Walter "Walt" J. Humann


Walt Humann

Prominent businessman and public servant Walter J. Humann is chiefly recognized for creating the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) system and helping desegregate Dallas schools with vision and skillful diplomacy. For these and other accomplishments he will receive the 2012 J. Erik Jonsson Ethics Award at a noon luncheon at the Belo Mansion April 2.

Presented each year by SMU’s Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics & Public Responsibility, the J. Erik Jonsson Ethics Award is given to individuals who exemplify the spirit of moral leadership and public virtue. In Humann’s case, that involves his work in improving education, race relations, government organization, urban planning and infrastructure in North Texas. It also recognizes his time as a successful businessman; Humann led his own firm, WJH Corporation, in the 1990s and held top management positions in other major corporations.

Longtime SMU board member Ray Hunt, this year’s J. Erik Jonsson Ethics Award event chair, worked withHumann during the awardee’s time (1975-92) as president of Hunt Investments and chair of the executive committee of Hunt Consolidated, Inc., one of the largest privately held energy, real estate, agribusiness and investment companies in America. Hunt was also a partner in Humann’s WJH Corporation.

“Having worked closely with both Walt and Erik Jonsson on many projects, I can say that Walt’s spirit of public service and responsibility to his community is cut from the same cloth as Mayor Jonsson,” Hunt says. “Everything Walt has done for Dallas and its citizens, not to mention in his private business, has been conceived and executed with the highest level of ethical conduct and moral responsibility. I believe that there is no one in Dallas more deserving of this honor than Walt.”

“Humann was selected for the honor because of his lifelong commitment to improving the quality of life for the Dallas community,” says Maguire Center Director Rita Kirk.

“With quiet tenacity and perceptive vision, he played a pivotal role in the desegregation of the Dallas Independent School District by founding the Dallas Alliance Education Task Force, thereby enriching the education and lives of thousands of children.” As Humann told D Magazine in 1985, “I felt strongly that the way to go was by voluntary intermixing of the races where you have quality education at the end of the bus rides.”

“With everything he’s done,” Kirk says, “Walt upholds the tradition of excellence that the J. Erik Jonsson Ethics Award was created to recognize.”

Nationally, Humann was selected in 1970 as one of the “Ten Outstanding Young Men of America,” primarily for chairing the committee to create the U.S. Postal Service while serving as a White House Fellow (the first from Texas). The former deficit-ridden, politically driven Post Office Department was replaced that same year with a service run more like a public corporation after the largest federal government reorganization in U.S. history. During his time in Washington Humann also co-authored with Doris Kearns (now Goodwin) and others a report on the need for student leadership presented to President Lyndon Johnson in 1968 — one of the most turbulent years in U.S. history, marked by massive student anti-war protests. The report was titled, “Confrontation or Participation: The Federal Government and the Student Community.”

Regionally, the “father of DART” led the successful redevelopment of the North Central Corridor, with Central Expressway and the DART rail line helping solve the nation’s “oldest living highway controversy.” Humann also helped mediate the dispute of Love Field between the mayors of Dallas and Fort Worth in the 1970s and ’80s. He chaired the Jubilee Project in the late 1990s, helping revitalize a 62-block inner-city Dallas neighborhood, and wrote the illustrated children’s book, The Little Crescent Moon and the Bright Evening Star. He also co-authored D: The Book of Dallas.

Humann holds a physics degree from MIT, an MBA from Harvard, and a Juris Doctor degree from SMU Dedman School of Law (’67). He has received numerous business and public service awards, including SMU’s Distinguished Alumni Award, Spirit of the Centennial Award and Dedman School of Law Distinguished Alumni Award.