Scope and Contents
Woodson's business diaries describe his daily business as the chief operating officer of American General, an insurance company founded by Gus Wortham. The diaries range in date from 1954-1979 and describe the growth of this originally small company into one of the largest insurance companies in the world, being traded on the NYSE and possessing more than $5 billion in assets. Woodson's original entires were dictated to a tape recorder after Woodson's meetings, then transcribed by his secretary and bound. Diaries for 1977 and 1978 v.1 are not present in this collection. Subjects include daily business schedule, meeting notes, decisions large and small, travel schedules, interactions with staff, and many more details which come together to tell the story of Woodson's role in the dramatic growth of American General.
Permission to publish from the Benjamin N. Woodson business diaries must be obtained from the Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library, Rice University.
Biographical / Historical
Benjamin N. "Woody" Woodson was born in Altoona, Kansas. His family moved often during his childhood, and Woodson graduated high school in Omaha, Nebraska. He then went to work for the Union Pacific Railroad as a typist, and became Nebraska's champion typist while still in his teens. At 19, he began his insurance career as a stenographer for Bankers Reserve Life, a small company in Omaha, and quickly became an agent.
In 1928, Woodson moved to Mutual Trust in Chicago, where he spent eight years rising through the ranks to regional director. During this time, he met his first wife, the late Grace Cook. The couple were married in 1930.
Continuing to expand his career, Woodson became the founder and president of one trade association and trustee of another, developing training methods and spreading them across the nation. The Woodsons relocated to New York City, and in 1953, the founder of American General, Gus Wortham, initiated a conversation with Woodson which resulted in Woodson taking the role of President of American General and moving to Houston, Texas in July 1953.
As president of the then small company which only wrote policies in Texas, Woodson helped launch an aggressive acquisition plan. The company grew from $48 million in assets to $5.3 billion and was listed in "Fortune Magazine" as one of the fifty largest financial service companies. In 1972, Woodson succeeded Gus Wortham as the company's second chairman of the board and chief executive officer. In 1978, he retired, but kept an office went to work selling insurance policies for an additional 15 years.
In 1981, Woodson's wife, Grace, died after heart surgery. Woodson remarried Audrey Watson, an old friend whose husband had recently passed away. The two couples had known each other since their days in Chicago, fifty years before.
Woodson gave back to the Houston community very generously, donating funds to build the "Houston Post" building (currently the "Houston Chronicle" building at Hwy 59 and Loop 610), and working with many other Houston luminaries including Gus Wortham and Bill Hobby to faciliate the city's cultural growth. He also served as a regent for the University of Houston, as director for the Society for the Performing Arts, chairman of Houston's Chamber of Commerce, and founded Houston's Forum Club. He also served on the board of governors for Rice University, and also contributed financially to Rice during his lifetime and through his estate. The Woodson Research Center is named in honor of Benjamin N. Woodson's very kind support.
Woodson died July 17, 2001 In Houston.
Sources: Obituaries in "Houston Chronicle," July 18, 2001.