Tom Dunning seemed amazed. The longtime civic leader was looking on as a 17-piece mariachi band performed in the lobby of the Hilton Anatole, part of the entertainment for the 36th Annual H. Neil Mallon Award Dinner on Friday, November 1. “I’ve never seen a mariachi band that big!” Tom marveled, smiling slightly.
While the group, called Mariachi Sol Azteca, was indeed large, it underscored the international nature of the evening’s event, presented by the World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth. Also entertaining the 920 guests were Indian Classical dancers from the Ellora Center for Performing Arts, as well as instrumentalists of Chilean and Chinese descent.
The global orientation of North Texas was a constant theme of the Mallon Award event, whose highlight was presentation of the 2019 award to former Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings. In a video during the dinner, for example, Mike said, “We have an economic culture that invites foreigners.” Speakers continually stressed the importance of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, the fact that nearly a third of our entrepreneurs are immigrants, and the vitality of DFW’s consular corps. Announced Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson at one point: “One of my top goals as mayor is to increase the size of the diplomatic community here.”
With mover-and-shaker guests in attendance including R. Gerald Turner, Donna Wilhelm, Marianne and Roger Staubach, Selwyn Razor, Bobby Lyle, Mary McDermott Cook, Dan Patterson, Trammell S. Crow, Richard Benson, Sean Donohue and Francisco de la Torre Galindo, the fundraiser was co-chaired by Kathryn and Craig Hall, with Hunt Consolidated Inc. serving as the presenting sponsor. Others prominent onstage during the evening were KVIL’s Mark Schectman, who acted as emcee; WAC Chairman Jorge Baldor; WAC President and CEO Jim Falk; and Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, who was also the evening’s honorary chair.
Recalling the many international trips she took with Mike representing North Texas, Betsy joked about the Dallas mayor: “He couldn’t stand it that I could drink him under the table.” Turning serious, she praised Mike’s “steady hand of love and voice of unity” during events like the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination, the Ebola crisis and the 2016 Dallas police shootings. With that, Jorge and Lucy Billingsley formally presented the Mallon Award to Mike, who said to the latter, “You’re the eye candy,” as they posed for photos with the trophy.
Next, Mike took to the lectern to acknowledge Cowtown’s mayor, saying, “Betsy, I didn’t know how sweet you could be!” before proclaiming, “I accept this award for every person in this community who was born in another country.” The former mayor also recognized Dirk Nowitzki (a former recipient of the Mallon award), Mike’s ex-employers Tracy Locke and Pizza Hut, and “my friend, Skip Hollandsworth.”
Then the ex-mayor and Skip, an executive editor at Texas Monthly magazine, sat down for a 20-minute talk. During their freewheeling conversation, these nuggets were revealed.
- Mike’s father was a journalism professor at Skip’s alma mater, Texas Christian University, and actually inspired Skip to become a journalist.
- The former mayor arrived in Dallas in 1976 with “a couple of hundred dollars” in his pocket. When he got here, he said, “Dallas looked like a big gallon of white milk. And I like milk!”
- Asked what else attracted him to Dallas, Mike replied, “Bidness. We did bidness in Dallas. This is the place where people come to make their fortunes.”
- Asked when it first occurred to him to run for public office, Mike said, “When I got done with Pizza Hut” — he was president there from 1997 to 2002 — “we felt so blessed, I thought surely I can give back something to the city.”
- Spiritual life animates the ex-mayor. “Both my grandpas were preachers,” he said, and so he “went to church a lot.” Cracked Skip: “No wonder you drank so much.”
- When he became mayor in 2011, Dallas was still known largely for JFK and J.R. Ewing, Mike said, adding, “I thought we’re a little more than that!” As a result he focused on leveraging DFW Airport, for example, securing a non-stop flight from there to Beijing in 2015. “That was a big, big thing for us,” he said.
- Skip parried, “You praised Toyota for coming to Plano.” Explained Mike: AT&T moving to Dallas from San Antonio “was a major thing for us, and this [Toyota] was the second [big] move. Dallas didn’t have the land for them. But the benefit was enormous. Our competition needs to be Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Denver, Minneapolis, San Francisco. The Toyota head man said, ‘We’re moving to Dallas!’ They didn’t know the lines. It’s all of our jobs to be out saying how great Dallas is.”
- Asked what the failed bid to land Amazon’s second headquarters taught him, Mike replied, “That we can play with the big boys. We still have space, and we can do big things.” He added that Dallas continues to need the “scale of tech workers” required by an Amazon, although the city’s school system is improving and preparing more students for college.
- In terms of his “wishes” for Dallas, Mike said, “I’d stay with the education thing. We need to get 3- and 4-year-olds into pre-K,” improve students’ elementary-school reading levels, and focus on AA as well as four-year degrees.
In the end, Skip had the last word. “Thanks for coming here with two hundred bucks in your pocket,” he said to Mike. “It was a good investment.”
Previous winners of the Mallon Award, which recognizes individuals who enhance DFW’s international stature, include Ron Kirk, Rex Tillerson, Ross Perot and Ross Perot Jr., Raymond D. Nasher, F. Trammell Crow, Stanley Marcus and Ebby Halliday Acers and Maurice Acers.
* Photo provided by World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth