Truett Latimer ’51
Truett Latimer ’51 leads with humility and warmth, qualities he remembers seeing exemplified on campus as a student at Hardin-Simmons University. “After growing up on an 80-acre sandy land tenant farm near Lueders, Texas, it was a real step for me to go to Hardin-Simmons. After my graduation from high school, during the summer of 1945, I was working 13-hour days for the Texas Highway Department re-paving the road from Albany to Abilene. On Sunday mornings I would go to the Baptist church in Albany where HSU graduate, John McLaughlin ’47, was ‘leading the singing.’ John recruited me for HSU, and graciously took me over to look at the campus, introducing me to Bill Ledbetter, then called the Bursar. I told Bill I did not have any money and he said, ‘young man, we can help you find a job.’ And they did—working at Nick Crain’s drug store operating as a soda jerk on 8th Street and Hickory from 5 in the afternoon until 10 o’clock at night—obviously securing a ride in both directions. The rest, as they say, is history.”
Truett chose HSU as his college home, and loved his time here, highlighted by the people he encountered. Dean W.A. Stephenson and Dean Walton were some of his favorite faculty members. Hardin-Simmons was close to home and his relatives, so it seemed like the right place for him to be. During his time on campus, Truett says he fell in love with the Cowboy Band, the Cowgirls, and enjoyed special occasions like Homecoming, when the band would march downtown in a parade. He enjoyed serving as the class treasurer his senior year.
The times were not very stable, however, as World War II was raging. Truett thought his education would be cut short and he would be called to represent our country in the battle, but the war ended and he was able to complete his business degree and graduate in 1951.
Very soon after HSU, Truett ran and was elected to a seat in the Texas House of Representatives, where he served the 84th district, which included Taylor County and the Abilene area. Elected at the young age of 23, he was re-elected four times and served as a State Representative until 1962. He also served 13 years to make all of this happen in the Texas National Guard and one year in the Army Reserve.
Truett’s business leadership was extensive, creating a foundation for his unique opportunities and areas of service. His first job was for Pender Printing Co., a local Abilene printing and stationary company. He traveled West Texas for them, calling on cotton gins and selling stationary. Truett expanded to the insurance business and real estate, serving as public relations director for the Texas Association of Realtors. He then became executive director of the Texas Historical Commission. Over the next 16 years, he spearheaded one of the most aggressive and successful historical preservation programs in the nation, and helped communities save and restore their historical structures.
Truett eventually settled in Houston and became president of the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Applying his public relations expertise and his business experience, Truett brought the museum from what has been described as “a bunch of old bones and a life-size model of a pre-historic dinosaur” to a world-class museum that is the second-most visited attraction in Houston and one of the best attended museums in the United States. Truett says, “I’ve had a lot of wonderful people work with me through the years.”
Truett has been awarded all four of the University’s highest awards; he was presented with the Distinguished Alumni Award in 1991, conferred the University’s honorary Doctor of Laws degree in 1996, inducted into the Hall of Leaders in 2006, and honored as the 2016 John J. Keeter Jr. Alumni Service Award recipient. His connections run deep, as he served on and chaired the Board of Development for many years and is a lifetime member of the Presidents Club. He says, “HSU was so kind and gracious to all of us! It is important that we give something back when we can. When it is all combined, it can make a difference and help students get to the university, and then go and do other important things. Any success I have had in life is because of HSU and the relationships I developed there.”
Truett stays connected to HSU because of the memories and friendships. “I give money to the Annual Scholarship Fund. I am not a prolific fundraiser or giver of money, but I do continue supporting the school and giving back because I think it is so needed to bring students to HSU. Scotty Holland ’51 and Doyle Kelley ’51 were in my class and became two of my closest life-long friends. You develop friendships at HSU that stand the test of time.”