Courtesy / David Weisman for The Conservation History Association of Texas
Hikers visiting the preserved dinosaur tracks or mysterious German ranch house at Government Canyon State Natural Area might never have seen these sights had it not been for San Antonio businessman George C. “Tim” Hixon.
Hixon, who reached international heights in the conservation arena, was instrumental in preserving Bexar County’s largest piece of public land – one of his countless contributions to society and the natural world, Hixon’s friends and family told the Rivard Report on Monday.
Hixon died on July 18, leaving behind his wife, Karen, of 43 years; two sons; two grandchildren; three brothers; and their families. He was 81.
A force in local philanthropy and civic engagement, Hixon served at times in oversight roles for Trinity University, St. Mary’s Hall, Texas Biomedical Research Group, the McNay Art Museum, The Nature Conservancy, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, among many others.
In his service as commissioner for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department from 1989 to 1995 and as chairman of the affiliated Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation from 1995 to 2002, he helped preserve natural spaces in South Texas.
These include helping the State of Texas acquire the 12,000-acre Government Canyon and the 17,000-acre Powderhorn Ranch near Port O’Connor, one of the largest intact prairies left on the Texas Gulf Coast.
“Government Canyon wouldn’t exist without the Hixons,” said Fred Bryant, 70, director of development at the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, where Hixon served as a board member for roughly 20 years. Bryant said Hixon became a mentor for him in preserving land and wildlife for future generations.
“He’s going to be missed across the United States in his efforts to help all kinds of species from hunted species to those we don’t hunt and can’t hunt,” Bryant said. “He was such an amazing guy – very astute and intuitive about how the world should work.”
Born in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1937, Hixon attended boarding school in Connecticut and served in the U.S. Army, according to an obituary written by Hixon’s family. He moved to San Antonio in 1962 to work for his uncle, Frederick C. “Colonel” Hixon, in the family’s businesses. He finished his undergraduate degree in economics at Trinity University in 1964.
Hixon brought to Texas a love of nature first established while exploring Florida’s St. Johns River, which he described vividly in a 2005 interview with the Texas Legacy Project.
“My brother Joe and I lived in that river practically as kids and we were catching snakes and turtles and crawfish or fiddler crabs,” Hixon said, also telling stories of hunting and fishing trips to Africa and other continents.
From 1975 to 2006, Hixon served as a board member in the family firm Hixon Properties, becoming chairman for his final eight years there. The company is known for its urban redevelopment projects downtown, an approach to real estate Hixon described in the interview.
“I just hate what’s happening with…urban sprawl, so to speak…and the word 'ranchette' just turns my stomach,” Hixon said. “We just prefer to do all of our stuff in an urban setting and redevelop other properties that already exist, and we’ve done a pretty good job of that in downtown San Antonio.”
His success in business paralleled his renown as a conservationist, angler, and hunter. He served as president of the Boone and Crockett Club, the nation’s preeminent sportsmens' society, founded in 1887 by Theodore Roosevelt.
When the club moved its offices from New York City to Missoula, Montana, Hixon helped it acquire a historic train depot to use as its headquarters, Bryant said. The building still bears his name.
In 1997, the club presented him with its Special Sagamore Hill Award, which only eight people have received throughout its history.
Boone and Crockett is best known for its meticulous records of North American big game trophies. Only two years ago, at age 79, Hixon bagged a white-tailed deer buck worthy of the club’s record book at his ranch in Cotulla, southwest of San Antonio.
Hixon's skill is evident in his success in transforming the property into wildlife habitat that could support a deer like that, Bryant said.
“He wasn’t just going to take any deer on his place,” Bryant said. “He was trying to grow this herd so he could produce those kinds of deer. It took him 20 years to do it, but he finally succeeded.”
Besides his work on the land in Cotulla, Hixon also worked to conserve a beloved ranch in Idaho. He and his wife were deeply involved with the preservation of Bracken Cave, the largest known bat colony in the world, on a tract of land outside of San Antonio targeted for development.
“I admired Tim as a businessman who knew intrinsically that environmentalism and a strong economy go hand-in-hand,” said San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who helped work to preserve the cave while serving on City Council, in a text message. “He set an inspirational example for making the world a better place.”
Those who knew Hixon outside of his conservation work spoke just as highly of him.
“He was just so loving and welcoming,” said his daughter-in-law Ashley Hixon, 42, who married Hixon’s son George “Timo” Hixon 17 years ago. “He always made me feel like part of the family from the get-go and loved our children more than anything.”
Though he's the son of Hixon’s first wife, a German-born socialite named Verina Herud whose path crossed with Donald Trump’s in the 1980s, it was Tim and his second wife Karen Johnson Hixon who raised Timo, Ashley said. The couple married in 1974 and had another son together – Bryan S. Hixon.
“Karen was his buddy,” Bryant said. “They did everything together; they were like-minded.”
Hixon was an especially devoted grandfather to her and Timo's children, Foster and Clayton, Ashley said, often greeting the children with his two fingers held up in a peace sign, she said.
“He was kind of a man of few words, but if you got the peace sign you were on the good side,” she said.
Besides his friends and family, Hixon also had the respect of San Antonio’s business community, said Chris Gill, 73, also in the local real estate business and a fellow member of the Order of St. Hubertus hunting society.
“He was one of those successful business guys in his 30s that I as a guy starting out in business in my 20s always looked up to,” Gill said. “He was a consummate gentleman.”
Hixon’s most tangible legacy in San Antonio may well be in the places he helped preserve for the benefit of others. In the 2005 interview, he was asked how to persuade younger generations raised among electronics and asphalt that natural spaces are worth protecting.
“I don’t think I can answer that question except, again, chip away at it and get them out to places [like] Government Canyon," Hixon said. "It’s not that big an effort to get there, and parents take their kids out for weekends and hike and picnic and see some, what I think, is pretty neat stuff.”