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Remembering Roy Huffington

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On Friday, Roy Huffington, my former father-in-law, died at the age of 90 while vacationing in Venice, Italy. Since this site carries his last name, I want to take a moment to reflect on the man and his remarkable life.

Roy was born in Tomball, Texas and moved to Dallas during the Great Depression. He grew up early. His father had died in an accident in the oil fields of Venezuela before Roy was a teenager so, to help his mother and sister make ends meet, he often woke up at 4:30am to work on his two paper routes.

After earning his Ph.D. in geology from Harvard, he served as a naval officer aboard the aircraft carrier USS Hornet during WWII. Then, following a decade working as an oil company geologist, he went out on his own as a wildcatter in the mid 1950s. Roy Huffington was an oilman when oil exploration was still a romantic endeavor.

Over the ensuing years, he built his company into a very successful international energy company. He eventually sold the firm -- getting out of the oil business when oil was $22 a barrel -- and devoted himself to philanthropy, travel, and public service. He served as U.S. Ambassador to Austria from 1990-1993.

I met him in 1985. And our friendship continued even when my marriage to his son ended. Whenever I was in Houston for a speech, I would give him a call and, if he was in town, we would get together for a drink. He often wasn't in town, however, because he remained to the end a passionate world traveler who had visited all seven continents, and whose adventurous spirit never waned.

My fondest memories of Roy center around his role as grandfather. He had always had his heart set on having a grandson. But when my first pregnancy resulted in a stillborn boy -- whom we had already decided to name Roy -- and four granddaughters followed, he quickly realized they could be anything a grandson would be.

When our girls were little, I remember he used to patiently take them outside and teach them about the plants and the soil. He did this with such passion and depth of knowledge that, at one point or another, each of his granddaughters expressed a desire to follow in his footsteps as a geologist.

They all eventually broke off from the geology track, but stayed close to him. And no matter where he was, a card bearing his distinctive handwriting would arrive in the mail for their birthdays - postmarked from faraway locales and festooned with vibrant foreign stamps. The card always contained warm sentiments - and a little cash bonus for the girls.

The last time I saw Roy was in May, when he flew to LA -- at the age of 90 -- to attend our oldest daughter's high school graduation. I'll always remember the smile -- and the pride on his face -- as he watched her accept her diploma.

Newspaper obituaries will rightly remember the Golden Cross he received from the Republic of Austria for his service to the country; his philanthropic work as long-time chairman of The Asia Society and The Salzburg Seminar; the millions he donated to his alma mater, Southern Methodist University, and other educational institutions to help fund scholarships and teacher salaries; and the funding he provided (along with his beloved wife Phyllis) to establish the Huffington Center on Aging at Baylor College of Medicine, one of the world's premiere centers on the study of aging.

I'll remember those too. But mostly I'll remember his kindness, his generosity, his integrity, and his humility. We will deeply miss him.