community Health Services, The Living Bank, Medical Bridges, The Methodist Hospital Foundation, Museum of Fine Arts, River Oaks Chamber Orchestra, Society for the Performing Arts, Texas Heart Institute, Theatre Under The Stars, and UH Moores School of Music.

In 2013, the U.S. Fund for UNICEF honored Margaret for her extraordinary dedication to the health and well-being of children in Houston and around the world. Margaret is the first person in the U.S. to receive the Audrey Hepburn® Society Philanthropist of the Year Award in recognition of her incredibly generous support of the UNICEF and Baylor Pediatric AIDS Initiative partnership. Also in 2013, UNICEF established the Margaret Alkek Williams Humanitarian Award, a special award given to local philanthropic leaders at the annual UNICEF Audrey Hepburn® Society Ball.

The documented history of the Albert and Margaret Alkek Foundation includes a quote from the French writer Vauvenargues, which sums up the legacy of this dynamic family:  “The greatest achievement of the human spirit is to live up to one’s opportunities and make the most of one’s resources.” The Alkeks are truly in a legendary league of their own. Houston and Texas are blessed to have them as part of the fabric of our communities.

<a href="https://thesocialbook.com/author/scottevans/" target="_self">Scott Evans</a>

Scott Evans

Social Book Contributor

Scott Evans is a native Houstonian and the Publisher of The Social Book. His career has included success as a musician, management consultant, public relations firm owner, and technology consultant─all of which have injected him actively into the social scene for many years. Drawing on his musical background, in 1992 Scott co-produced a double CD called "Voices for Life" benefiting AIDS charities featuring Houston artists and highlighted by a music video of 200+ local celebrities singing Scott's original composition "Shades of Gray." Scott has hosted numerous events over his career and believes his best quality is his ability to make people feel a part of something special. (Photo: D. Jones Photography)
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