This article has been updated.
Curtis C. Gunn, founder and CEO of Gunn Automotive who was an active supporter of the Witte Museum and civic groups, died Feb. 2. He was 84.
Several colleagues of Gunn’s recalled his support for longtime San Antonio institutions and remembered him as a sharp-minded businessman who believed in giving car buyers a fair deal.
“Curtis was a giant,” Witte Museum President and CEO Marise McDermott said. “He was a very quiet transformer and giver on a number of fronts.”
Gunn graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 1959 before earning his master’s degree in business administration from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business in 1964. He also served in U.S. Navy, achieving the rank of lieutenant.
In 1967, Gunn returned to San Antonio to join the family automobile business. He served as CEO for several decades, continuing to grow the family business. In 1998, he launched the “One Simple Price” concept for buying a car, listing the selling price on the vehicle’s window.
“He was insistent that every customer be absolutely confident they were getting a fair deal. More, he would not abide the tricks and hassles that are often associated with buying a vehicle,” Gunn Automotive said in a prepared statement provided to the San Antonio Auto Dealers Association. “The organization bearing his family name has never wavered from that commitment.”
Gunn also devoted his time and money to many local charitable organizations, including the Witte Museum Board of Trustees, Mission Heritage Partners, the Paseo del Rio Association, the Las Casas Foundation, the River Oversight Committee, and the Raymond Dickson Foundation.
McDermott recalled Gunn’s chairmanship of the San Antonio Museum Association back in the early ’90s after the Witte Museum and the San Antonio Museum of Art split. She said Gunn wanted the Witte to be able to stand on its own.
“He was so spectacular,” she said. “During those negotiations, he was firm, fierce, and always fair. He truly was a very fair, high-minded person.”
Gunn underwrote many exhibitions at the museum, such as Thundering Hooves: Five Centuries of Horse Power in the American West. McDermott said the exhibit traveled all over the country for years before coming back to the Witte. Gunn also supported numerous dinosaur exhibits and founded Jazz Sunday at the Witte, supporting it for 10 years.
The museum named its major exhibition gallery for Gunn and wife Kathleen as a testament to his leadership and philanthropy, McDermott said. Gunn donated to the Witte’s expansion, and the museum named the school bus drop-off driveway after him because he believed all children should have access to the museum.
“He lived a great life. He’s going to be missed by so many of us,” she said. “He was my go-to advisor, counselor, straight-talker, confidant about the Witte, and it’s a huge, huge loss.”
Additionally, Gunn spent significant time and money helping establish the expansion of the River Walk. Parker Scott served on the Paseo del Rio Association with Gunn and remembered how Gunn led the further development of the area when it was just a few restaurants back in the early 1980s.
“He was a part of the River Walk,” he said.
Scott lamented Gunn’s death for the gap in civic leadership it will leave. He said the River Walk could use someone with his vision now to help the businesses along the river recover from the pandemic-related recession.
“I hope we continue to have that kind of leadership in the future,” Scott said.
Rick Cavender, president of Audi Dominion and part of another family-owned automotive group, said those who knew Gunn were fortunate.
“Curtis was a true visionary who carved a very unique presence in this competitive automotive industry,” he said. “He was kind in support of great community causes, and he was a brilliant and legendary businessman. And he always carried total devotion to his wife Kathleen and his wonderful family.”
He is survived by his wife, Kathleen; son Trey Gunn; daughter Victoria Gunn; daughter Shannon Gunn Hosner; son Sean Gunn; grandchildren Harper Gunn, Fanny and Lennon Gunn, and Curtis and Ella Gunn; sister Molly Gunn Walden; and Dora Cabrera, who has been part of the Gunn family for 38 years.
This article has been updated to accurately reflect the split between the Witte Museum and the San Antonio Museum of Art and the length of time the Thundering Hooves: Five Centuries of Horse Power in the American West exhibit traveled the country.