Caroline Rose Hunt, mother of the Crescent and the Mansion, dies at 95

Nov 14, 2018 | Cheryl Hall

Oil heiress Caroline Rose Hunt, daughter of legendary wildcatter H.L. Hunt and once the richest woman in America, died Tuesday night after suffering a stroke on Oct. 31.

The philanthropist, hotelier, author, world traveler, gourmet, entrepreneur, mother of five, grandmother of 19 and great-grandmother of 23 was 95.

“My mother changed the complexion of the city,” said her only daughter, Laurie Harrison. “She bought land in an area that nobody wanted to be in and created The Mansion on Turtle Creek. She took something that was historical and made it useful and beautiful. She took 13 acres that was a car lot and created The Crescent — one of the most beautiful Philip Johnson buildings in America.

“My mother lived three or four lifetimes in one. She was something else.”

Caroline Hunt was born in El Dorado, Ark., to H.L. and his wife Lyda Bunker, the third child of H.L.’s so-called “first family” that also included her late brothers Hassie, Nelson Bunker and Lamar Hunt; her late sister, Margaret Hunt Hill; and her only surviving sibling, William Herbert Hunt.

After H.L. discovered the massive East Texas oilfield, the family moved to Tyler and then to Dallas and the now-famous Mount Vernon along White Rock Lake in 1938. The J.R. Ewing character in TV’s superhit Dallas was modeled after H.L.

The patriarch, once the world’s richest man, later married Ruth Ray, mother of Dallas billionaire Ray Hunt and his three sisters.

In the early 1980s, Caroline Hunt’s Rosewood Corp. began assembling a tract of land just north of downtown that would anchor the company’s signature development, the Crescent, and later Rosewood Court.

Her net worth at its height in the late 1980s was about $1 billion — more than $2 billion in today’s dollars — and also included the Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek and Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles.

She outlived two husbands, Loyd Sands and Buddy Schoellkopf, and her longtime companion, Charles Simmons, who died nearly eight years ago.

In recent years, Hunt was squired by Robert Brackbill Sr., who will turn 100 next summer.

She dropped Schoellkopf as her last name after their divorce in 1987, preferring Mrs. Hunt in formality. But mostly she was known as Caroline in her hometown of 50 years. Her grandchildren and great-grandchildren called her Moozie.

Hunt was never one to seek the spotlight and rarely gave interviews. Her last was with The Dallas Morning NewsThat story ran a year ago — almost to the day.

When she was proclaimed the wealthiest woman in America, she gave interviews to The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times  but reportedly turned down 60 Minutes.

Uptown girl

It's impossible to know just how much Caroline Hunt was worth when she died.

Like her father, who was the Jeff Bezos of his day, she held such matters close to her chest.

Rosewood — owned by the trust established for Hunt in 1935 by her father and mother and run by others — still has vast holdings in ranching, real estate, investment funds and oil and gas, and it buys and sells turnaround companies.

But Hunt's legacy on her beloved Big D is indelible. There was no Uptown until she came along.

"The city of Dallas has been the recipient of the results of my Aunt Caroline's love of beauty," said Dallas billionaire businesswoman and philanthropist Lyda Hill, whose mother, Margaret Hunt Hill, was Caroline's sister. "Rosewood's projects are elegant with superb architecture and art that reflect her grace and sense of style. The renovation of the Mansion on Turtle Creek preserved a beautiful old home and gave Dallas a grand hotel. The Crescent development renewed a deteriorating area on the north side of downtown and produced a shining star that became a beautiful entry into downtown Dallas."

John Zogg of the Crescent said, "Several of our employees started their careers with her, and her passion for top-quality customer service is the bedrock that drives Crescent's culture today. "

Developer Lucy Billingsley held Hunt in her highest esteem.

"Caroline Hunt was raised in the age of steel magnolias -- beautiful, charming and powerful," said the partner of Billingsley & Co.  "She was the quietest, boldest and most creative lady in real estate in the city. Her eye for excellence and beauty and her ability to deliver on both created the magic of the Rosewood brand."

Hunt graduated from the Hockaday School in 1939 and attended Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Va., during her freshman and sophomore years. She received a bachelor of arts degree in English and art history from the University of Texas in 1943.

Hunt's first job at the family oil business was in the mailroom of Hunt Oil.

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