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Bunker Hunt's greatest investment.


In rumpled pin stripes and disheveled dress shirt, Nelson Bunker Hunt takes a pool-side seat among the bronzed and briefed sun worshipers of southern Arizona. He nods when someone inquires, from across a gin and tonic, if his three-piece suit feels comfortable under the desert rays.

"These are my resort clothes,' he deadpans.

If the jacket looks oversized, it's because Hunt recently embarked on a trim-down-shape-up program that calls for time on a treadmill and slow jogs around his sprawling Texas ranch. Shoehorning an exercise regimen into his jammed work schedule wasn't easy. As one of America's richest men, Hunt has never placed leisure activity at the top of his priority list--at least not when the phone is ringing, a meeting has to be chaired or a decision needs to be made.

But at age 58, he's doing better. although he expertly side-steps the question of retirement, he explains his workday is shorter now--6 a.m. to 6 p.m.--and more and more details are being delegated to his lieutenants.

"Really, I don't work as hard as I should,' he insists. "There are some things I don't enjoy doing, business-wise, so I'm directing my attention to what I like to do and less to the drudgery part. In that respect, I'm probably looking for the easier life.'

For Hunt, that translates into football --brother Lamar owns the Kansas City Chiefs--his classical-art collection and his thoroughbred horses. He is respected around the world as a breeder and owner of race horses and trains them in Kentucky, France, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Texas. Thoroughbreds in the Hunt stable have won 100 major stakes races in seven countries, and his prize filly, Dahlia, has earned more than $1.5 million in five years.

"He's very sports-minded,' says his secretary, Jo Gilmore. "I'm amazed that after a grueling day at the office, rather than go home and watch television, he's ready to attend a sports event. He's so curious about everything--especially people. He's the kind of person who passes a box on a table and is compelled to open it.'

The combination of investment savvy, curiosity and appreciation for fine antiques has led him to acquire enviable collections of rare painted vases and gold, silver and bronze coins that date back to early Egypt, Rome and Greece. More contemporary objets d'art, particularly equestrian sculpture and paintings, decorate his plush offices on the 24th floor of the Thanksgiving Tower.

In spite of the valuable trappings around him, Hunt describes himself as "a man of little vanity,' and seems to have no idea of the influence he commands. His demeanor is the comfortable-as-an-old-shoe variety, hardly smacking of the spit-and-shine discipline he struggled with as a student at Culver Military Academy. He spent three years at the venerable Indiana institution, cringes at memories of his attempts to conform to the strict rules--yet those memories are fond enough that he was shocked when his alma matter went coed severaly years ago.

"I liked it,' he insists. "But I wasn't very good military person. I didn't shine my shoes too well or keep my clothes as spotless as they should be. Culver was so strict that later, when I joined the Navy, it seemed like a picnic in comparison. The staff at military school used to write to parents every few weeks to tell them how their sons were doing. I don't think my letters were all that complimentary. My mother got tired of reading about my problems.'

He credits his mother with being a key influence in his life. Not only did she help mold his personality first by exposing him to (and then rescuing him from) the rigors of Culver's field artillery troop, but she instilled in him her own concern and appreciation for people. She guided his education from the disciplined Hoosier military setting to Pennsylvania's very proper Hill School, to the University of Texas, to Southern Methodist University. Along the way he mingled with a smorgasbord of people and learned, by his mother's example, to blend with every mix.

"In a way, my mother was the most democratic person I ever knew,' he says of Lyda Bunker Hunt. "It didn't matter to her if a person were the king of England, a cabdriver or a waiter. She treated them all in the same polite manner. To this day I'll have people I don't even know come up to me and say they never met a lady with a finer personality and more kindly manner. I think that's remarkable because she's been gone since 1955. That's almost 30 years now.'

In their mother's memory, Bunker and his six brothers and sisters donated $3.5 million to underwrite a new building for the Dallas Highland Park Presbyterian Church's expansion program.

Oil wildcatter H. L. Hunt was the richest man in America when he died in 1974 He left $2 billion to his offspring. That legacy has mushroomed, thanks in part to Bunker's business acumen. His success is reflected in his various titles: chairman, Hunt Energy Corporation, Hunt International Resources Corporation and Hunt Electronics Corporation; president/director of numerous companies in countries where Hunt interests actively pursue searches for oil, gas, coal and geothermal energy; past chairman, Texas Bible Society; past chairman, executive committee, Here's Life campaign, Campus Crusade for Christ; past president, Council for National Policy.

If business titles can be traced to his father, his zeal for good works is a result of his mother's influence. He is an outspoken Christian, a longtime member of the Presbyterian Church, who quietly investigates and then invests generously in evangelical causes. He recalls no dramatic conversion experience as a child, but claims what he learned in conventional Sunday School classes in Tyler, Texas, was always underscored at home by his mother.

"She was probably more instrumental in my Christian commitment than my father was, although in the latter 20 years of his life my father was a strong believer,' says Bunker. "My mother's best friend in Tyler was a wonderful Christian lady named Mrs. Wilcox. Her sons were grown and off to college, so she used to invite me to spend time at her house. She knew the Bible better than any preacher I ever remember; she really got me interested in spiritual things.'

He approaches religion almost academically, claiming the Bible is "the finest historical document' available. Although he occasionally makes reference to a Biblical passage in conversation, he downplays his knowledge by apologizing for his loose paraphrase which, more often than not, is King James verbatim. He prefers to live his faith rather than to talk about it, never smokes and rarely drinks--"I think I'm a little allergic to it,' he confides--and leaves any evangelizing to the brethren with the theological degrees.

"I don't know that I'd be a very good one-on-one witnesser, although I occasionally talk to a friend,' he says. "Maybe I do my witnessing through helping some organizations. That could be the easy way out, and I don't know if it's Biblical or not, but if it helps bring a few people to the Kingdom, so much the better.'

His favorite causes run the gamut from the STEP Foundation (Strategies to Elevate People), which is geared to helping urban minorities, to Campus Crusade, the fundamentalist effort to strengthen Christian principles in college-age students. He's been an advocate of the Campus Crusade ministry for 20 years and has watched the organization grow from its founding on eight or ten campuses to its current presence in more than 100 countries and on every major campus in the United States. His belief in the campus ministry led him to provide $5.5 million to underwrite the film Jesus, released in 1979 and distributed by Warner Brothers.

"The Campus Crusade and Here's Life people felt it would be a tremendous evangelical tool, that no comparable film could do what this movie could do,' he says. "I kept hearing about it and finally decided I'd help them make it. I think now it's available in 60 or 80 languages and is being shown all over the world. I've heard of places where 5,000 see the film and afterward, 2,500 accept Christ. I'm glad it's worked out so well. If I don't do anything else, maybe that's something worthwhile that I've done.'

While he prefers to maintain a low profile himself, he keeps in close contact with highly visible evangelists such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. He tracks their efforts and boasts of their accomplishments.

"I'm no great church historian but the pendulum swings, and right now there's a tremendous acceptance for the gospel. Jerry Falwell told me the other day that his theological school is producing 250 graduates a year and each graduate will go out and start a church or school. Of course organizations like Pat Robertson's are doing so much good and reaching so many people on television. In this country we had gone so far toward the agnostic and atheistic side that we had to experience a revulsion. I think a lot of politicians are surprised at the depth of the religious interest and beliefs. If America survives it will be because of its return to Christian beliefs.'

He hopes the trend toward religious evangelism and political conservatism will eliminate legal abortion and curb the government's welfare program. He's a vocal opponent of both and expresses disbelief at one and dismay at the other. His fondness for children colors these feelongs: "How can anyone justify taking a baby's life?' he asks; and, "Sure, a lot of worthy people--children in particular--need assistance, but I think America would be better off if the churches and individuals supplied the help.'

To support his beliefs he cites examples from personal experience. He recalls, as a boy growing up in Arkansas and Texas, watching as neighbors pitched in to help a member of the community who was in financial difficulty. To underscore the need to trim welfare, he tells of owning a ranch adjacent to an Indian reservation. He claims many Indians have lost their initiative because of too many government giveaways of too much cash. Again, he advocates less federal aid and more involvement by the private sector.

Such comments, often quoted in the media, evoke a deluge of requests for donations. Hunt admits to being solicited by more good causes than he can afford, and he's devised some loose guidelines to help him pick the recipients of his contributions.

"Basically, I don't give to individual situations,' he explains. "I'm very sympathetic, I hear heart-rending stories, but there's no way I can help them. So, I give to a few organizations; that's the best I can do, and I hope the organizations will do well with my donations.'

He refutes the notion that wealthy industrialists like Bunker Hunt have a social responsibility to give away a certain portion of their earnings. No one tells Bunker Hunt when, why and how much he's going to give in support of worthy charities. He makes his own decisions and is not influenced by persons advocating that he has an obligation to share his fortune.

"I suspect I've contributed as much or more than anyone around,' he says. "I enjoy giving to causes I believe in, but I certainly don't give to them because I think it's my social responsibility. Of course there are liberal folks who imply such an obligation exists, but most of them won't contribute any of their own money. They want the government to do it. They try to give a guilt complex to anyone who works hard to produce something that's valuable. Well, I think that's a phony situation. I'm probably overly generous to a lot of causes, but I don't think that makes me any better, and I don't think I do it because I feel any sort of obligation.'

His candor borders on outspokenness and when taken out of context by media interviewers results in a less-than-accurate portrayal of the man. He is neither materialistic nor pompous. His modest wardrobe is purchased off the rack, he drives his own car and when he travels by air he specifies coach rather than first-class. Unlike many colleagues in his income bracket, he prefers to mingle with the crowd at large social gatherings rather than seal himself off with a phalanx of security guards. But if his image has suffered at the hands of magazine and newspaper biographers who attempt to "capture' him in 2,000 words or less and emphasize his vast holdings, he harbors no grudges. Even when offered the opportunity to counter the misconceptions, he shrugs and declines.

"I really don't care. I accept the media for what they are, as they are . . . which is not very favorable where I'm concerned. I don't expect a good press; in fact, I have a saying I think is accurate: The press can make a heel out of a hero or a hero out of a heel. We see this happen every day. That may be overstated or oversimplified, but journalists have the power to paint any picture they desire.'

More important to him than building a positive public image is maintaining the solid personal rapport he and his wife, Caroline, enjoy with their son, 3 daughters and 12 grandchildren. Although Bunker jokingly accuses Caroline of being an "overzealous grandmother,' he credits her with adding softness to his strict child-rearing philosophy. Among the results has been a mutual respect on the part of parents and children. This relationship Hunt has every intention of exploring and savoring.

"I'd say my priorities right now are to enjoy life, my children, my grandchildren, my friends, and to stay healthy,' he stresses.

Interestingly, he doesn't mention acquiring more money. Or oil. Or silver. Or real estate.

"Being financially rich or financially poor can't be compared with being happy,' he says. "Some of the happiest people you'll meet are some of the poorest. I've observed that most groups of wealthy people are sort of miserable. They sit around and worry about their money and the problems it causes. Me? I've never been much of a worrier.'

Neither has he been one to sit around. In spite of his efforts to shorten his workday, delegate authority and schedule more leisure time with his family, he can't be expected to retire to a neutral corner of his mammoth Texas ranch now that the causes he champions are coming into vogue. He greets society's swing back to basics with what his friends in the news media might label "cautious optimism.'

"I'm encouraged about the increased spiritual awareness because if we have a good spiritual atmosphere in the world, the political situation will improve too. When the people are good, we have good government. Yes, we're getting better . . . at least I hope so.'

Does he expect, as a longtime proponent of conservatism, to enjoy new clout in this spiritually aware atmosphere? Will he, for instance, command the ear of the President 24 hours a day? The questions bring a slow smile and spark his quick wit: "I've never seen fit to talk to the President . . . or vice versa,' he quips.

Which is the more social version of another favorite response, usually reserved for his pals, the media: No comment.

Photo: Bunker Hunt's largest investments aren't in silver or gold. With Caroline, his wife of 34 years, their money brings Christianity to college campuses and to foreign lands through a number of world-wide ministries. Wycliffe Bible Translators, Campus Crusade for Christ and Strategies to Elevate People are just a few of his major accomplishments.

Photo: Caroline Hunt, looking far too young to be the grandmother of 12, puts a high priority on being present when the grandchildren arrive. The Hunts have 4 children.

Photo: In memory of their mother, Lyda Bunker Hunt, Bunker Hunt and his six brothers and sisters donated $3.5 million to underwrite a new building for Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas. Church work was his mother's primary social life and her best friend's counseling stirred Bunker Hunt's interest in things spiritual at an early age.

Photo: Family-oriented Caroline Hunt puts a strong emphasis on a healthy life style. A smoker who lights up at the Hunts' ranch house is cordially asked to smoke outside.

Photo: Ancient faces adorn Bunker Hunt's collection: a Syracusan decadrachm of 480 B.C. (above) and the famous Athens Decadrachm (467 B.C.).

Photo: Show a little curiosity, and Bunker will launch with verve into a knowledgeable description of his and brother Herbert's valuable collection of rare classical coins, vases and bronzes.

Photo: The Hunts' collection of Greek vases includes works by several noted classical vase painters, among them a kylix-krater signed by the famed Euphronius.
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Author:Miller, Holly G.
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jan 1, 1985
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