National News

Caroline Rose Hunt, 95, Dies; Turned Inheritance Into Vast Wealth

Posted November 14, 2018 3:24 p.m. EST

Caroline Rose Hunt, the Texas oil heiress who quietly diversified her investments and became one of the nation’s wealthiest women in the 1980s after two billionaire brothers tried to corner the world’s silver market and lost fortunes when the price collapsed, died Tuesday in Dallas. She was 95.

Her death, at a hospice facility, was confirmed by a family spokesman, Andy Stern.

Unassuming, gracious, caring more about raising her children and tomatoes than about market strategies, Caroline Hunt was content to let advisers manage her affairs as her brothers Nelson Bunker Hunt, known as Bunker, and William Herbert Hunt, known as Herbert, corralled a third to half of the world’s deliverable silver in a dizzying 1980 roller-coaster ride from glut to debacle.

While her brothers hemorrhaged money and plunged into years of lawsuits, fines, damage claims and bankruptcy proceedings, Hunt, who inherited about $600 million, enlarged her portfolio of oil, gas, timber and real estate to $1.3 billion by venturing successfully into apparel, charter helicopter and small-plane services, shopping centers, office complexes and luxury hotels in the United States, Europe and Asia.

In Texas, which prided itself on larger-than-life stories, the eccentricities of the Hunt family — the oilman H.L. Hunt fathered 15 children with three women over 35 years — had been a high-stakes soap opera for decades. The patriarch, a storied wildcatter and perhaps the world’s richest man when he died in 1974, had left the bulk of his fortune in separate trusts to his children by his first wife: Caroline, Bunker, Herbert, Lamar, Margaret and Haroldson, who had been mentally ill since 1942. (A seventh sibling died in infancy.)

While her brothers caught the public eye with financial high-wire acts in silver, oil and sugar, Caroline Hunt led a relatively normal life. She attended college, married a World War II pilot, raised five children, wrote two cookbooks and a novel, and became a philanthropist and a Presbyterian Church deacon. She and her financial advisers made investment decisions, but she left day-to-day operations to executives whose decision-making was based on Christian principles.

“If she has had any influence on the management of her enormous wealth,” The New York Times reported in 1986, “it has been to instill a certain ethos among the people in charge — an insistence on integrity and propriety that has been markedly absent from her brothers’ affairs.”

The big gamble by Bunker and Herbert was trying to corner silver, much of it bought on margin or with borrowed money. When the bubble burst in 1980, their holdings plunged in two months to a $1.7 billion debt from a $7 billion value.

Years later they emerged from bankruptcy as millionaires, though no longer fabulously wealthy.

Bunker attended horse races and died in 2014. Lamar, only slightly involved in the silver deals, founded the American Football League and owned the Kansas City Chiefs. He died in 2006. Herbert continued in real estate.

Caroline Hunt and Margaret Hunt Hill took measures to preserve their fortunes by insulating themselves from their flamboyant brothers’ financial liabilities. The Caroline Hunt Trust, as it was known, clustered businesses around the Rosewood Corp., a holding company, with her children serving as directors or executives of subsidiaries.

Rosewood entered the luxury hotel business in the early 1980s by buying the lavish Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas. It also bought the Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan and hotels in Los Angeles, Washington, London, Switzerland and Tokyo; office complexes and shopping centers in Texas, Florida, Georgia and New York; and holdings in Phillips-Van Heusen apparel, semiconductors and military electronics. By 1986, Caroline had become the richest Hunt and one of America’s wealthiest women.

Caroline Rose Hunt was born in Dallas on Jan. 8, 1923, to Haroldson Lafayette and Lyda Bunker Hunt. She attended the Hockaday School, a boarding school for girls in Dallas; Mary Baldwin College (now university) in Staunton, Virginia, for two years; and the University of Texas at Austin, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English in 1943.

That year she married Loyd Bowmer Sands. They had five children: Laurie , David, Patrick, John and Stephen. They were divorced in 1973. She then married Buddy Schoellkopf. After their divorce in 1987, she reverted to her maiden name.

Hunt is survived by her sons Stephen and Patrick Sands; a daughter, Laurie Sands Harrison; her brother William Herbert; a half brother, Ray Hunt; three half sisters, Ruth Hunt, Helen Hunt Hendrix and Swanee Hunt Ansbacher; 19 grandchildren; and 23 great-grandchildren. Haroldson Hunt died in 2005, and Margaret Hunt Hill died in 2007.

Hunt’s philanthropies included many organizations in Dallas, where she lived all her life: the Dallas Opera, the Dallas Symphony, the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden, Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas and the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas. She was a trustee of Mary Baldwin College for 20 years, and with her sister financed the restoration of Hilltop, an 1810 campus building on the National Register of Historic Places. From 1985 to 1994 she was a trustee of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington.

In 2000 Hunt published “Primrose Past: The 1848 Journal of Young Lady Primrose,” a novel couched as the diary of a teenage girl in Victorian England striving to live up to the ideals of an age.

“Purity of manners, fine sensibility, chastity, modesty, sweetness of nature, temper meek,” she wrote, “— that’s what’s important.”