The Social Book Celebrates Houston's Ten Most Beautiful-Spring 2023 by Warner Roberts
I believe there is something beautiful about every human being. I take the liberty to define beauty as the ability to spread joy, lift spirits, encourage and inspire, and that it can be measured through service. The men and women on this list are not only physically captivating, but they make our city a more beautiful place through their generosity of spirit, compassion, creativity and dedication to serving. Kahlil Gibran wrote, “Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart.” Congratulations and a heartfelt thank you to 2023 10 Most Beautiful Houstonians. I am excited to present this article on Laurette Veres’ publication INSIDE HOUSTON and Scott Evans’ website SocialBook.com
Andrew "Andy" Cordes
Photo by Gittings
Without a doubt, one of the most popular citizens in Houston is Andy Cordes, the long-time “shining light” of Gittings Photography. As he says, “I am just an ordinary guy from a small Midwest town who is privileged to be associated with an extraordinary company serving notable clientele. I cherish the opportunities to assist our leaders to make a difference in our community, and we take every opportunity to do what we can to help.” And help, as he and the company always do. That help has been showered on a multitude of non-profit organizations, such as Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, Citizens for Animal Protection, March of Dimes, Men of Distinction, Mission of Yahweh, Baylor College of Medicine and many others.
Photo courtesy of Channel 11
Raised in a military family, Deborah lived in many locations before eventually settling in San Antonio. At the University of Texas in Austin, she earned a degree in Radio-Television-Film. Deborah’s career started in radio, but she quickly segued to television as a reporter on the CBS station in Austin. Soon she became an anchor at the ABC station. In Dallas, she created a talk show called Good Morning Texas at WFAA-TV, the sister station of KHOU-TV. After three years, Deborah co-hosted a talk show, Our Home for Lifetime Television in New York.
When her contract with ABC ended, Deborah returned to the news business. In 2002, Deborah joined KHOU-TV Channel 11 as an anchor on 11 News This Morning. After six years in news, Deborah returned to the talk show format as host of Great Day Houston and has just celebrated 20 years with KHOU-TV. She is the recipient of many local and national awards for television excellence, including two Emmy Awards, two Gracie Allen Awards and a Telly Award. Deborah feels that her job has called on her to provide calm in the midst of disaster, to give people information to empower their lives, to provide a voice to the business community and to lend a hand to many non-profit organizations.
Always, Deborah has been committed to community service. She is passionate about many causes and has chaired numerous events. And, she uses her remarkable talent as an emcee to add to the success of many charitable events. In addition, there are a multitude of individual contributions Deborah makes that are totally unknown to the public. She might buy toys for a hundred homeless children, adopt a family/families to support, or provide innumerable kindnesses to strangers.
Deborah serves on the National Board of Directors for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and is a Board Member for the Palmer Drug Abuse Program (PDAP).
Her first priority always is her son, Duncan.
Tena Faust and Tama Lundquist
Photo by Gittings
Tena and Tama are identical twins who grew up being taught by their parents to “give back.” When Tena was only five, she told her father “someday I will have a dog sanctuary.” For over 15 years now, both Tena and Tama have worked toward alleviating suffering and solving the problem of animal homelessness in our city. In 2008, they co-founded The Highland Village Adoption Center, served as founding members of Houston’s BARC Foundation and currently serve as Co-President of Houston PetSet.
Tena and Tama also serve as board members of Magpies and Peacocks and are members of Crime Stoppers Leading Women for Public Safety. They are founding members of the Harris County Animal Cruelty Taskforce. Tama also works with troubled youth and mentors children through 8 Million Stories.
As Co-Presidents of Houston PetSet, the sisters have chaired the organization’s Fierce & Fabulous Soiree seven times, most recently raising $500,000. Since its inception, Houston PetSet has granted more than $2.7 million dollars to animal nonprofits.
Tama loves spending time with her son, Harrison “Cole” Owen and her “fur” kids Sparky, Vinny and Sonny Corleone. Tena, with her husband Tyson, always make time for their rescue dog, Finnegan.
Honorable Joanne King Herring
Photo by Gittings
Some of the titles used to describe Joanne are The Dame, Knight, Ambassador, Consulate General of Pakistan and Morocco, Medal of Honor Nominee, Texas Hall of Famer, international socialite, global political activist, philanthropist, author and television personality. Julia Roberts portrayed Joanne in “Charlie Wilson’s War,” the film that documents her improbable and crucial support of the Afghans against the Soviet Union. The Afghans won without involving American soldiers.
For her efforts, Joanne received the highest medal given by the nation of Pakistan, was made Dame by the Order of St. Francis. was knighted by the King of Belgium, and was honored by the US and Afghan militaries including the US Marine and Navy Seals. She was elected into the Texas Hall of Fame and is a Medal of Honor nominee.
Joanne’s very successful autobiography Diplomacy & Diamonds: My Wars from the Ballroom to the Battlefield documents what she learned from being “dirt poor to filthy rich.”
Currently, Joanne is working on human trafficking with Governor Greg Abbott. She recently met with the Queen of Sweden, the UN Secretary-General, and Nobel Peace Price board members at the United Nations to establish a world plan to end this crisis. She is heavily involved in plans for the soccer World Cup where she will host international dignitaries. She will be hosting the Queen of Spain here in Houston in May. She is in meetings now to discuss a television series based on her life.
Photo by Gittings
Brigitte Kalai is a native Houstonian and loves being a part of this wonderful community. After earning a bachelor of science degree in nursing from the University of Texas, she began working as a nurse at Texas Children’s Hospital. She was passionate about pediatrics and working with children with significant and chronic health challenges. She began her volunteer work with Big Brothers, Big Sisters of America as a big sister mentoring girls who could benefit from having a positive role model, She also worked with many organizations that help the aging and infirm, making home visits to the sick and elderly.
Brigitte champions causes that uplift women and children in underserved communities and those facing medical issues. She deeply understands the financial and emotional toll it takes on a family due to her nursing background as well as her own struggle with Rheumatoid Arthritis.
She serves or has served on the boards of Interfaith Ministries, UNICEF, The Sheriff’s Advisory Board, Nora’s Home and Crime Stoppers and has broken records for almost everything she has chaired. Brigitte, along with her husband, Bashar, have established the Brigitte and Bashar Kalai Family Workshops at Rice, The Brigitte and Bashar Kalai Event Space for Big Brothers Big Sisters, and helped fund The Kinkaid Tomorrow’s Promise as well as many other scholarships and programs. The Brigitte & Bashar Kalai Plaza of Respect at Interfaith Ministries is an outdoor space designed to celebrate the rich interfaith diversity of our city to host events that educate, inspire, connect, and represent the three Abrahamic faiths of Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
Among all her accomplishments, she feels her greatest is her happy family, Bashar and her two sons, Alex and Remy.
Photo courtesy of Joanna Marks
Brad Marks is an A &M graduate who, as President and CEO of I W Marks Jewelers, carries on a long-standing tradition of dedication to the community and to family. Married to Joanna Hartland since 2003, the duo balances a full family life with their four children, Kennedy, Garrison, Bradley, Jr. and Hannah, while continuing the legacy of exemplary customer service at I W Marks Jewelers and supporting the community. The company has garnered multiple honors, including being a five-time recipient of the Business Committee for the Arts, Inc., FORBES Magazine’s “National Business in the Arts Award,” and the “Jefferson Award” for community service.
Brad, along with Joanna, are involved in multiple charities, supporting a wide range of organizations that truly make a difference. They feel that the most fulfilling of the events on their calendar are those benefiting others. I W Marks Jewelers underwrites the annual Holiday Shopping Card, benefiting the American Cancer Society. The company has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars through silent auctions to support the families of children battling cancer.
In 2022, Brad became a Board Member of Houston Children’s Charity, dedicated to improving the quality of life for Greater Houston’s underprivileged, abused, and disabled children.
Additional organizations Brad and Joanna routinely support are the Periwinkle Foundation, the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo Educational Scholarships, The Women’s Fund, BEAR Houston, Snow Drop Foundation, The Mission of Yahweh, the Houston Humane Society and Rice University athletic scholarships.
Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale
Photo by Gittings
Businessman, philanthropist, and television personality, Jim McIngvale, is best known by the name “Mattress Mack,” founder of Gallery Furniture. He and his wife, Linda, started their company with $5,000 in 1982 and turned it into one of Houston’s largest furniture stores. He became a local icon after starring in television commercials for the furniture store in 1983 where he jumped up and down shouting the slogan, “Gallery Furniture will save you money!” Often he would wear a mattress on air, clinging to a dollar bill in his fist.
Though Gallery Furniture has always come first for Mattress Mack, he has also focused on other career pursuits. In 1992, he and Linda served as executive producers of the Chuck Norris film Sidekicks. In 2002, he co-authored a book that outlines his career as an entrepreneur titled Always Think Big … How Mattress Mack’s Uncompromising Attitude Built the Biggest Single Retail Store in America.
In 2017, he opened the doors of Gallery Furniture to anyone affected by Harvey, a hurricane that flooded the city. In 2019, tropical storm Imelda flooded Houston, and he, along with Crisis Clean Up, offered free meals and shelter. In 2021 he again opened the Gallery Furniture doors to provide shelter during Hurricane Ida. Mack has given millions to organizations, from the Texas Heart Institute to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, The Salvation Army, and many others. His annual Christmas Giveaway has provided furniture to more than 500 households, and the store has hosted free Thanksgiving dinners for children with autism.
A quote from Mattress Mack explains his commitment to the community. “My parents taught me when I was a little boy that the essence of living is giving. We’ve always had a saying here at Gallery Furniture that we are responsible for the community’s well-being. so if something bad happens, we want to be one of the first businesses to act. It’s our job to help the community, not just take money out of the community.”
Dr. Laura Murillo
Photo by Gittings
In 2007, Dr. Laura Murillo was named President and CEO of the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Under her leadership, the Chamber has set unprecedented records in membership and revenue, becoming one of the most influential Chambers in the nation. Just two years after taking the helm, the Chamber won the National and Regional Hispanic Chamber of the Year Award from the U. S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. And throughout her leadership, the organization has continued to receive recognition, including Marketer of the Year by the America Marketing Association three times and two “Diversity in Houston Awards” from the Houston Business Journal. Last year, Houston Business Journal named her “Outstanding Diversity Champion.”
Dr. Murillo is the Founding President and CEO of the Greater Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Foundation. During her tenure, the Emerging Leaders Institute was established and has celebrated over three hundred graduates. She is the Founding Executive Producer/Host of the Chamber’s Radio and Television Programs on CBS-KHOU 11, Audacy, and Univision with a viewership of 3.3 million. She is also a commentator on national media outlets. Her book, Lead in Life, People. Passion. Persistence: Succeed in the New Era of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is a #1 International best seller.
She has received a multitude of state, national and international honors. “The Ohtli Award,” the highest honor bestowed by the Mexican government to a Mexican American, was awarded to her for her advocacy and civic leadership.
Dr. Murillo is the youngest of nine children born to Mexican immigrant parents and raised in Houston’s East End/Magnolia, where she began working at age ten at her family’s restaurant. She is the proud mother of two daughters, Marisa and Mia.
Photo by Gittings
Kristi Is a Quarter Horse owner and breeder, businesswoman, socialite, philanthropist and Founding Chairman of K9s4COPS, a 501(c)(3) foundation that provides K9 police dogs trained in narcotics, explosives and firearms detection to police across the country. Kristi created K9s4KIDS, an initiative of K9s4COPS, as a result of recent school shootings and the suggestion for police to use dogs as a solution. The thought was that dogs could help in situations where campus security is lacking.
Kristi prides herself in the fact that the non-profit organization has confiscated $2.5 billion in contraband nationwide by using the trained K9s. It has also provided 28 school K9s to 15 schools and universities across the U. S and kept over two million students safe each school year. The organization now operates in 38 states.
In 2021, Kristi experienced crippling migraines, occasional amnesia and speech problems, which led to tests revealing that she had suffered multiple strokes. After weeks of testing, doctors discovered that her multiple strokes were most likely caused by a heart murmur she had from birth.
Happily, after months of recovery, testing. speech therapy and medication, Kristi has made a full recovery and is back home on Schiller Ranch near College Station where she and her husband John, breed Quarter Horses for racing. In addition to operating her non-profit organization, she now uses her social platform of 165,000 followers to advocate for stroke awareness and prevention. She reminds all that cardiovascular disease, including stroke, is the number one cause of death in women.
Margaret Alkek Williams
Photo by Gittings
As chairman of the Albert and Margaret Alkek Foundation, the charitable legacy set forth by her parents, Margaret perpetuates her family’s mission to advance educational and medical institutions and preserve and promote the arts. Preserving and promoting the performing arts has been a tradition in the Alkek family. Margaret’s affection for the arts, largely influenced by her mother, has been a lifelong journey. After studying acting at Stanford University and earning a music degree at the University of Texas, she performed briefly with Philadelphia’s Gilbert and Sullivan Society and sang in the Houston Grand Opera in the 1960s.
Margaret’s dedication to 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 Chair held by Patrick Summers, Artistic and Music Director of Houston Grand Opera, the endowment for The Margaret Alkek Williams Executive Director/CEO Chair at Houston Symphony, the Margaret Alkek Williams CPAM Endowment for Arts Integration at Houston Methodist Hospital and the Margaret Alkek Williams Center for Arts and Education and a 20,000 square foot addition for Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS).
Margaret currently serves on twenty-two boards and their various committees and remains personally involved. She became a member of the Houston Ballet executive committee in 1989 and became an Inaugural member of the ballet’s highest giving Society, Etoile, in 2003. In 2018, Margaret donated ten million dollars to guarantee that one of the Ballet’s most popular programs, Jubilee of Dance, would continue into perpetuity. The one-night performance extravaganza has been re-named The Margaret Alkek Williams Jubilee of Dance.
Margaret has one son, Charles A. Williams who serves as President of the Albert and Margaret Alkek Foundation, daughter-in-law Randa, who serves as Vice President of the foundation and a grandson, Harrison M. Williams.