“And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
— 2 Timothy 2:2
“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on a solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters raise and the winds beat against the house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock.”
— Matthew 7:24-25
“To honor and recognize generosity and vision.”
These words that appear on the Foundation’s informational Web page about the Helen W. Watt Society are personified by the longtime member of First Methodist Church of Fort Worth for whom it was named. To tell the story of how the Society came to be, I would first like to tell you a little about who Helen was and describe the impactful life that she lived.
Helen Wallace was born in 1902 in the small town of Mayfield, Kentucky, during the era when milk was delivered by horse-and-buggy and the average wage in the Unites States was 22 cents an hour. At age nine, she and her family moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she spent her childhood. She graduated from Ward–Belmont College in Nashville and the University of Oklahoma; she was a member of Mortar Board and Kappa Kappa Gamma.
During her years at Oklahoma, Helen visited friends in Fort Worth many times. On one particular visit, the paths of W.R. Billy “Bob” Watt and Helen Wallace crossed. A courtship followed, and the two were married in 1930 after Helen’s graduation from OU and her move to Texas. At the time, Mr. Watt, whom Helen called Bill, owned the Yellow Cab Company, one he ran for more than 20 years. At the request of Amon G. Carter, Mr. Watt became president of the Fort Worth Stock Show in 1946, a position he would hold until his death in 1978. In 1950, he was also elected the general manager.
Helen and Bill lived on the West Side of Fort Worth and together raised two boys, Bob Jr. and Tom. In addition to being busy with the children, Helen was a devout Methodist. During her time in Oklahoma, Helen was a member of First United Methodist Church in Tulsa. Upon moving to Fort Worth, Helen had become a member of First Methodist Church of Fort Worth. Helen was an active church member, teaching Sunday School for many years. Together, the whole family attended church each Sunday.
In 1964, when the Foundation was created, Helen was intrigued by the new endowment. She soon began participating in fundraising efforts for the Foundation, eventually serving as the first female director elected to the board. By 1976, the Foundation’s assets were $150,000. Through inspiration and hard work, Helen went about cultivating a generous gift of oil and gas assets from Mrs. A.J. Broderick. She was equally instrumental in prompting another major gift, one from the Ballard family, investors in the Southland Corporation in its early years. Southland Corporation was the parent company of 7-Eleven.
Always, Helen’s goal was to ensure the future of her church. She saw the Foundation as the indelible and ever-present supporting entity. Her service sparked a tradition that her son Bob Watt Jr., a current member of the Foundation’s board, carries forward today as a board member himself.
“My mother’s work benefited from her reputation in the community. Her integrity and others’ trust in her made it easy for her to contact individuals by phone, quickly set up appointments, and go visit with them,” Bob said. “Interestingly, she was not bashful at all about calling on people! That made her fundraising efforts very successful.”
The Broderick and Ballard gifts and others generated through Helen’s work set the stage for the Foundation’s exponential growth in the 1990s.
“Her involvement with the church and the Foundation were very precious to her,” Bob Jr. recently said. “But she was private about her endeavors, never seeking the limelight, recognition, or applause.”
Helen was a sensitive, perceptive, and disciplined individual, one who was well-respected by all throughout her lifetime. Though Helen passed away in 1997, her legacy of hard work to raise funds for the Foundation lives on.
Her efforts created our planned giving platform: Based on her groundwork, the Foundation established the Helen W. Watt Society (HWWS) in 2006 to honor those who make a planned gift to the Foundation to sustain the church’s future. Helen W. Watt Society membership is open to anyone who advises the Foundation of a plan to establish a legacy gift to the Foundation. Legacy gifts are ones made through a bequest in a will or living trust, a charitable gift annuity, or designation as beneficiary of a retirement plan or life insurance policy. Such endowment gifts will benefit the church for countless generations to come, mirroring the vision that Helen had for the Foundation’s future many years ago. Currently, there are dozens of HWWS members. In fact, the Society and its members will be honored at a dinner in October to celebrate the Society’s 10th anniversary.
“My hope is that the Foundation will continue to clarify, as my mother was able to do with her contacts, that the interplay of the church and the Foundation assures sound financial infrastructure for First United Methodist Church of Fort Worth,” Bob said. “This relationship between church and Foundation was very important to my mother.”
Revenues from the Helen W. Watt Society bequests support the church in so many ways. On the governance page on our website, you can download the Church Spending Report about how the church uses Foundation distributions.
Bob Watt said it best: “For the Foundation to be successful, we must have support from the members of the church and the people in the community. The Foundation’s success means that the church will survive and thrive.”
Helen’s service solidified the strong base on which donors are able to build every day. Her exemplary life models for us that through selfless service, we will certainly be able to overcome rain, torrents, and floodwaters, as St. Matthew says above. And, because of the Foundation, we need not fear collapse, because the Foundation is built on bedrock of hard work and loyal hearts.