When Hurricane Harvey decimated Rockport in August 2017, Jeanie Wyatt wanted to help. As CEO and chief investment officer of South Texas Money Management, she had a variety of resources at her disposal, but in her usual way, she sensed it was fun, not money, the townspeople needed.
She told her assistant she wanted to throw a Thanksgiving party for all of Rockport. Unspoken was her desire to alleviate the residents’ physical and emotional exhaustion with some barbecue, games, and laughter.
“They set up ginormous tents, and put up fliers in the H-E-B and newspaper ads inviting everyone to come celebrate Thanksgiving,” stepson Richey Wyatt said. “Jeanie and her team set up the whole thing with bands, tents, games for the kids, and Bill Miller supplied the barbecue. Thousands of people came out. It made her so happy.”
While Wyatt was a pioneer and national force in the banking and investment industry, she was also a mother, wife, humanitarian, and friend. She died Tuesday morning after a battle with a rare form of appendix cancer. She was 65.
Those who remember Wyatt speak more of her devotion to people than her professional accomplishments, though the two sometimes melded together. Wyatt was known for her ability to put clients at ease even while she was handling millions of dollars in assets. It created a level of trust many found unparalleled in the business.
“I thought she was a really smart, far-thinking, intelligent, compassionate person, extremely thoughtful, so I decided I would invest some money with her when she [started South Texas Money Management],” said former General Motors Chairman and CEO Ed Whitacre, who also is the former board chairman and CEO of AT&T.
Whitacre spent Tuesday evening visiting with Jeanie’s husband, Bill Wyatt, Richey Wyatt, and other family and friends. He reflected on a friendship that spanned nearly three decades.
“She was very considerate of what we wanted, our goals and objectives,” he said. “Some people will just tell you, ‘Invest in this, invest in that,’ but she had a real interest in what was important to us and how we felt about the future. She matched that very well with the portfolio we started with her and has done over the years.
“We’ve lost a real good one, too young.”
Wyatt began her career at Corpus Christi National Bank in 1976. In the mid-1990s, she served as executive vice president and head of Frost Investment Services at Cullen/Frost Bankers, where she oversaw the investment areas of nine trust departments around the state with approximately $13 billion in assets.
Pat Frost, president of Frost Bank and group executive vice president of Frost Wealth Advisors, called Wyatt “a wonderful human being” with whom he continued his friendship after she departed the bank.
“She was one of my favorite people, an absolutely wonderful human being,” he said. “I worked with her for 20 years and she was a joy. I knew I could call on her to talk with clients whether with good news or bad.”
Wyatt started South Texas Money Management (STMM) in December 2000 and turned initial holdings of $10 million, managed in one office, into $3.7 billion in assets under management in six offices around Texas. As pioneer for women in the financial sector, Wyatt strived to promote and mentor other female leaders to help foster more gender diversity in a male-dominated field. True to this effort, she hired Teri Grubb and Christina Markell-Balleza as co-CEOs of STMM earlier this year as part of a succession plan to keep her company moving forward.
“Jeanie was an inspiration to all of us, and indeed, to all who met her,” Grubb stated in a press release. “Her illness took her from us too soon. Typical of her devotion to our clients, she took it as an opportunity to plan a smooth transition. She built a strong organization and emphasized to us that the best way to honor her legacy is to continue that devotion. We will be working every day to do just that.”
Wyatt also tried to impart her wisdom through the media. She was a columnist for the San Antonio Express-News and a contributor to the Rivard Report. Robert Rivard, editor and publisher of the Rivard Report and former editor of the Express-News, said he more than once found himself watching Wyatt on national news programming, commenting on some financial development as a respected expert frequently sought out by the national media.
“Jeanie was a skilled communicator, as confident with words as she was with numbers, someone who understood how to make personal finance understandable for the average individual saving for a home purchase or for retirement,” Rivard said.
And while her financial acumen was often on display during guest appearances on PBS’ Wall $treet Week with Louis Rukeyser, and on CNN, CNBC, and Fox Business News, and through quotes in Barron’s magazine, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other financial publications and websites, it was her altruism that stood out.
She served on boards and committees in the arts, medical research, and education. At STMM she formed and oversaw a nonprofit “giveback” program with charitable contributions exceeding $6 million.
Among the many organizations that benefited from her service as a trustee were the National Endowment Fund Board of Trustees of the American Red Cross, Texas BioMed, and Opera San Antonio. In her hometown of Austin, she served on the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Advisory Board, the Texas Cultural Trust, and the Corporate Council for the Long Center for the Performing Arts.
For Richey Wyatt, though, it was the things that didn’t garner the national attention that stood out. He recalled the cemetery in the Central Texas town of Smithville, where Wyatt’s mother was buried, and how, prior to her death, his step-grandmother was upset that the black section of the cemetery was unkempt. After Wyatt buried her mother, she made sure things were set right.
“It upset Jeanie’s mother, so Jeanie not only cleaned it up but had historians and genealogists uncover the history of the people buried there,” Richey Wyatt said. “It was just the kind of thing Jeanie did, with no spotlight.”
Although she was responsible for a firm that managed billions of dollars in assets, those closest to her remembered her happy, celebratory spirit that needed expression where it saw an opportunity.
“She loved to celebrate – it was essential to who she was,” said Richey Wyatt’s wife, Joan. “She would have tea parties for her granddaughter, and when she realized several family members were having significant birthdays, she said, ‘Let’s have a 40, 50, 60, and 70 birthday party in New York!’ She made everything fun. She was just magic.”