Holt Hickman

Taking Stock of His Legacy

As a young boy, Holt Hickman loved taking trips with his father to the Fort Worth Stockyards to buy and sell cattle—the smells of the animals and the hay, the people he met, the excitement of just being there. It was a magical place he never would forget.

Those memories helped fuel his life-long passion to invest in the Stockyards with hopes that future generations would enjoy Fort Worth’s history and heritage as he did.

Today, millions of people from all over the world walk the brick streets, see Longhorns stroll Exchange Avenue and leave with their own magical memories. The Stockyards are Fort Worth’s No. 1 attraction.

Holt Hickman died Saturday, Nov. 15, at age 82. He left an indelible footprint on nearly every part of his beloved Fort Worth, a place he called ‘the center of the universe.’

At Hickman’s funeral on Nov. 19, University Christian Church Pastor Bobby Wayne Cox read a passage from a prayer he wrote called ‘Holt’s Prayer.’

Our Father,
You know that all I ever wanted to be was a cowboy. I am so thankful that in many ways that dream came true. Now the time as I have known it for over eighty years is coming to an end, I want to thank you using the words of an old cowboy song that says what I feel. Billy Hill wrote what I claim as an expression of my lament: I’m heading for the last roundup. Gonna saddle Old Paint for the last time and ride. Hurry up, old pal, it’s time your tears were dried. I’m heading for the last roundup. To the faraway ranch of the Boss in the sky where the strays are counted and branded, there go I. I’m heading for the last roundup. 

Holt Hickman married Jo Aycock, his high school sweetheart, in 1954. Within three years of marriage, they had a son, Brad, and a daughter, Brenda.

“Holt Hickman was a true visionary and entrepreneur, and his philanthropy to Fort Worth and beyond is evident by the work he has done, gifts he has given and honors he has received,” says long-time friend and business partner Pam Minick.

“But rather than having his name on a monument or a hospital wing, Holt’s passion and legacy is the investment he has made in the Stockyards.”

“If there’s anything I’ve learned about Holt the last three decades, it’s that his glass was always half full. Even in his declining health, if you asked him how he was, he’d say: ‘Perfect, just perfect.’ Three weeks before he died, while I was recovering from shoulder surgery, he insisted on traveling more than an hour to visit. I believe Holt is in heaven, where he received a warm embrace and said: ‘Perfect. Just perfect.’ ”

Anyone who spent time with Hickman would tell you the two mottos he lived his life by were: “The harder I work, the luckier I get” and “Leave the world better than you found it.”

“Holt’s vision and hard work for this city of cowboys and culture and the Fort Worth Stockyards, along with the efforts of his partners, have paved the way for us to maintain our Western heritage,” says close friend and former Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief. “Because of him, we are now going to be able to protect our infrastructure that was crumbling in the Northside and rebuild, bringing with it new business opportunities and jobs. The simple fact is Fort Worth owes Holt Hickman our gratitude. Because of his vision and his constant efforts to give back, he indeed left the woodpile higher than he found it, and that is all any of us can hope to do while we are here.” 

With all of Holt Hickman’s entrepreneurial, philanthropic and civic accomplishments, Hickman’s legacy will be the historic preservation of the Fort Worth Stockyards.

Says former First Lady Rosie Moncrief: “Holt, we already miss you, my friend. You have left a void in the hearts of your family and a hole in the soul of this city. But we will fill the emptiness with memories of your gracious generosity and sincere friendship.”

The Hickman family got into business because of a bit of bad luck when Holt’s uncle was hit by a runaway train. Uncle Austin survived and received a small settlement from the railroad. With that money, Holt’s uncle and father, Cecil, started a battery-repair business in Oklahoma. When the battery station closed, his parents moved to Fort Worth, where Cecil opened Fort Worth Battery and Automotive.

In 1957, at the age of 25, Holt joined the business. Six years later, he bought it.

Holt's son, Brad, says his dad was a great husband, father and grandfather and would do anything for his family.

Fifty years ago, in 1964, Hickman founded Lone Star Manufacturing Co., a venture that became the world’s largest automotive HVAC system company, servicing companies such as Chrysler, Isuzu, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Volvo, Kmart, Target and Montgomery Ward.

From this initial enterprise, Hickman founded a set of companies that would become an economic engine of great influence for Fort Worth, including more than 70 corporations in a variety of businesses such as automotive HVAC, cruise controls and security systems, hospitality, retail and commercial real estate, oil and gas, farming, ranching and entertainment.

Fort Worth businessman and close friend, John Roach, describes Hickman as hard driven, fun and smart. “Holt was one of the most interesting and successful entrepreneurs in Fort Worth during his lifetime,” Roach says. “Any business automotive related, domestic or international, he pursued. Many of the profits of his successes went into real estate in Fort Worth, making him one of Tarrant County’s largest property owners.”

Texas Christian University honored Hickman with a development award. “The loss of Holt Hickman hits home for so many of us, which is only fitting for a man who helped make our hometown all that it is,” says Texas Christian University Chancellor, Victor J. Boschini.

Although many never realized it, Hickman had the ability to be two or three steps ahead of everyone else when discussing and negotiating a business deal, says John Bills, close friend and CEO of Hickman Cos. Bills worked closely with Holt Hickman for 29 years.

“Holt was the type of person that never gave up on a project, and even when everyone else thought it was a lost cause, he continued to work and make it happen,” Bills says. “Work was his passion. At one point when he was down with a bad back, he had a hospital bed delivered to the company so he could continue to conduct business.”

“Holt was my business partner, my friend, my mentor and someone I could always trust and depend on,” Bills continues. “We sometimes question the decisions we make in life, but I have never questioned the decision I made to work with Holt and the Hickman family.”

Hickman had fun in business, too, Bills says, citing the air-conditioned elephant story.

“During the prime of the auto air-conditioning business, Holt expressed his belief that he could air condition almost anything. He was challenged to air condition an elephant,” Bills recalls. “The next year at the annual trade show, Holt paraded a full-grown elephant across the convention stage with an air conditioner strapped to its back. It certainly got everyone’s attention, and I don’t think he was ever challenged again. We laugh about it because the elephant was evidently thirsty and created a mess grabbing several pitchers of water off of the convention tables with its trunk.”

Holt Hickman was born at Harris Methodist Hospital on May 7, 1932. He was the only child of Cecil and Eurith Holt Hickman. While the battery business was thriving, the family moved to Westover Hills in Fort Worth, but his parents divorced when Holt was 14. He and his mother moved to Weatherford, where she later remarried.

Hickman remained close to his father, who owned two ranches — one near Aledo and another near Mansfield. It was in the 1940s when he began going to the Stockyards with his dad.

Hickman graduated from Weatherford High School, where he played football, basketball and tennis and ran track. He was an avid swimmer in his college days and earned a swimming scholarship during his junior year at Southern Methodist University. In his junior and senior years, the SMU Swim Team won the Southwest Conference for the very first time with Holt Hickman as the fastest freestyler in the Southwest Conference.

Hickman’s favorite sport was football. He loved the Dallas Cowboys and SMU Mustangs, and as an original member of the Circle of Champions, he generously helped fund the Ford Stadium and other facilities at SMU.

After graduating from SMU in 1954 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, Hickman married Jo Aycock, his high school sweetheart and love of his life. Son, Brad, and daughter, Brenda, were born within three years.

Hickman served as a 1st Lt. in the U.S. Air Force from 1955-1957.

“There’s a Western song, and I don’t know if it’s the title or not, but it says ‘What a difference you’ve made in my life,’ ” Jo Hickman says. “That is exactly the way I feel about him. I met him when I was 16. We dated all the way through high school, and he went off to college. I went to two years of college, and then we got married. That was 60 ½ years ago.”

Holt was a deal junkie, Jo says. “He could be lying on the couch one minute and up storming the next, trying to find another deal.”

Hickman started his real estate career by purchasing land on Sundays, which founded Hickman Investments.

Daughter, Brenda Hickman Kostohryz, runs the family’s real-estate division.

“No matter if we were riding bikes, skiing in Ruidoso or shopping real estate early on a Saturday morning, my dad always had time from his passion of business for me,” Brenda says. “He was wonderful and caring and taught me to work hard and treat everyone equally. He loved his family like no other.”

Brenda says her dad’s passion for Fort Worth was contagious.

“Nowhere did he go that anyone had a doubt that he was from anywhere other than the ‘center of the universe, Fort Worth, Texas, USA!’ I saw him cry tears of joy and sadness with the ups and downs with his beloved Stockyards,” she continues. “At dinner one night, the subject of the Stockyards came up, and even though he didn’t feel well, he perked up like the old days. He proudly proclaimed, ‘We have a wonderful new partner. We’ll finally be able to restore the Stockyards to its former glory. My dad’s soul will forever rest, with Cowtown pride, in the Stockyards.”

“Dad had a bigger-than-life personality and never met a stranger,” says Brad Hickman, who heads up the manufacturing companies, which were sold in Oct. 2006. “One of his greatest qualities was that no matter how successful he was, he was extremely humble. That’s an incredible quality in a person. Dad was a great husband, father and grandfather and would do anything for his family. When my kids were growing up, he was always at every baseball, basketball and football game. Everybody loved dad and respected him.”

Fourth generation family members, Bradley Holt Hickman, Jr. and Keely Kostohryz, handle all of the leasing and property management for the Real Estate division. Both hold the title Assistant Vice President.

“Grandpa was an amazing entrepreneur and philanthropist,” Keely says. “But what I will remember most is the caring man who hugged and kissed me when he first saw me. He also made certain that we did our “Buddies Forever” handshake before leaving. Working for the business built by my grandfather and family has truly been a blessing,” Keely continues. “I have had the opportunity to learn from an incredible business mind. Over time, what I’ve grown to respect most were his priorities. Family always came first. He touched the hearts and minds of many, and it’s those people that will carry his legacy forward.” 

Hickman became involved in 1988 with the redevelopment of the North Side. Billy Bob’s Texas, the self-proclaimed “world’s largest honky-tonk” had closed on Jan. 8 of that year, and the founding owner, Billy Bob Barnett, moved away. On Nov. 25, 1988, a coalition of Hickman, Don Jury and Steve Murrin reopened the club. A few months later, Hickman hired Billy and Pam Minick to run it.

One of Hickman’s most cherished awards was a certificate of recognition that he, Minick, Jury and Murrin received from then-Mayor Mike Moncrief and the Fort Worth City Council honoring Billy Bob’s Texas on its 25th anniversary.

The Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame awarded the 2011 Rick Smith Spirit of Texas Award to Hickman, Minick, Jury, Murrin and Hub Baker, producer of the Stockyards Championship Rodeo and General Manager of the historic Cowtown Coliseum. This award was given in recognition of their dedication to the preservation and revitalization of the Fort Worth Stockyards Historic District. 

Hickman spearheaded the arrival of a tourist train into Stockyards Station, an 85,000-square-foot project he developed with Dallas businesswoman Lyda Hill. They also partnered on the Hyatt Place Hotel and about 40 acres of the historic district.

Hickman purchased the Livestock Exchange building from Canal Capital Corp. in New York City in 1994.

Holt and Jo Hickman acquired the Sterquell Wagon Collection, a privately assembled array of frontier vehicles, in 1999. Holt’s mentor, the legendary John Justin, donated personal memorabilia. The collection was named the John Justin Trail of Fame. They brought the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame from Hico to the Stockyards the following year.

“Holt was especially proud that over 40,000 elementary school children each year have learned about our history and heritage at the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame and in the Fort Worth Stockyards,” Minick says.

“That’s more than 1 million children in the last two decades. We are all better from being touched by Holt Hickman.”

Hickman built the Fort Worth Visitors Center and helped initiate the Fort Worth Herd daily cattle drives through the Stockyards, which is one of the largest tourism generators in Fort Worth.

The Stockyards now hosts 3 million visitors each year, which equates to a minimum of $400 million in economic impact.

“Without the support of people like Holt, the Fort Worth Herd would have not become a reality,” says Kristin Jaworski, Trail Boss of the Fort Worth Herd. “More than anything, this speaks to the cooperation between the public and private sectors that Fort Worth is so noted for. He helped the City of Fort Worth and the Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau make their dream a reality. The Herd will continue to promote and market the history surrounding the great cattle drives of the 1800s as a tribute to Holt.”

“Holt Hickman gave the city of Fort Worth a gift,” says Bob Jameson, president and CEO of the Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau. “He helped preserve the Stockyards National Historic District for generations, securing our Western heritage, and he helped to make Fort Worth a destination and an experience to share with the world. Without Holt’s vision, Fort Worth would not enjoy the benefits of having millions of visitors come to our city and become ambassadors for the city of cowboys and culture.”

John Bills recalls spending two days in 1988 walking the Stockyards with Hickman. “What we saw was not a pretty sight with burnt-out buildings, crumbling historic structures and trash stacked to the roof in some of the buildings,” Bills says. “After we spent the time looking, I said to Holt, ‘I’m not sure we can ever make any money with the Stockyards being in the shape they’re in.’ Holt’s reply to me was ‘We may never make a penny, but Fort Worth needs the Stockyards and we need to make it happen.’ ”

Bills says that in his opinion, the Fort Worth Stockyards would not be what it is today without Hickman’s efforts. “I realize that others along the way kept the Stockyards alive and from being demolished. Holt would never take credit for what he did, but the facts speak for themselves. Even today, with Holt no longer with us, his and the family efforts continue the Stockyards improvements with the new $175 million Hickman-Majestic project announced earlier this year.”

Hickman has been honored by the Exchange Club, The Texas Trail of Fame, the Greater Fort Worth Real Estate Council, and several newspapers and magazines, including Fort Worth, Texas magazine, Texas Monthly, and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Hickman served on the executive committee of the Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau, Southern Methodist University Mustang Club Board, the City of Fort Worth Police Award Foundation, the Mayor’s Board, and was given the Key to the City of Fort Worth in 2011.

“During my years as mayor, Holt became ill,” Mike Moncrief recalls. “Rosie and I wanted him to know how much we appreciated him and how much he meant to the city. We went to visit with him and Jo, and Rosie and I presented him with a framed key to our city. Afterwards, he referred to it every time we spoke to him and said he kept it right there in the bedroom where he saw it every morning and every evening. He was a dear and trusted friend to Rosie and me.”

“Fort Worth mourns the loss of a great man and a true pillar of our community,” says Mayor Betsy Price. “Holt Hickman was a talented businessman and entrepreneur, a humble and generous philanthropist, and a passionate protector of the Fort Worth story and experience. I will remember him as a dear friend with a special optimism that made others around him believe anything was possible. He was always willing to help with an important cause or issue—all you had to do was call him.”

Hickman’s numerous accolades include “Outstanding Business Executive” from the Fort Worth Business Hall of Fame, induction into the Texas Trail of Fame and the Pedestal Award for being the No. 1 Historic Preservation project in Tarrant County in 1992.

Texas Christian University honored Hickman with a development award.

“The loss of Holt Hickman hits home for so many of us, which is only fitting for a man who helped make our hometown all that it is,” says Texas Christian University Chancellor, Victor J. Boschini. “He was truly a transformative figure, factoring heavily into the history of this great city and the lives of those who embrace it. Holt was known for fully dedicating himself to efforts he believed in, and as much as anything, he believed in making Fort Worth stronger,” Boschini continues. “That is why we have always been so honored by the longtime and influential support he chose to show Texas Christian University after noting our potential and helping us realize it. He will be missed.”

With all of Holt Hickman’s entrepreneurial, philanthropic and civic accomplishments, Holt Hickman’s legacy will be the historic preservation of the Fort Worth Stockyards.

Close friends and family say the Stockyards Heritage project was what kept Hickman’s interest alive over the last year of his life.

Top photo by David Irvin

Redevelopment of the Stockyards

After three years of discussion about a redevelopment project in the Fort Worth Stockyards, the Hickman family and Majestic Realty Co., based in Calif., formalized a partnership in early 2014.

Fort Worth Heritage Development LLC is a $175 million redevelopment project that could bring hotels, residences, offices and livestock auctions—a fully integrated project— to the historic district.

“We’ve been fully engaged with the Hickman family for about a year-and-a-half, to explore how we could go about doing it and what a plan would look like,” says Craig Cavileer, executive vice president of Majestic Realty.

“But more importantly, without the city, county and community support, this would have been a real challenge from an economic standpoint, to figure out how to take what’s there and turn it into a vibrant locals and tourist destination.”

Holt Hickman’s son, Brad Hickman, says the project has to be unique. “We don’t want it to look like downtown,” he says. “Twenty-five years ago, dad put his money where his mouth was, where other people didn’t. He bought all that property in the Stockyards and protected the Western culture for the city.”

Majestic-Hickman spent a year focused on working with the city. The City Council recently approved $26 million in tax incentives to the project.

Currently, the Historic Stockyards Design District Task Force is working to maintain the historic integrity of the development. After finding a consultant and reviewing the consultant’s work, the task force will recommend final district boundaries, guidelines and standards for the City Council’s consideration by June 30, 2015.

“We want to build something special there, and we’ll spend the next two to five years executing a master plan to an ultimate build-out of over one million square feet of mixed-use property,” Cavileer says. “Our goal would be to triple or exceed triple the amount of visitation we have there. We’re excited to be formally engaged in the creative process.”

Majestic has offices in Dallas, but not in Fort Worth. “We’ve decided to set up a Majestic-Hickman office in the Exchange Building on Hickman property, which will be a corporate office to not only market and develop out of the Stockyards, but our other partnerships.”

Cavileer says they are building a team for that office and expect to have people there in the next year or so. “Now we’re local,” he says. “They can no longer say we are a California developer.”

“We will keep the Western heritage of the area,” Hickman says. “I think what we’ve done in the past is really good, and I also think this partnership will last for a long time.”