South Texas has lost one of its most distinguished sons. Rancher, oilman, conservationist, public servant and philanthropist, Dr. Francisco (“Frank”) Daniel Yturria went to be with the Lord on November 26, after 95 amazing years of life.
Born in 1923 in Austin, Frank was the first of three children in the family of Fausto Yturria, Sr., a lawyer, and the former Marion Alexander.
Frank and his siblings, Fausto, Jr. and Marion, known as “Pansy,” grew up in a bilingual ranching family in the Los Ebanos neighborhood of Brownsville − the city Frank would call home for the rest of his life.
He attended Central Grammar School and Brownsville High School on Palm Boulevard, where he played football and starred on the championship varsity team as a spare-framed, 140-pound linebacker.
Frank’s father, Fausto Yturria, undertook to make his older boy a vaquero and succeeded wonderfully. As Frank wrote in his recent memoir, he always considered himself foremost a South Texas cowboy.
In 1941, Frank and rodeo legend, Rex Rossi, joined Colonel Jim Eskew's traveling Wild West Show, performing with the likes of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, and delighting audiences in arenas all over the East and in Texas with their trick roping and wild bull riding. On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor Day, they performed their last show together.
Frank entered Texas A&M and received a degree in veterinary medicine. He trained also in the infantry, artillery and cavalry. In 1947, he was appointed A&M’s Cadet Captain of Cavalry and earned a pilot’s license at about the same time.
In November of 1946, not long before his graduation from A&M, Frank met the love of his life − an Alabama beauty named Mary Elizabeth Altman, who had recently moved to Brownsville, where she would be based as a stewardess for Pan American Airways. On May 9, 1947, Mary's 22nd birthday, they were married at a small church in Bryan. Frank’s roommate was his best man.
After honeymooning in Havana, Cuba, Frank and Mary returned to Brownsville to live for a time in the small apartment above the Yturria Mercantile Store on Elizabeth Street, opened in the 1850s by Frank’s great-grandfather, Francisco Yturria. On August 31, 1948, they welcomed their first child, Mary Eleanor, and then on January 21, 1953, came her little sister, Dorothy Elizabeth.
Frank developed a passion for politics in the early 1950s and worked hard to elect one of his heroes, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, to the presidency in 1952. The following year, Ike named Yturria to his Collector of Customs for District 23. Shortly thereafter, then Senator Lyndon Johnson worked some mischief on behalf of his candidate for the job, sending Frank, an Air Force Reservist, on a surprise two-year assignment to the Philippines. In fact, the future president did Frank a favor. He and Mary loved the two years they spent in Manila with the girls. Among the many Filipino friends they made there were Tito and Tessie Yulo and their family. Frank and Mary later got to know President Ferdinand Marcos and First Lady Imelda Marcos, who also became their fast friends.
Frank enrolled in a master's program at the University of the Philippines where, in May of 1955, he was awarded a master’s degree in Political Science. He also enjoyed a brief career on the stage in the Manila Theater Guild production of “Caine Mutiny Court-Martial.”
Frank and Mary also founded the first Republican Party in Cameron County in 1952, opening the door for future political involvement in local and national politics. Frank would later be appointed Chairman of the Inter-American Foundation (IAF) by President George H.W. Bush and re-appointed by President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush. The IAF’s mission is to fund grassroots economic development in Latin American countries.
Frank may have been first of all a rancher, but as he aged, philanthropy and conservation were equally important to him and Mary. Among his many projects, he helped lead the restoration of the Cameron County Courthouse, also known as the Dancy Building; successfully lobbied for the restoration of the Bahia Grande into its native estuarine habitat; fought, along with Mary, for preservation of the Palo Alto Battlefield; and, most recently, repurposed his ranch as a wildlife refuge. Frank also helped restore the Aplomado falcon to South Texas and was a prime force in the effort to save Texas’ dwindling population of ocelots, a colony of which now happily occupies his ranch.
His many honors include the 2017 International Award for Excellence in Conservation by the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT) and the 2010 Governor's Award for Historic Preservation. He and Mary were instrumental in establishing the historic Brownsville Museum. Frank and Mary were also touched when, in 1992, the Brownsville Independent School District named the new elementary school The Frank & Mary Yturria Elementary School. Both were honored as a Knight and Dame of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem and Malta in the island of Rhodes in Greece. Frank and Mary were also members of the Church of the Advent for many decades.
Frank founded the National Bank of Commerce in Brownsville in 1965 and The Texas Bank and Trust in 1978.
Frank was an avid horseman and found great joy in playing polo and riding horses. He was one of the founding members of the El Dorado Polo Club and the Houston Polo Club.
Frank and Mary also loved travel. In 1997, Frank, Mary and their grandson, George, circumnavigated the world. The tour included visits to Japan, Hong Kong, China, Mongolia and Russia, crossing Siberia aboard the Nostalgic Istanbul Orient Express.
Above all, Frank was a family man who adored his wife, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who, in turn, adored him. Frank is preceded in death by his father, Fausto Yturria, Sr., and mother, Marion Alexander Yturria. He is survived by Mary Altman Yturria, his loving wife of 71 years, and his sister, Marion Kimbro Smith, brother Fausto Yturria, Jr., daughters Mary Eleanor Yturria Wilkerson and Dorothy Yturria Hablinski, sons-in-law Dale Gene Wilkerson and Mark Phillip Hablinski, grandson George Rice Farish II, granddaughters Leslie Farish Cammuso and Alexandra Farish Guill, granddaughter-in-law Maribel De La Garza Farish, grandsons-in-law Christopher Patrick Cammuso and John Landrum Guill, and great-grandsons Daniel Lanham Farish, Isaac Francis Farish, Colin Frank Cammuso and Alexander Yturria Cammuso.
Frank's family is eternally grateful to Kathleen Hoover, Frank's loyal secretary and friend for over 50 years; to Juan and Antonia Hernandez and the entire staff of the Yturria Ranch for their selfless dedication for 40 years to the land Frank so loved; to Raymond Uresti, a devoted assistant to Frank and Mary for over 30 years; to Dr. Roberto Robles for his friendship and loving care of Frank for many decades; and to the doctors, nurses and caregivers at St. Luke's Hospital in Houston.
Frank's family humbly requests that those who wish to honor Frank do so by making a charitable contribution to the “Frank Yturria Fund for Ocelot Conservation,” c/o Dr. Michael Tewes, Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute, 700 University Blvd, MSC 218, Texas A&M University-,Kingsville, TX 78363. www.javelinagiving.org/give-online. For additional information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
A funeral service will be held on Saturday, December 1 at 10 a.m. at Church of the Advent, Episcopal, 104 W. Elizabeth Street, Brownsville, Texas 78520, with a reception immediately following the service in Parish Hall. Additional parking will be available at Sams Memorial Stadium parking lot. Frank will be buried at a private ceremony at the Yturria Ranch.
May you be blessed with grace and peace in this season. You are in our prayers.
Clint & Laurel HanceAustin, TX
We were so sorry to hear of the passing of Dad's last best friend. We will continue his efforts in restoring ocelote populations in S. Texas. God bless.
Howard V Reed Jr, Carol Reed and our Mother CeciliaTampico, Brownsville and Austin, TX
Our most sincere condolences from all of us (Kathleen Hoover's family).
Anthony Simmons FamilyMcConnelsville, OH
We're so sorry for your loss.
Dale and Sue PhillipsPort Isabel, TX
We are sorry for your loss. A great man has left our presence but his spirit will live on forever in the good works he started.
Darro & Karen KnowltonLaguna Vista, TX
My sincere condolences to the Yturria family.
Ondina P. DiazLos Fresnos, TX
Yturria family, my prayers are with you. What a full life Mr. Yturria had. He will be missed.
lizette tandyGeorgetown, TX
Our deepest condolences for your family's loss. May your heart and soul find peace and comfort. Please remember that you are not alone...
Gustavo DeleonBROWNSVILLE, TX
Frank's impacts of a life well lived and his passion for wildlife conservation will live on through future generations. I extend to Mary and his children my condolences, and Express my sincerely Hope's that they and his grandchildren and great grandchildren remember him well with fond memories. Sincerely, Shad Nelson, Dean, Dick & Mary Lewis Kleberg College of Ag & Natural Resources. TAMU-Kingsville.
Shad NelsonCorpus Christi, TX
To the Yturria family,
My sincerest condolencenes. I still remember running into Mr. And Mrs. Yturria at Mariposas in San Antonio around five years ago.
So wonderful to visit with them. Love and prayers to all of you.
Vivian Tucker Zapata
Vivian Tucker ZapataSan Antonio, TX