Congressman Ted Poe (TX-02)
We often speak of great American like Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson. In Texas, there are State heroes like Sam Houston, Stephen F. Austin and William Barrett Travis. Similar to these great men, I would like to recognize one of Houston’s most influential leaders and citizens, Ross Sterling.
On a farm in Anahuac located in southeast Texas, Ross Sterling was born on February 11, 1875. After completing a fourth grade level education, he began working as a clerk at age 12. The experience led him at the age of 21 to launch his own merchandising business. Just seven years later, Sterling opened a feed store in Sour Lake, Texas. Despite his fourth grade education, Sterling could have taught a course about the hardworking man-Work Ethic 101. In 1910, Sterling’s big break came when he purchased two oil wells; leading to the charter of The Humble Oil and Refining Company, which later became Exxon.
Now the rest is as they say — Texas history. Sterling went on to open many banks, one of which was the Humble State Bank. He also was a newspaper publisher after buying the Houston Post, and owned KPRC radio station. In addition to these many endeavors, he owned several properties in the Houston area and was involved with the Houston Port Commission.
Sterling entered Texas politics in the late 1920’s when then-Governor Dan Moody appointed him as Chairman of the Texas State Highway Commission. Under his leadership, the State of Texas developed its first paved highway system. Sterling became known as “the man who brought Texas out of the mud” as a result of the project.
In 1930, Sterling defeated primary opponent Ma Ferguson, former governor of Texas, in a runoff and became the Democratic gubernatorial candidate. He easily defeated Republican William Talbot to become Governor of Texas.
The story could end there, but Texas politics is about as rough and tumble as the state we live in, and just about as diverse. Controversy plagued his first year in office, mostly concerning cotton prices and oil restrictions in East Texas counties. The East Texas oil fields were booming which lead to a depression in the oil industry. To decrease production, Governor Sterling declared a drilling moratorium in four East Texas counties, ordering the National Guard to enforce it. As a result, Governor Sterling was defeated for the Democratic Party nomination in 1932 by former opponent Ma Ferguson.
Out of work and in need of a job, Sterling returned to Houston bankrupt. All he had was a $100 Liberty Bond and sure determination to build another empire. Sterling decided to return to his first love--oil. Using the Liberty Bond he again founded his own oil company, this time naming it Sterling Oil and Refining Company. By the end of World War II, Sterling had managed to rebuild his fortune. He served as President of Sterling Oil for 13 years until his retirement at the age of 71. Ross Sterling passed away in 1949 at the age of 74.
In all of his endeavors, Sterling found a way to give back to his beloved Houston; leaving a legacy continuing long after his death. Two schools in my district bear his moniker, Ross S. Sterling High School in Baytown and Ross Sterling Middle School in Humble. A library, in Baytown, is also named for him, Sterling Municipal Library. However, one of his most notable contributions in my district was donating his home in La Porte to the Houston Optimist Club. In 1947, The Houston Optimist Club donated Sterling’s former mansion to the Boys and Girls Harbor, a home that cares for children in crisis. Sterling also served on the board of trustees for the Hermann Hospital Estate for over 30 years.
The backbone of our Nation is formed from hard-working citizens like Ross Sterling who pull themselves up by their bootstraps when times get tough, and still find ways to give back to their community. Ross Sterling is an example not only to Houstonians, but to all citizens of our great Nation. That is what makes America what it is: the land of the free and the home of the brave.
And that's just the way it is.