Frederick R. "Fred" Meyer, the Dallas businessman who guided the Republican Party to an era of political dominance in Dallas County and Texas, died Sept. 24, 2012, of cancer. He was 84.|
Mr. Meyer was first exposed to active politics as a boy. He passed out cards on Election Day 1934 to help his father – a Republican – run for school board in suburban Chicago.
But it would be 37 years later – when he was a senior vice president helping build Tyler Corp. in Dallas into a Fortune 500 company – that he would be drawn into politics.
A mechanical engineer with a Harvard MBA, Mr. Meyer's venture into Texas politics started at 1972 luncheons, where Republican congressional candidate Alan Steelman spoke. The two men talked after each speech. Mr. Steelman popped the question after the second encounter and asked Mr. Meyer to manage his campaign.
"Of course, we weren't expected to win, but we won, beat Earl Cabell, former mayor of Dallas," Mr. Meyer recalled in 1983.
It was a political epiphany. Mr. Meyer went on to be a delegate to every state Republican convention beginning in 1972. Did he miss the 2012 state convention?
In 1979, he was named chairman of the Republican Party in Dallas County. He is credited with engineering the dramatic turnaround of the Republican Party in Dallas County during his seven years a chairman.
When Mr. Meyer was elected chairman in October 1979, about 10 percent of Dallas County elected officials were Republicans. By the end of his tenure, nearly 80 percent of county elected officials were from the GOP.
While many consider Mr. Meyer to have been a moderate Republican, he supported nominated candidates from across the party spectrum.
"I stay out of primaries," he said in 1983. "My job is to win elections."
Karen Hughes, a former White House adviser to President George W. Bush, was mentored by Meyer.
She worked alongside him as executive director of the state party.
"He was a mentor for me and a key influence in my life, as well as other leaders in the nation," Hughes said. "Fred's leadership was absolutely instrumental in making Texas the Republican Stronghold that it is"
Hughes said Meyer was a terrific fundraiser and used his organizational skills to build the GOP party on the state and local level.
He was also able to talk people into running for office in what was then a Democratic state. Hughes said Meyer also helped recruit folks like Rick Perry to the Republican Party.
"It was very hard in those days to get candidates to run because nobody thought you could win as a Republican," Hughes said.
Meyer also started a group called the "lunch bunch," a group of professionals that met each week to talk about business and politics.
"He really helped develop other leaders," Hughes said. "He was particularly proud of developing women."
Jeanne Johnson Phillips, a top executive at Hunt Oil, was one of the women he helped mentor.
"He really did impact thousands of lives in his lifetime," Phillips said. "He nurtured me as a young fundraiser and was instrumental in me having a presence statewide."
Phillips said Meyer loved reaching the $1 million mark for an individual fundraising event, a large sum during his prime.
In 1990, Phillips said, Meyer coaxed her to move her wedding because it conflicted with a fundraiser he wanted her to help plan.
"I called my fiancé and told him that Fred Meyer needs us to move the wedding one week," she said. "He didn't mind. We both loved Fred."
In 1984, Mr. Meyer was selected as delegate to his party's national convention, which he helped bring to Dallas. He also was a national GOP delegate in 1988 and 1992. Any others?
He also served as chairman of the Republican Host Committee for the party's national 1984 nominating convention in Dallas.
In June 1988, Mr. Meyer was elected chairman of the Republican Party in Texas, and was re-elected to that post in 1990 and 1992.
Meyer also served as Dallas County Party Chairman.
"He was a tireless fundraiser and a tireless worker, often behind the scenes," said state Rep. Dan Branch, D-Dallas. "He was incredibly energetic."
Even at the end of his life, he was raising funds from his hospital bed in Dallas.
Mr. Meyer was born in Highland Park, Ill., where he became a cradle Republican.
"My earliest memories are of being around the radio listening to the Joe Louis fights and to Roosevelt's fireside chats," he said to the DMN in 1983. "We were not Roosevelt supporters, and WPA was known as 'We Pay Always.'"
Mr. Meyer received his bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue University, graduating with high distinction in February 1949. He was president of Pi Tau Sigma and vice president of the Triangle Fraternity, captain of the Purdue Military band and member of Tau Beta Pi.
He held manufacturing jobs with General Electric Co. from February 1949 to September 1956.
He married Barbara Spreuer on Oct. 24, 1953.
Mr. Meyer received a Master of Business Administration degree from Harvard University in 1958, graduating with highest distinction.
He held a number of executive positions – including treasurer – with Aladdin Industries in Nashville, Tenn., before joining Tyler Corp. in Dallas in August 1967. Mr. Meyer was an up-and-coming executive who helped built Tyler Corp., which was created from discarded units of the Ling-Temco-Vought conglomerate.
He bounded up the Tyler Corp. corporate ladder. In 1970, he was named to the executive committee of Tyler's board of directors and shortly there after senior vice president. He served as president and chief operating officer of Tyler Corp. from in July 1983 until December 1986. He continued to work with Tyler Corp. as a consultant until 1989.
In May 1987, he was named president and chief executive officer of Aladdin Industries
That same year, he made an unsuccessful bid to be mayor of Dallas, losing to Annette Strauss.
Mr. Meyer is survived by his wife, Barbara Meyer; a son, Brad Meyer; two daughters, Amy and Cheryl and five grandchildren.
Phillips said that Meyer spent his final days helping others, including the Cooper Institute. He also continued to give advice to his numerous friends.
"He wanted to contribute every minute of his life," she said.
Branch pointed out that Meyer helped elect two presidents from Texas, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
When he visited Meyer just weeks before his death, Branch saw fundraiser goals and assorted charts in the ailing man's hospital room.
"He was making fundraiser calls for the Cooper Institute," Branch said. "He was still working."
Published in Dallas Morning News from Sept. 24 to Oct. 24, 2012