The Texas Oil Tycoon Giving Big to Houston Hospitals

 photo:  Atthapon Raksthaput/shutterstock

photo:  Atthapon Raksthaput/shutterstock

One of the richest families in Texas is the Walter Family, thanks to the wildcatting efforts of Joseph Walter Jr., who founded Houston Oil and Minerals after drilling along the Texas Gulf Coast. He sold the company to Tenneco and started over with Walter Oil and Gas, which was handed over to Joseph “Rusty” Walter, III upon his death. Walter Oil and Gas is one of the largest private oil companies in America still today, and the family’s net worth has been estimated at around $1.9 billion.

Most recently, the Walter family received some attention for a big gift to Houston Methodist Hospital. Rusty and his wife, Paula, alongside the Walter Oil and Gas Corporation, made a $101 million donation to the local hospital, which is the largest gift in the institution's nearly century-year-old history. This money is largely funding an effort toward researcher collaborations for new lifesaving treatments for all kinds of diseases. The hospital is raising $66 million on its own in matching funds to bring the gift’s impact to $167 million. Innovation is the biggest part of the new Walter gift by way of an entrepreneurial platform for doctors and researchers to collaborate.

Another purpose of these new funds is to expand the hospital’s neuroscience program. Meanwhile, a matching fund will increase the number of endowed chairs and research and faculty positions, as well. A subset of the money will also expand a matching fund program called the Translational Research Initiative, which aims to cut the lag time between scientific discovery and use in human trials. Finally, some money from the Walter gift is funding the hospital's employee relief fund to support workers who suffered losses from Hurricane Harvey.

It's a commonly known fact that Rusty Walter’s connection with this hospital runs long and deep. Years ago, he donated $10 million to the hospital’s transplant center, where his father received a heart transplant in the 1980s. Then in 2013, Rusty Walter suffered a stroke and participated in two clinical trials at the hospital; hence the support for neuroscience research.

“It was during this experience that we saw firsthand how close the field of neurology is to making significant breakthroughs,” Rusty said. “As I continue to recover from my stroke, Paula and I thought we could help make a difference by supporting research through the Walter Neurological Restoration Initiative.”

The Walter couple is really into gifts for medicine in a big way, right now. By the middle of next year, the Paula and Joseph C. “Rusty” Walter II Tower will open up in the Texas Medical Center with 366 patient beds and floors for intensive care, acute care, and brain and heart surgery. Rusty Walter has served on the Houston Methodist Hospital’s board of directors for over a decade, and his father served on it for over three decades. Past Walter support for the hospital includes funding for a chair in cardiovascular disease research, a cancer research lab, and a research programs for stroke-related intervention and stroke stem cell research.

At least for now, the Walters have not set up a private family foundation to channel all their giving, but the grants do seem to be getting larger. Also, a significant part of Rusty Walter’s giving is affiliated with his corporation, which supports everything from educational to medical and civic endeavors. Most of this support has been centered on Houston, but national and international funding aren’t unheard of either. Aside from hospital funding, Rusty and his company have shown support for engineering and geology at the University of Texas and the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Neither the Walter family nor the Walter Oil and Gas Corporation provide clear pathways for grantseekers to get in on the action.