Jim Dublin, the public relations professional who was at the forefront of some of San Antonio’s most significant economic development projects, died of cancer Tuesday. He was 73.
Dublin, a West Texan who moved to San Antonio in 1968 to attend Trinity University, worked his entire career in San Antonio, starting as a reporter and news editor at a small suburban newspaper and eventually establishing a public relations firm that served clients throughout the state and nation.
Along the way, Dublin became the trusted advisor to notable and influential leaders in both business and politics and served a significant but often behind-the-scenes role in promoting San Antonio and shaping the city’s economic future in nearly every industry.
“San Antonio is a better place because of his hard work, vision and leadership,” said Joe Krier, a former city councilman and San Antonio Chamber of Commerce CEO.
Born in Conroe in 1948, James R. Dublin IV and his two siblings grew up in cities throughout the state, moving frequently for his father’s petroleum engineering job. He spent two years at the University of Texas at El Paso before transferring to Trinity to major in journalism.
After his stint at the newspaper and a position in development at Our Lady of the Lake University, Dublin took a job in public relations for the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce in 1973. It was there that he met Gen. Robert McDermott, chairman and CEO of USAA at the time, and chairman of the chamber in 1974.
That year, McDermott founded the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation, appointing a “tiger team” of leaders for the task and assigning Dublin to tell the story of the city from a business perspective.
Through that effort, Dublin formed relationships with the area’s most powerful business leaders, including Red McCombs, Tom Frost and Bartell Zachry, and in 1979, helped to form United San Antonio, an initiative aimed at unifying major players in the city’s economic development strategy.
It was also during this time that Dublin met Henry Cisneros, a city councilman and later mayor, as they worked to bring new economic opportunities to San Antonio. Cisneros, who last spoke with Dublin three weeks ago, described Dublin as McDermott’s chief of staff in all civic endeavors. “General McDermott knew what he was doing,” Cisneros said.
“Jim was brilliant in his ability to see problems and then forge understandable and workable solutions,” he added. “He was also irrepressibly positive. There was no such thing as a problem that couldn’t be solved.”
In 1982, Dublin formed his own public relations firm and developed a list of newsmaker clients that included Pace Foods, Frost Bank, USAA and others. With McDermott, Dublin spearheaded a successful eight-year campaign to make airbags standard in all American-made cars.
In 1983, Dublin also helped to develop the Texas Research and Technology Foundation (TRTF), which is dedicated to making San Antonio a national center for biotechnology research. He also served as chairman of the foundation’s subsidiary Texas Technology Development Center.
“His biggest legacy was … he was involved behind the scenes on just about every major thing that was going on in San Antonio,” said Randy Harig, CEO of TRTF. “He was an advisor to leadership at all levels.”
Dublin participated as much in bolstering San Antonio’s position in biotech and health care as he was in establishing the city as a tourist destination, bringing in both SeaWorld San Antonio and Fiesta Texas.
“In those years, Jim was involved in just about everything worthwhile,” Cisneros said.
Cisneros recalled Dublin’s creativity in arranging for the flyover of a Southwest Airlines jet painted with an image of Shamu to celebrate SeaWorld coming to San Antonio. But he also admired Dublin as a peacemaker, “the one who kept his head.”
In 1993, Dublin again teamed with McDermott to help broker the sale of the San Antonio Spurs basketball team from McCombs to an entity that included SBC (Southwestern Bell), effectively ensuring the team would remain in San Antonio.
Later, he led the effort to build public support for the AT&T Center, and in helping the Spurs make the arena its new home court.
“He was a counselor and advisor without peer,” said Tullos Wells, managing director of the Kronkosky Foundation. Wells said he knew and worked with Dublin for over 40 years and most recently relied on his help to establish the COVID-19 testing nonprofit, Community Labs.
“Jim had a well-deserved reputation for being the guy who had the best advice around on almost anything,” Wells said. “He’s a media guy, a public relations guy, but mostly he’s just very thoughtful.”
Dublin was heavily involved in growing the South Texas Medical Center and in recent years served on the San Antonio Medical Foundation board.
“He was the consummate ‘team player,’ always focused on improving our community,” said Jim Reed, foundation president. “He has always been a colleague, friend, positive supporter and mentor to so many in San Antonio. It is an understatement to say he will be truly missed.”
Dublin also had a hand in the work required to land Toyota’s truck manufacturing plant for San Antonio, which opened in 2003. For that and many other projects, he is credited with improving the city’s employment opportunities.
“He helped bring major economic development projects here that provided thousands of good jobs,” Wells said.
In 2005, Dublin helped create BioMedSA, a public-private economic development partnership formed to promote San Antonio’s biomedical and health care industry. Ann Stevens, the organization’s founding president who retired in 2020, said his abilities matched his stature — Dublin was 6-foot-6.
“He really was a true giant,” Stevens said. “He was very strategic and intuitive, and a master of understanding how to bring people together to coalesce around an idea or an initiative. [He] was just very masterful and extremely influential over the years.”
Mary Uhlig said working closely with Dublin in his firm’s early days was an amazing experience.
“It was kind of a front-seat view of a decade’s worth of the events that shaped San Antonio’s history,” said Uhlig, executive director of The Blood & Tissue Center Foundation, and BioBridge Global Community Affairs.
There were also crisis situations during which Dublin demonstrated his true skill as a leader, she said. “Something he really brought into those situations was the ability to kind of restore calm in a crisis and to instill confidence in the team,” she said.
Public relations professional Eric Whittington, who first worked with Dublin starting in the late 1980s, said he saw that ability in action following the 1991 mass shooting in Killeen at Luby’s Cafeteria, a client of the firm.
“Obviously it’s so stressful on everybody, but one of Jim’s great gifts was just his ability to calm people and to kind of cut through all of the insanity and the noise and the tension and help everybody focus on what mattered the most at the time,” he said.
Whittington mostly recalls Dublin as “a walking-talking encyclopedia” of economic development history in San Antonio, able to recollect every detail of an event or issue, as plainly revealed in a 1995 interview recorded at the Institute of Texan Cultures.
“Sometimes it’s really important to know how you got to where you are,” he said, and Dublin could fill in those gaps to strategize the next move.
Dublin is survived by his wife Carolyn; two sons from his first marriage, Bryce (Charlotte) and Blake (Allison), and five grandchildren. He is also survived by Carolyn’s children, Javier Guerra (Anneke), Deborah Tucker (Tommy) and Rebecca Brown (Doug), and their eight children.
The date is pending for a celebration of Dublin’s life at Club Giraud, 707 N. St. Mary’s St. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested memorials be made to the Mays Cancer Center at UT Health San Antonio.