Jack Josey James Newman, Sr. was a man of ideas, a risk-taker who embraced the larger possibilities that life -- and business ventures -- might offer. He lived in Houston, a city perfectly attuned to his ambitions. Both man and metropolis epitomized the brash, bigger-is-better, money-talks philosophy that characterized the Texas of that era.
Jack was born May 4, 1919 in Houston to a family well connected to Houston society, including the oilmen of that wildcatting era. He was named after his father's good friend, Col. Jack E. Josey, who was the founder of Josey Oil. His father, George W. Newman, was listed in a 1930's edition of Houston's "Who's Who."
Raised by his mother, Aida Buttonuth Newman, to be a gentleman, he was shaped by the place and times, a time when Civil War veterans still lived. He believed in himself and his ideas. He was colorful, but well mannered, easy to know and universally liked. Jack liked being on the edge, looking forward to what might come next and wanting to be a part of it.
He joined the U.S. Navy in 1940, before the U.S. entered World War II. A Radioman in both the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets, he landed with the Marines during invasions of Japanese-held Pacific islands to establish ship-to-shore communications. The war led him to Boston where he met a lovely young lady named Barbara Lorraine O'Day at a chaperoned USO dance. She liked his Southern charm and Texas talk, and they married in 1944. After the war they set up house in Houston, where they had 12 children. Jack once told a friend that he had seen so much violence and death that it moved him to greatly appreciate new life, and Barbara loved babies and kids more than anything else.
A living compendium of what was happening around town, and when and who was behind it, Jack was known by most of the Houston personalities of the time, including Glen McCarthy, the wildcatter-to-riches model for the character "Jett Rink" in the movie Giant. He was connected by birth and by bent to old Houston society, which gave him access to Houston's inner circles.
Jack had a natural presence that he used in promoting a series of ventures. His post-war involvements included a seat on Houston's World Fair Committee, the growing city's effort to land the Fair that eventually went to New York. This proposal included a monorail linking the Fair site to downtown, a very forward-thinking idea for the times. He was the principal promoter of a "Multiport" on the Houston Ship Channel, a terminal to serve passengers as well as facilities for air, sea, road and rail freight. While many influential Houstonians supported the idea, the big financiers of the Northeast did not, and the idea was never realized. With time, as other ideas failed and expectations went unmet, Jack suffered personal and family stresses. Eventually, he became estranged from most of his friends and family.
Jack's other children remember the man who taught them to ride a bike, throw a football, shoot a rifle, and tune a car, the man who could cook great fried chicken, explain life's mysteries and whom other people respected. He was brilliant enough to be admitted to Rice Institute (now Rice University).
He enjoyed challenges. As a pilot in the 1930s and 40s, Jack would fly under the very low bridge over the Houston Ship Channel, frightening onlookers. In the service he was his ship's table-tennis (ping-pong) champ, losing an exhibition match to the Navy-wide champion but loving the competition. As a 70-year-old, he was still a formidable tennis opponent, one whose serve you didn't want to return unless you wanted to be embarrassed.
As a forward-thinking man and a lifelong fan of all forms of flight, including NASA's space efforts, he would have loved the idea of an Earth orbit as his final home.
Have a good flight, Dad.
Jack Newman, Jr