Society / Profiles

Legendary Businesswoman, Oil Heiress and Kind Social Force Dies in Dallas

How Caroline Rose Hunt Changed the City and Hotels Forever While Living in a Small One Bedroom Suite

BY // 11.14.18

Caroline Rose Hunt, who died Tuesday night at 95, was the daughter of Texas oilman H.L. Hunt and one of the richest women in the world. But it wasn’t wealth or the Hunt name that defined her — she lived an unassuming lifestyle marked by generosity, kindness, and integrity, according to those who knew her. She is also remembered for her significant contributions to Dallas, both as a savvy businesswoman and as a dedicated supporter of numerous charitable causes and the arts.

With a swirl of silver hair and a radiant smile, Hunt was a steel magnolia with a soft inner core, remembers Crawford Brock, owner of luxury retail store Korshak, located inside The Crescent complex. Hunt and The Rosewood Corporation developed the 10-acre, Philip Johnson-designed complex in 1987.

“She was a kind and warm person,” Brock says. “Everyone always says that about her, because it’s true.”

Hunt hired Brock away from Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills to run Korshak, when he was just starting his career. Early on, she invited him to escort her to a small, private dinner hosted by real estate developer Trammell Crow, at his Preston Road estate.

“I was 33 and terrified. You have no idea,” Brock says. “But she talked to me like I was part of the family, and made me feel totally comfortable. That’s how she was.”

Brock purchased Korshak in 2002, an accomplishment he attributes to Hunt’s encouragement and enthusiasm. “She made everyone feel good about what we were doing, and that absolutely gave us confidence that we could conquer anything,” he says.

Hunt’s kind heart was contrasted by an astute head for business. In 1979 she turned a trust given to her by her wildcatter father into The Rosewood Corporation, launching her from heiress to legendary hotelier and real estate developer. Hunt saw possibilities in neglected areas of town, and in the process changed the face of Dallas.

She bought the dilapidated Sheppard King Mansion and surrounding land, converting it into The Mansion on Turtle Creek. Built on a 13-acre car lot, The Crescent development revitalized a deteriorating neighborhood north of downtown, paving the way for a future vibrant Uptown.

Billionaire Smarts

Hunt’s net worth was $1 billion at its height in the late 1980s. She made news when Rosewood Hotels and Resorts sold its Hotel Bel Air in Beverly Hills to a Japanese company for $110 million. She owned and managed 18 properties under the Rosewood Hotels and Resorts umbrella, ultimately selling everything, including interests in the Crescent, in 2011 to a Hong Kong billionaire. She didn’t get emotionally tied to her properties, she once explained, and that allowed her to make profitable business decisions.

She lived for decades in a small, one-bedroom suite at the Hotel Crescent Court. Former columnist Alan Peppard, who frequently covered Hunt and the charities she championed, says she was without pretense.

“How did one contact the great and powerful Caroline Rose Hunt? Call the hotel, ask for her room. Without questions, they connected you and she answered the phone,” Peppard says. “She told me, ‘They screened my calls for a short time, but that was just silly.’”

Caroline Rose Hunt was born in 1923 in El Dorado, Arkansas, to humble beginnings. Her sister Margaret Hunt Hill wrote in a 1994 autobiography that the family borrowed a laundry basket to use as Caroline’s crib. Even after their father struck it rich in an east Texas oil field, and Caroline went on to run a hotel empire, her sister was notoriously thrifty. She flew coach and often wore the same dresses to events for years.

Caroline raised five children with first husband Loyd Sands, keeping house, cooking, and tending the children herself, according Margaret. She had 19 grandchildren and 23 great grandchildren. 

She was generous with others, donating her time and money to many charities and organizations. Those closest to her heart included Dallas CASA, Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden, Dallas Children’s Theater, The Crystal Charity Ball, and Retina Foundation of the Southwest. 

Hunt had an ample sense of humor, was an accomplished gourmet cook, and wrote books — including a cookbook, The Compleat Pumpkin Eater, published in 1980. Of its 440 recipes, a made-up banquet elephant stew for 3,882 people was inserted in the middle of the book as a joke. Her second husband, the late Buddy Schoellkopf, started a helicopter charter company which he named Pumpkin Air in honor of her, and painted his fleet of aircraft orange.

The Texas Business Hall of Fame honored Hunt in 1999, and she received countless awards for her charitable and arts services. Hunt was the first woman deacon at Highland Park Presbyterian Church, where she was a member. She was also a skilled deep sea fisherwoman, and was photographed with an award-winning, 184-pound halibut she’d just landed in Homer, Alaska.

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