San Antonio lost a true giant Friday when Tom Frost Jr. died at the age of 90, the patriarch of one of San Antonio’s most storied families and the fourth-generation Frost to bear the name and mantle of civic and business leadership in the city and state.
Across the country, south to Mexico, and beyond, Frost’s passing will be lamented by presidents, governors, captains of industry, fellow philanthropists and friends, not to mention countless customers and casual acquaintances.
Journalists who came to know Frost will remember him as a larger-than-life figure with an open door, a wide smile, and a bear-hug handshake. There were no interviews, really, just rambling, comfortable conversations. Frost had a wide-ranging intellect and a well-grounded appreciation for life’s triumphs and vicissitudes, and whether he was speaking in a private conversation or delivering a speech, a penchant for dispensing humor, anecdote, and wisdom, often in the same sentence.
The Frost family’s roots and outsized influence in San Antonio date to the mid-19th century, yet Tom, (born Tom C. Frost IV, a suffix he dropped in favor of Jr., which he also later dropped), was always a man for the changing times: a visionary who understood HemisFair ’68 would usher in a new era for a sleepy city, a pragmatist in the political maelstrom of the ’60s and ’70s, and a senior statesman who never stopped advocating for San Antonio reaching higher. Frost displayed an uncanny ability to adapt, to see the world from other points of view, and to serve all sides as a trusted power broker.
Few others born to such wealth and power seemed so genuine in their empathy for the less fortunate, and that gave Frost an aura of authenticity and credibility many seek but few achieve.
Where other bankers failed and their institutions collapsed in the 1980s, Frost and his family bank endured, going public, weathering downturns, and afterward, the encroachment of national banks. Frost and his team were guided by more enduring principles than quarterly profits or quick returns, They leveraged trust and personal relationships, many of them generations deep, to thrive in a new century.
It is no coincidence that the skylines of Houston, Dallas, and Austin feature modern office towers bearing the Frost name, with San Antonio’s gleaming new Frost Bank Tower now on the horizon.
“I am kind of stumbling this day – I loved my dad, he taught me so much, and he was always a great person to look up to,” said Pat Frost, the youngest of Tom’s four sons and the president of Frost Bank. “My dad always had time for the family, but he also loved Frost Bank, every single day he spent there was a great joy. I am sorry he didn’t live to see the new bank finished, but he sure loved watching it go up.”
The tall, lanky banker, who lived and worked in Mexico City as a young man and spoke Spanish with a decidedly Texas twang, will be remembered as one of the most beloved and respected leaders from what is now a fast-disappearing generation, a select coterie of powerful white businessmen who served as benevolent city fathers. The Civil Rights era, the slow rise of women in the workplace and leadership positions, and the broad dispersal of wealth and political power in the city changed things, yet Tom Frost endured.
Those who knew him – and who didn’t? – will say they have lost a good friend. They are not mistaken. San Antonio and the Frost family, all of us, have lost a man we all claimed as our own. A new generation of Frosts will carry on, even if no one will ever quite fill the space left empty by Tom.
Services for Tom Frost will be held 11 a.m. Friday, Aug. 17, at Christ Episcopal Church, 510 Belknap Place.