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Nancy Hamon Papers Reveal a Texas-Sized Personality

Giving to Central University Libraries

This piece originally appeared in Central University Libraries 2011-2012 Annual Report.


Nancy Hamon donation

A postcard sent from actor and bon vivant Maurice Chevalier to Nancy Hamon (right) in 1961.

When Nancy Hamon died in July 2011, SMU and the greater Dallas community lost a passionate patron of the arts and education. Among Mrs. Hamon’s contributions to the University was a principal gift of $5 million in 1988 to establish the Jake and Nancy Hamon Arts Library.

Those who knew her remember a woman with a Texas-sized personality. As the wife of the late Jake L. Hamon Jr., a legendary oilman, she hosted elaborate theme parties in the 1950s and ’60s that remain vivid in the memories of guests. She also was on a first-name basis with presidents.

“Dear Nancy, I’m happy to tell you that the Bush Library is going to be at SMU, and I look forward to sharing my plans for the library with you ... ,” reads an excerpt from the note handwritten on White House stationery and signed by former President George W. Bush. It is dated February 22, 2008, the day of the announcement that SMU had been selected as the site of the Bush Presidential Center, which is scheduled to open in April 2013.

The letter is just one of many missives to Mrs. Hamon from some of the most influential and famous people of the day that are now housed in the Hamon Library’s Jerry Bywaters Special Collections. Mrs. Hamon’s estate donated her papers and other materials to the library in April, as well as a $1 million gift to process, preserve and exhibit them.

Measuring approximately 32 linear feet – the metric used to quantify archival materials, explains Sam Ratcliffe ’74, head of the Bywaters Special Collections – Mrs. Hamon’s legacy opens a window to the life of a woman who traveled in rare company yet remained grounded in her support for numerous worthy causes. The collection contains considerable correspondence about her philanthropies, says Ratcliffe.

Photograph albums, diaries, appointment calendars and even a few recipes are among the items that paint a vivid portrait of the former Nancy Blackburn, who grew up in San Antonio and exhibited artistic talent in a set of fashion illustrations drawn in her teens. Some materials relating to Mr. Hamon’s long career in the oil business are included in the archive. The founder and owner of Hamon Operating Company died in 1985.

The multifaceted collection will draw researchers interested in “Dallas history, the cultural history of the Southwest and even the history of the Texas oil industry,” Ratcliffe predicts.