The Life and Legacy of Martha Turner Bauguss
Our Tribute to a Houston Legend and Lifelong Friend
Houston real estate broker Martha Turner has been called “icon,” “leader,” “legend,” “maven,” “magnate,” and more, during the 33 years she spent building her symbolic Houston firm, Martha Turner Properties. All of these words certainly speak to a part of who Martha was, but the words that most truly captivate who she was to me, and to many, many others, were “friend” and “teacher.” She was exceptional at both.
Her road to success began in the small East Texas town of Hemphill, where she was born Mary Martha Fuller in 1940. Her father owned a dry goods and feed store, which provided Martha with early lessons in salesmanship. Martha would often daydream about her future while playing with paper dolls as she imagined getting dressed up every day to go to work. Her family and community also instilled in her a strong sense of faith in God, which guided, and remained constant in her life. Martha’s passion for music gave her impetus to study education in college, which she did, and in 1962, she graduated from the University of North Texas, degreed in music and elementary education. During college, a blind date changed her life. She met and married her first husband, which provided her with the famous last name, which would follow her and her business forever.
Post-graduation, Martha relocated to Austin where her husband was attending law school and began teaching school. Montgomery Ward was the first recipient of Martha’s sales acumen and tenaciousness. Holding a part-time job in the lingerie department, she sold more underwear working part-time than her co-workers sold working full-time! The entrepreneurial spirit took hold of her and she and a fellow teacher borrowed $1,000 from her hometown banker, which they used to start a successful wig store.
In 1966, Martha moved to Houston and continued teaching elementary school in both Spring Branch and at River Oaks Baptist until she retired in 1978, which culminated in a 15-year teaching career. That same empire-building essence that defined her, sparked a love for real estate. It inspired her to remodel, build, and sell several homes. She attended the University of Houston, earned her real estate license in 1979, and joined a local real estate firm. Within short order, she became one of the firm’s top producers. As many remember, the country went through a recession in the early 1980s. Martha was not to be deterred. In 1981, Turner and a friend, Nancy Owens, decided to open Turner-Owens Real Estate, which became Martha Turner Properties in 1986. Her office, located on Westheimer near the old Carnation Milk building, became a well-known destination. During this time, Martha’s husband passed and several years later, Martha married Glenn Bauguss.
Her early childhood dreams would finally become reality, as Martha became an iconic leader in Houston real estate. Alongside her husband Glenn and business partner Tom Anderson, Martha grew her eponymous real estate firm with her unique blend of energy, optimism, and humor to become the largest independent brokerage in Houston and one of the most successful in the nation. As a leader, Martha viewed her greatest responsibility was to keep those around her inspired, which proved to be a winning strategy and earned her recognition from the State of Texas as “Houston’s Most Inspiring Businesswoman.”
Each year, The Texas Business Hall of Fame Foundation honors the accomplishments and contributions of outstanding business leaders in our state by celebrating their impact on both business and community. It has been mostly male-dominated, as evidenced by the fact that in 2009, only six women had been inducted thus far. That year, Martha’s vision and career made her the seventh inducted into this illustrious group. She was in great company though. Previous inductees included President George H.W. Bush, Ross Perot, T. Boone Pickens, Mary Kay Ash and Gerald D. Hines.
In 2014, her company had its best year ever in its 32-year history, eclipsing more than $2.3 billion in annual sales. With more than 200 sales associates spread across six Greater Houston offices, Martha Turner Properties was one of Houston’s largest and most profitable brokers and was ranked as No. 8 in the nation based on closed sales volume per agent, with each agent bringing in an average of $7 million. Martha and Tom Anderson decided to sell Martha Turner Properties to Sotheby’s International Realty of New York. She once told a reporter, “We are the jewel in their crown!” The firm continues to bear her name today as Martha Turner Sotheby’s International Realty.
Martha’s community philanthropy was legendary. She was an adamant believer that “to whom much is given, much is expected.” This gentle dynamo was devoted to numerous civic, philanthropic, and professional leadership roles and quietly demonstrated that she was much more than a real estate agent. She was a true agent of inspiration and encouragement to anyone needing anything. Her efforts in support of health care, women’s organizations, the arts and education have been widely recognized and earned her a reputation for generosity and commitment to service. Warner Roberts, friend, television host, author and fundraiser extraordinaire, remembers Martha’s benevolence lovingly. She recalls, “I met Martha many years ago, and I’m not sure I’ve ever known anyone with a more loving, giving heart. Through the years I asked her to support innumerable charities; the answer was always affirmative! I took her to The Mission of Yahweh so she would see first-hand how homeless women are rehabilitated to become self-sufficient, productive members of society. She immediately made The Mission one of her primary charities. Equally as important, I know that Martha helped so many people in need without anyone’s knowledge. She was the ultimate expression of God’s love here on earth.”
Martha was also a big believer in advertising. From yard signs—to print and digital—to television, Martha’s presence was ubiquitous. Everyone will remember her memorable 30 and 60-second commercials, which continually reminded Houstonians (and Texans) that “We sell homes from $20,000 to $20 million. We want to be your realtor!” From a personal standpoint, she was not only the first (thanks to Warner Roberts asking her in 1996) but a consistent sponsor of The Social Book! In 2017, Houston Business Journal acknowledged her with its Lifetime Achievement Award for Women Who Mean Business. She was also honored with American Advertising Federation-Houston’s Trailblazer Award.
Martha never saw an obstacle; just another opportunity to move forward. Her quips and quotes were renowned and she used them often— if only to make someone feel better about themself, or to simply make a point. Some attributed to her were, “To be successful, you have to love what you do, love the people around you, make everyone feel special, and realize that you are the only person in charge of your life.” Another popular one was, “Proceed positively, plan purposefully, prepare prayerfully, pursue persistently.” I was in Martha’s office one day talking with her about sponsoring The Social Book for another year. Someone walked in and said they were having problems with a sales contract. Martha looked up and told them, “Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to turn it into a door. Move on and come back to it later!” I couldn’t stop laughing! What a sassy wit she had!
Dressing professionally was always important to Martha. She held the quote from Coco Chanel close to her heart, which was “Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman.” She communicated that mantra to her sales agents and those that worked for her. She understood how important image and style were in terms of success! There is a term her daughter Deasa Turner and friend/formal MTP sales agent Cathy Cagle referred to, which was known throughout Martha’s company. It was called be “Martha Ready!” She also told Deasa, “If you find a great shoe, buy it in every color!”
Family, Faith and Friends were Martha’s north star. Long-time friend Francie Willis said, “In all of Martha’s life, family came first and was her center. We both shared the birth of one daughter in common, although we raised other children as well. Martha taught me that regardless of whatever happened, we were to stand by our children and stand for them always. Martha believed that our daughters were hand-picked by God for us to raise and love.” Martha truly cherished her daughter and grandson Turner. Her faith was her constant compass.
Martha’s passing leaves a void in our community but her spirit lives on through everyone she touched—whether in person, by letter, by phone call, by email, by seeing her on television or in other forms of communication. The adage, “If you were born without wings, do nothing to prevent them from growing,” rings true in Martha’s case, as she gave so many people their wings to succeed and helped lift them up to see their goals flourish. Our lives are so much better for having known her. She was truly our city’s “Treasure!”