Burnett Foundation spent $1 billion on Fort Worth. Will next generation of philanthropists step up?

dfwnewsa | January 28, 2024 | 0 | Fort Worth , Fort Worth News

Burnett Foundation spent  billion on Fort Worth. Will next generation of philanthropists step up?

Anne Marion founded The Burnett Foundation in 1978. Since then, the foundation has contributed more than $1 billion in philanthropic efforts, Neils Agather, former executive director for The Burnett Foundation, said. Texas Christian University and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth were two of the foundation’s largest beneficiaries. (Courtesy | National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, Fort Worth, Texas)
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When Fort Worth’s population was no more than 400,000, Anne Marion was about to receive so much money that, at first, she didn’t know what to do with it. 

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Marion inherited in 1980 the Burnett family ranching estate from her mother, Anne Valliant Burnett Tandy, who received an estate valued at over $28.4 million from her husband, Charles David Tandy, in 1978.

With both estates, Marion helped found the Anne Burnett and Charles D. Tandy Foundation, known today as The Burnett Foundation.

Today, throughout Fort Worth, the Burnett-Tandy-Marion name is seemingly everywhere. This year, a new building will sprout bearing the family name.

Texas Christian University’s Burnett School of Medicine is set for completion in 2024. 

Since the foundation’s founding in 1978, it has spent more than $1 billion in philanthropic efforts, said Neils Agather, former executive director for The Burnett Foundation. 

“She wanted to do more,” Agather said. “One of the first things she ever said to me was: “How would you like to work for a strong woman?” 

Before her death at age 81 in 2020, Marion gave millions of dollars to organizations and businesses such as Texas Christian University, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and Downtown Fort Worth Inc. 

Now, The Burnett Foundation has distributed all its funds, and the organizations it supported may never again see a single foundation donate at the level Marion did.

“I’ll be forever grateful for her service and contributions to the Kimbell, not to mention her tremendous contributions to the Fort Worth Museum of Modern Art,” Ben Fortson, chief investment officer for the Kimbell Art Foundation, said. 

‘A hole to be filled’

On Agather’s first day, the foundation had a cash reserve of $30 million. Because of a few sound investments, before the foundation gave its last penny in 2021, that reserve was close to $300 million, Agather said.

“She wanted to leave something to Fort Worth,” he said. “She said she wasn’t going to be around forever, and that money wasn’t going to be around forever.” 

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One of the foundation’s first big projects was improving Fort Worth’s arts scene. 

Traditional art had been an established territory of the Kimbell Art Museum, but Marion saw a less obvious avenue to be explored, Agather said.

Marion spearheaded a $65 million expansion of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, funding collections and selecting and recruiting the project’s architect, world-renowned Tadao Ando.

The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth was one of The Burnett Foundation’s major projects. Marion wanted to see modern art have more of a presence in the Fort Worth arts scene. (Matthew Sgroi | Fort Worth Report)

Since 2001, The Burnett Foundation has given $81.4 million to Arts Fort Worth. Nearly $20 million was explicitly gifted to The Modern.

“That was always a big project of hers,” said Dee J. Kelly, managing partner at Kelly Hart & Hallman and board trustee for The Burnett Foundation. “Her philanthropy with them started from the beginning.”

She loved art, and she wanted to preserve it, Kelly said, as evidenced by her support of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Sante Fe, New Mexico. 

But for Fort Worth, it was more personal.

“She saw there was a hole in Fort Worth that needed to be filled,” Agather said. 

‘So she did …’

Marion’s problem-solving mindset manifested one of The Burnett Foundation’s final projects.

Since the foundation’s beginnings, Fort Worth had a medical school in the University of North Texas Health Science Center, but TCU never had its own accredited school. In 2018, UNTHSC began graduating TCU medical students. But in 2019, The Burnett Foundation gave a $50 million endowment that guaranteed TCU’s own medical campus.

The Burnett School of Medicine, set for completion this year, will be one of the lasting legacies of Anne Marion, said Dee J. Kelly, a former trustee for The Burnett Foundation. In 2019, The Burnett Foundation contributed a $50 million endowment to Texas Christian University for the school’s construction and operations. (Matthew Sgroi | Fort Worth Report)

The Burnett School of Medicine campus is scheduled for completion in 2024.

“Look at how the medical school will improve health care in Fort Worth and beyond,” Don Whelan, vice chancellor for university advancement at TCU, said. “There is a significant physician shortage in Texas. Mrs. Marion saw this as an issue that she could do something about, so she did.”

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Since 2001, The Burnett Foundation has contributed $64.8 million to TCU. Marion always made an effort to ensure the holes at Fort Worth’s biggest education institution were filled.

“I think she viewed TCU as a conduit for addressing community — even global — issues,” Whelan said. “She cared deeply about Fort Worth and TCU. She understood that what is good for one, is good for the other.”

Burk Burnett Park

Marion and The Burnett Foundation also spent a lot of time, and money, on Downtown Fort Worth Inc., Agather said.

Since 2001, The Burnett Foundation has given the organization $11.3 million.

Marion thought Fort Worth needed a bustling, commerce-filled downtown, but the main reason she gave so much money to Downtown Fort Worth Inc. was her wish to maintain a park named for her maternal great-grandfather, Agather said.

Burk Burnett Park in downtown Fort Worth is maintained by a $4.5 million endowment given by The Burnett Foundation. (Matthew Sgroi | Fort Worth Report)

For years, Marion and The Burnett Foundation paid up to $400,000 a year on upkeep at Burk Burnett Park in downtown Fort Worth.

The park used to have fountains scattered throughout and was a bit more “grand” than it is today, Agather said.

“Anne would see how much we were spending to keep up with maintenance and thought it was unsustainable,” he said, adding that the park remained important to her family’s legacy. 

In the foundation’s final years, The Burnett Foundation approved an endowment of $4.5 million to be given to Downtown Fort Worth Inc. to keep up with the park’s maintenance.

That endowment will keep the park thriving indefinitely, said Andy Taft, president of Downtown Fort Worth Inc. 

“The foundation wanted the whole area to do well, too,” Taft said. “They wanted neighbors and businesses to be positively impacted by the park.”

Today, concerts, movies and events are common in downtown’s only park with grass.

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The future of Fort Worth philanthropy

In the future, who will fill the holes that Marion saw as needing to be filled?

“That’s a good question, but the city is growing,” Agather said. “There’s a lot of people who care very deeply about this city. It’s not all gloom and doom. … There are a lot of wealthy people in this town.”

Kelly points to the next generation of foundations bound to pop up, like Rainwater Charitable Foundation, as the new torch holders.

“In Burnett’s case, [the foundation] is going away,” Kelly said. “The Richardsons and Carters I expect to stay a little longer; the next generation I expect to step up. But, as the city is growing, it’s going to need more support. The hope is that private individuals step up.”

Will organizations like Downtown Fort Worth Inc. see contributions similar to ones The Burnett Foundation gave annually? Time will tell, Taft said. He’s optimistic they will, especially in regard to the Heritage and Paddock Parks project. 

What about TCU? Whelan said the best is yet to come for the university.

“The number of alumni, friends, foundations and corporations that support TCU is growing every year,” Whelan said. “We always take a long-term view, and we are very optimistic about the future.”

But — he’ll always be grateful for what Marion and The Burnett Foundation gave TCU and Fort Worth. 

“The community will benefit from this gift [the Burnett School of Medicine] in perpetuity,” he said. “Mrs. Marion truly understood the power of philanthropy.”

Editor’s Note: Neils Agather now serves on the Fort Worth Report’s board of directors. The Burnett Foundation also gave $1.25 million in 2020 to found the Fort Worth Report. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here. 

Matthew Sgroi is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at matthew.sgroi@fortworthreport.org or @MatthewSgroi1 on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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