SHANNON AND TED SKOKOS: “What Can I Do For My Community?”
In May, attorney/investor Ted Skokos’ love for racing cars nearly did him in when his Ferrari slammed sideways into a wall going 85 miles per hour at California’s Infineon Raceway. Ted’s wife, Shannon, also an attorney and a former Miss Arkansas, was in the stands and within seconds was scaling a 10-foot-high wall to get to Ted, who was unconscious. Not only did the accident end Ted’s racing days—and nearly kill him—it illustrates how Ted and Shannon are inseparable in their lives and decisions.
Before even meeting in 1999, they shared a common struggle for education. Following his freshman year at the University of Arkansas, Ted’s grades faltered and his father cut him off. To survive Ted held multiple jobs, including managing an apartment complex. Shannon, who says that her mom made most of her clothes and that eating out “was a really big deal,” entered beauty pageants to get scholarship money to pay for her education at the University of Arkansas.
These early experiences in achieving education—as well as their commitment to Dallas—have been driving forces in the couple’s philanthropic endeavors. From a $500,000 grant given to Super Bowl XLV’s SLANT 45 program to underwriting college-bound students, they are personally involved with the progress of their investments. When the couple gave $10 million to the new AT&T Performing Arts Center, the center named the stage at the Winspear Opera House and the pavilion at the Annette Strauss Artist Square in their honor.
“If you have the ability to help someone else, it is your responsibility to do it,” Shannon says. “We should make sure that when we leave this world, we leave it better than we found it. It can’t be about me, me, me; what have you done for me lately? It should be about what can I do for my community?”
BOBBY B. LYLE: “You Get Started Early”
Time and again, event organizers have learned that honoring Bobby B. Lyle is a tricky proposition. First you have to get past his well-known humility. Then you have to get on the “wait list” for an opening on Bobby’s 24/7 schedule. And, finally, you face the daunting task of recounting his long history of accomplishments, both professionally and personally.
Yes, he’s more than distinguished himself as an educator and mentor, and his success with such enterprises as Lyco Energy Corp., 1-800-Flowers, and Cheddars Restaurant has allowed him to want for little. But his involvement in the world of philanthropy is mind-boggling: Southern Methodist University (he’s given more than $3.4 million for the Cox School of Business and the Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering), The Salvation Army (more than $1 million), and the Boy Scouts of America (more than $1 million) are just a few of his endeavors. Vastly unassuming, he is courted by the high and mighty of nonprofits like Communities Foundation and the Trinity Trust as much for his strategic brainpower and ability to inspire others as for his financial support.
In many ways, his life shouldn’t have taken this path. After his father died when Bobby was 3 months old, this only child might have been satisfied with far less. But thanks to his hardworking mother, Lucille, and “lots of aunts and uncles who were working-class folks” in Eldorado, Ark., he learned an important lesson early: “taking care of the community.” From joining his uncle to “raise” a church as a mere boy to initiating a program of SMU business students when he was 29 to work with South Dallas minority businessmen back in the 1970s, he recognized the power of people coming together for the good of others.
“I would hope people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s get it,” the father of two stresses. “That they understand that there is a place for them in this whole area of philanthropy, and it’s not that you have to wait until you make a lot of money and you give it away. No, you get started early and learn the community.”
DIANE AND HAL BRIERLEY: “Giving … Can Be Addictive”
In 1987, relative newlyweds Diane and Hal Brierley were preoccupied with growing Brierley + Partners and “really had not gotten that involved with the community,” according to Diane. But then an especially creative invitation to the Dallas Theater Center’s Dickens of a Christmas was the carrot that got the Northeastern-born couple to attend the DTC’s black-tie dinner. The night of the event Diane approached one of the volunteers about getting involved. “They handed [Diane] a pen and said, ‘Could you please help with the auction?’ ” Hal says with a chuckle. “Diane went to work that night.” What really impressed the Brierleys, though, was the next day, when someone from the DTC called to follow up. After that call, the Brierleys were hooked. A relationship grew that’s resulted in their contributing well more than $1 million to the center over time.
“This is the easiest city in the country to quickly become a part of the community if you become philanthropically involved,” Hal says. “You have to get involved with either time or money.”
Diane, a former travel agent, and her Harvard MBA husband are well-known for being generous not just financially but personally. Their main endeavors have been the arts (AT&T Performing Arts Center, Shakespeare Dallas, The Dallas Opera, Dallas Symphony Association, TACA), animals (the Dallas Zoo and the SPCA), healthcare (American Cancer Society, Baylor Medical Center, UT Southwestern Medical Center), education (Harvard, Regis College, the University of Maryland), and promoting North Texas (Super Bowl XLV).
“There is a characteristic to giving that can be addictive in two ways,” says Hal, the third son of Depression-era parents. “One, the organizations that you give to quickly become dependent. And it’s very hard once you start giving to decide you’re not going to give to a cause anymore, and you have to be very unhappy with them to decide to stop. The people who have discovered the joys of giving find it as satisfying as consuming.” Adds Diane: “You know you’re making a difference for others.”
LEE ANN AND ALAN WHITE: “We Get Back Tenfold What We Give”
Lee Ann and Alan White have firsthand experience in supporting and benefiting from philanthropy. It was 20 years ago, during her previous marriage to a Dallas plastic surgeon, that Lee Ann was confronted with the fact that her son Michael was struggling with alcohol and drug abuse. Suddenly she found herself divorced and trying to make ends meet while helping Michael conquer his demons. Then, in 2002, her life changed when she married Alan, a successful Lubbock banker. With Alan joining them on a journey that saw Michael in and out of treatment centers, Lee Ann’s son became sober five years ago, thanks to the 12-step program.
Says Lee Ann, a native of Monette, Ark.: “For me, I felt like it was my responsibility to give back and to help other people who suffer with this same type of disease.” Her solution was to throw herself into a record-breaking fundraising effort for CARE (Chemical Awareness Resources Education) with Alan by her side.
But that shouldn’t surprise anyone. “Alan has been in the banking business for over 30 years, and he’s always felt it was very important to give back to the community,” Lee Ann says of her husband, who started out as a part-time teller while attending Texas Tech University and eventually founded PlainsCapital Bank.
Since moving the PlainsCapital headquarters from Lubbock to Dallas in 2001, the Whites’ involvement in the community has gone beyond financial support. They’ve provided elbow grease and brainpower for Baylor Medical Center, Dallas Arboretum, Super Bowl XLV, CARE, Crystal Charity Ball, Cattle Baron’s, the Laura W. Bush Institute, Texas Tech, and Highland Park Methodist.
Another resource that the Whites bring to their philanthropic endeavors: their connections. Friends like Gene and Jerry Jones and Madeleine and T. Boone Pickens respect and trust Lee Ann and Alan for their knowledge and experience in working with nonprofits.
But philanthropy, the Whites admit, is a two-way street. “It’s a learning curve for me,” Lee Ann says. “Just like anything else, we get back tenfold what we give.”
NANCY AND JEREMY HALBREICH: “A Common DNA of Caring For Others”
To outside observers, Nancy and Jeremy Halbreich lead a charmed life. Frequently in the society pages and on power-couple lists, the husband-wife duo’s dossier includes such accomplishments as her Phi Beta Kappa key; his Harvard diploma; and their successful associations with the Dallas Morning News and the Chicago Sun-Times (Jeremy) and Heritage Auction Galleries (Nancy).
Pull back the impressive gift wrap, though, and you discover two people from totally different backgrounds who share a “common DNA of caring for others.” The couple invests, financially and emotionally, in social issues (Family Gateway), healthcare (UT Southwestern Medical Center, Parkland Hospital, and John Hopkins Bayview Medical Center), education (The University of Texas, The Hockaday School, and Harvard University), and the arts (The Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Theater Center, TACA, and the AT&T Performing Arts Center).
The daughter of Ted and the late Annette Strauss, Nancy says involvement in philanthropy was a way of life in the comfortable Strauss household. Over the years her efforts evolved into a passion for and a commitment to numerous worthy causes like the Parkland Foundation. “Every great city has to have a great public hospital,” she explains, much like a chairman of the board. “Taxes only support 38 cents on the dollar of the care we give.”
Jeremy’s childhood experience in “philanthropy” was a far cry from Nancy’s. Despite his Ivy League credentials and various executive positions, Jeremy did not grow up as a child of affluence. Rather, his parents were Jewish immigrants who survived the Holocaust. After meeting in a displaced persons’ camp, they eventually moved to California to open a picture-frame shop. “They never had a lot of means, but they believed education was everything and saved for their two children,” Nancy recalls.
Another priority in the Halbreich home was helping others. “Even though they didn’t have a lot monetarily, they still had more than others,” Nancy adds. “It was not called philanthropy. It was just giving to this person because they needed something.”