Speaking at his father’s memorial service, Don Frost told a story of his father’s final days that showed the strength of his parents’ bond.
“[Mom], you surprised us all when Dad first went into the hospital and he couldn’t communicate,” said Frost, son of San Antonio banker and community leader Tom C. Frost, who suffered a stroke in July and passed away last week at age 90.
In the weeks before his passing, Tom Frost’s wife, Pat, sat at her husband’s bedside and found a way to communicate with her spouse of 67 years, even though he could not speak.
“You found a way,” Don Frost said, addressing his mother. “You told us you used a secret code every night before you went to bed where you would squeeze his hand: I love you, do you love me?”
Tom Frost would respond by squeezing back: Yes, I love you.
“And you would squeeze back: ‘How much?’” Don Frost said, to laughter. “And then both of y’all would squeeze your hands so tightly together…Even the doctors agreed: while y’all weren’t saying those words, you were communicating.”
Poignant memories like these from Frost’s family members defined his memorial services Friday. At least 1,000 people attended, enough to fill the main chapel and three overflow rooms at Christ Episcopal Church at 510 Belknap Pl., where Frost and his family have been longtime members.
A reception followed at the McNay Art Museum, where Frost served as a chairman and lifetime trustee, having led its capital campaign to raise more than $50 million for the museum.
In San Antonio, Frost was legendary for his relationship-based approach to banking, his business acumen, and his deep involvement in civic life. At one point during the service, Frost’s son Pat Frost asked employees of Frost Bank to raise their hand and be recognized.
“He would want to thank you for serving alongside him for the 67 years he worked at the bank,” his son, Pat Frost, said. “He viewed you as one part of a very large family.”
Those who attended the service learned more about Frost behind the scenes from intimate details shared by his sons and his minister, the Rev. Patrick Gahan.
In a eulogy chock-full of humor, Don Frost called his father a “tough nut with a marshmallow center.”
Frost was raised as the scion of two influential families, the Frosts and the Herffs, that have been part of the fabric of the San Antonio region since the late 1800s.
After his education at San Antonio Academy and Texas Military Institute, service in the Army, and graduation from Washington and Lee universities, Frost ended up leading the bank founded by his great-grandfather. He retired as CEO in 1997, though he stayed closely involved.
His many accomplishments at the head of the bank and in local institutions are difficult to list in one place. From his parents, particularly his mother, Ilsé Herff Frost, Tom Frost learned to discipline himself and pursue perfection, Don Frost said.
“Sometimes he could be hard on himself,” Don Frost said. “And he really was a little grumpy, so Mom would lovingly refer to him as Billy Goat Gruff.”
Yet, Tom Frost also had many pure and simple pleasures, such as spending time with family at their ranch in Kendall County, his son said. He loved reading, Jumble, and newspaper comics.
Tom Frost had a soft spot for animals, including a steer named Ferdinand that would come running at the sound of his ranch truck, Don Frost said.
He also knew the names of all the dogs in the neighborhood he would visit on his walks.
“He would engage in a full conversation by narrating both the dogs’ thoughts and his thoughts,” Don Frost said.
Tom Frost was an avid golf and tennis player, participating in both sports all the way up to his 90th year, even in the summer heat, Don Frost said.
“It is rumored a few off-colored words may have been uttered in moments of joy and jubilation as a ball was sliced into the woods or a tennis shot flew into the net,” said Tom Frost III, another of his four sons.
At the service, Frost’s sons – Don, Pat, Bill, and Tom III – and Gahan all described a man of great wealth who had little regard for material things. At San Antonio Spurs games, he preferred a Whataburger and a Shiner Bock to the more upscale menu from the Saddles and Spurs restaurants at the AT&T Center.
At the ranch, Tom Frost’s weekend attire was generally khakis, Red Wing boots, and “an ancient open road hat covered with turkey feathers,” Don Frost said.
His father also had a beer collection that “snaked its way around the upper reaches of the living room at the ranch,” he said. Friends would bring him new beers to try from around the world.
Tom Frost was also a man of strong faith, Gahan said. He and others would join Tom Frost once a week for Bible study, for which he had always done the background reading.
In his sermon, Gahan joked about Frost’s favorite beige windbreaker, “the one he bought during the Eisenhower administration,” and his well-worn black wingtip shoes “that looked like they’d been in the Battle of the Bulge.”
“Outside of a Franciscan nun I know, Tom Frost was the least materialistic person I ever knew,” said Gahan. “Tom was not interested in accumulating stuff, but he was interested in acquiring character.”
Above all, those who loved Frost most described him as a moral compass who defined integrity for everyone, whether they knew him personally or not.
“We will always be proud of our lives with him,” said Tom Frost, his son. “We will always be inspired by him.”