Businessman and public servant Walter J. Humann ’67 is chiefly recognized for creating the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) system and helping desegregate Dallas schools. For these and other accomplishments he will receive the 2012 J. Erik Jonsson Ethics Award from SMU at a noon luncheon at the Belo Mansion April 2.
Presented each year by SMU’s Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility, the J. Erik Jonsson Ethics Award is given to individuals who exemplify the spirit of moral leadership and public virtue. In Humann’s case, that involves his work in improving education, transportation, race relations, government organization, urban planning and infrastructure in North Texas. It also recognizes his time as a successful businessman: Humann leads his own firm, WJH Corporation, and has held top management positions in other major corporations, including Hunt Consolidated, Memorex-Telex and the LTV Corporation.
Longtime SMU board member Ray Hunt, this year’s J. Erik Jonsson Ethics Award event chair, worked with Humann during the awardee’s time (1975-1992) as president of Hunt Investments and chair of the executive committee of Hunt Consolidated, Inc., one of the largest privately held energy, real estate, agribusiness and investment companies in America. Later, Hunt was also a partner in Humann’s WJH Corporation operations.
“Having worked closely with both Walt and Erik Jonsson on many projects, I can say that Walt’s spirit of public service and responsibility to his community is cut from the same cloth as Mayor Jonsson,” Hunt says. “Everything Walt has done for Dallas and its citizens, not to mention in his private business, has been conceived and executed with the highest level of ethical conduct and moral responsibility. I believe that there is no one in Dallas more deserving of this honor than Walt.”
Humann was selected for the honor because of his lifelong commitment to improving the quality of life for the Dallas community, says Maguire Center Director Rita Kirk.
“With quiet tenacity and perceptive vision, he played a pivotal role in the desegregation of the Dallas Independent School District by founding the Dallas Alliance. The Alliance’s Education Task Force created the Magnet Schools of DISD, thereby enriching the education and lives of thousands of children.” As Humann told D Magazine in 1985, “I felt strongly that the way to go was by voluntary intermixing of the races, where you have quality education at the end of the bus rides.”
“With everything he’s done,” Kirk says, “Walt upholds the tradition of excellence that the J. Erik Jonsson Ethics Award was created to recognize.”
Nationally, Humann was selected in the late 1960s by President Lyndon B. Johnson as the first White House Fellow from Texas. Later, in 1970, he was chosen as one of the “Ten Outstanding Young Men of America,” primarily for chairing the national committee that helped create the U.S. Postal Service. The former deficit-ridden, politically driven Post Office Department was replaced with a service run more like a public corporation. At the time USPS was created, it constituted the largest federal government reorganization in U.S. history.
During his time in Washington, Humann also co-authored with Doris Kearns (now Goodwin) and others a report, requested by the President, on ways to heal the breach between the college student community and the federal government. This report was presented to President Johnson in 1968 — one of the most turbulent years in U.S. history, marked by massive student anti-war protests. The report was titled, “Confrontation or Participation: The Federal Government and the Student Community.” He also wrote a children’s book, an illustrated poem entitled The Little Crescent Moon and the Bright Evening Star, and co-authored, with Mayor Jonsson, D: The Book of Dallas.
Regionally, the “father of DART” also led the successful redevelopment of the North Central Corridor, with Central Expressway and the DART rail line helping solve the nation’s “oldest living highway controversy.” In addition, Humann helped mediate the Love Field dispute among three airline CEOs and the mayors of Dallas and Fort Worth in the 1980s. He founded the Jubilee Project in the late 1990s and served for more than 10 years as its chairman, helping revitalize a 62-block inner-city Dallas neighborhood. Jubilee is trying a unique approach by dealing comprehensively with all elements affecting a blighted community — public education, anti-crime, health, employment, housing, economic development and physical improvements.
Humann holds a physics degree from MIT, an M.B.A. from Harvard, and a Juris Doctor degree from the Evening Division of SMU’s Dedman School of Law (’67). He has received numerous business and public service awards, including SMU’s Distinguished Alumni Award, Dedman School of Law Distinguished Alumni Award and The Legacy of Leadership Award from the White House Fellows Foundation in Washington, D.C.
He is married to his high school sweetheart; they have three children and eleven grandchildren.
Past winners of the J. Erik Jonsson Ethics Award, now in its 15th year, include Ruth S. Altshuler, Bob Buford, Ronald G. Steinhart, Michael M. Boone, Zan W. Holmes Jr., Roger Staubach, Caren Prothro, Tom Luce, Ron Anderson, Jack Lowe Jr., William T. Solomon, Stanley H. Marcus, Charles C. Sprague and Curtis W. Meadows Jr.
Tickets for the event are $50 for individuals; sponsorship tables for 10 also are available for $1,500. For ticket information, contact Erin Sutton at 214-768-4575.
Written by Denise Gee