The American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald supposedly said to Ernest Hemingway, “You know, the rich are different from you and me.” Hemingway replied, “Yes. They’ve got more money.”

If Fitzgerald (did you know his full name was Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, which is better than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Fitzgerald?) was right, look around Houston for people who are different. They are rich, and there are a lot of them. This year we rank eighth among the top 20 cities in the world with the most millionaires. We know this because the Henley Global Report counted them. New York City had the most, then Tokyo and next is the San Francisco Bay Area with Silicon Valley. Then come London, Singapore and, in sixth place, Los Angeles and Malibu. Chicago ranks seventh and Houston is No. 8.

Indeed, in 2022, U.S. cities dominate the world’s top number in millionaires with six American cities listed. Incidentally, when it comes to billionaires, with 48, Texas ranks third behind California with 124 and New York with 93.

Who are these rich people around Houston? Some may flaunt their wealth by zipping through red lights, cutting you off on the freeways and honking madly behind you because you don’t immediately jackrabbit forward when the light turns green, all the while sporting a 100 Club sticker on the back windshield of their Lamborghini Aventador. No, those are the new rich who, when oil goes to 50 cents a barrel, will be the new poor.

Houston’s super-rich are usually quiet, kind and low profile. You could accompany a Realtor and drive down River Oaks Boulevard while she ticks off the names of the owners of those huge mansions and you wouldn’t recognize a single name. They don’t need the publicity.

Not only in Houston, but we have a lot of rich people throughout Texas — those 48 billionaires have a net worth of $176.1 billion. Almost half derive their wealth from the energy industry. But the richest Texan is trying to put that industry in mothballs. He’s Elon Musk, who owns the electric car company Telsa. He is estimated to be worth $213.9 billion. Musk is now the richest person in the entire world. He lives in that sleepy fishing village on the Colorado River — Austin.

As the richest Texan, Musk replaces another non-oily Texan: Alice Walton of Fort Worth, worth $51.4 billion. She is the only daughter of Walmart’s founder, Sam Walton. Among other Lone Star stars is Michael Dell ($32.3 billion), Dallas Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones ($8.6 billion), Houston’s own Dan Friedkin ($3.3 billion, who owns Gulf States Toyota), Janice McNair ($4 billion, widow of Bob McNair, owns the Houston Texans) and Richard Kinder ($7.5 billion, energy and pipelines). This makes Kinder the richest Houstonian.

Incidentally, as for those super-rich Texans not getting wealthy from petroleum. I once interviewed that old wildcatter Glenn McCarthy. I opined that, being a journalist, I wasn’t in his trade. “Son,” he said, “we’re ALL in the oil business.” I guess some of those shoppers at Walmart work for ExxonMobil.

What do these wealthy do with their money? They have contributed to the city’s betterment. They donated to the Mecom Fountain, the George R. Brown Convention Center (his company donated six of the 11 blocks required to build it) and, of course, the Hobby and Bush Intercontinental airports — nice gifts to the city from those families. M.L. Westheimer was an early entrepreneur who built a five-mile shell road from his home and businesses far west of the city (we now call it the Galleria) into the town, then gave the road to Houston in 1894. And thank you, LBJ, for donating the Johnson Space Center.

Enron paid to have that baseball stadium sport its name, but the title went to corporate jail. The Coca-Cola Co. stepped in and we have Minute Maid Park. NRG Stadium, formerly Reliant Stadium, is self-explanatory. Houston’s biggest donor was William Marsh Rice, who endowed Rice University. In gratitude, because Rice once owned slaves, in recent times students demanded his statue be moved from its prominent place on campus to the hall containing all the Owls’ football national championship trophies.

Howard Hughes did not try to buy the city’s naming rights so he could change the title to Hughes Town.

But as we can see, Houston is full of the filthy — and not so filthy — rich who are different only because they have more money. I got it straight from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Fitzgerald.

Lynn Ashby is a Houston-based columnist. Contact him at ashby2@comcast.net.

Recommended for you

(0) entries

Sign the guestbook.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.