Fred F. Florence was an influential Dallas banker and civic leader who had a tremendous love for people and spent his lifetime enriching the community. In 1956, he established the Florence Foundation to support religious, educational, scientific, and recreational projects to benefit humanity.
Since his death in 1960, Mr. Florence’s children and grandchildren have continued to honor his legacy and drive the foundation’s philosophy of giving. The family recently decided to dissolve the foundation with a final $500,000 gift to Southwestern Medical Foundation. In honor of the tremendous role that Mr. Florence played in the formation, leadership, and growth of Southwestern Medical Foundation, the Foundation will secure matching funds to match this gift and establish a permanent $1 million endowment for the Fred F. Florence Bioinformation Center at UT Southwestern.
Built in 1974, the center was named for Mr. Florence for his significant efforts to support the growth of Southwestern Medical School. The center overlooks the Eugene McDermott Plaza on UT Southwestern’s south campus and houses the library and a variety of clinical and administrative offices. The endowment will help grow and sustain the library as a hub of technology, creativity, and collaboration that supports the curriculum and innovative research of UT Southwestern faculty, students, and staff.
Advancing Medicine in the Southwest
During the late 1930s, many Dallas leaders like Mr. Florence considered care for the sick, the aged, and the needy as a top priority. Dr. Edward H. Cary, a prominent Dallas physician who was considered an elder statesman of American medicine, had a grand vision of advancing medical education and scientific research in the Southwest. Dr. Cary joined forces with Dallas’ leading philanthropist, Karl Hoblitzelle, and in 1939 they secured a charter to create Southwestern Medical Foundation for the purpose of raising money to build and operate a new medical center in Dallas.
Both Dr. Cary and Mr. Hoblitzelle possessed a tremendous gift for inspiring others and used their influence to call the Dallas philanthropic community to action. Upon an invitation from Mr. Hoblitzelle, Mr. Florence took a seat at the table as a founding member of Southwestern Medical Foundation’s Board of Trustees, and they began the monumental task of raising money from the community, purchasing land and medical equipment, securing buildings, and recruiting faculty and students. On July 1, 1943, the historic first class of students began their medical training at Southwestern Medical College.
Paul Harris has been on Southwestern Medical Foundation’s Board of Trustees since 1987. He was president and CEO of the Hoblitzelle Foundation from 1986 to 2017 and has been a Florence Foundation board member for three decades. Mr. Harris describes Mr. Florence as the epitome of hard work, dedication, energy, and sacrifice – common traits of the men and women from earlier generations who believed in their country and followed their strong sense of civic duty and loyalty to help build a strong nation.
“Fred Florence was a remarkable leader who broke down barriers and understood the times in which he lived,” said Mr. Harris. “He was known as a very ecumenical man. He was of the Jewish faith, married the rabbi’s daughter, and became active in the temple. Fred could move across all faith groups with ease and had the utmost respect for others’ beliefs. He was close friends with the leader of the First Baptist Church and was engaged with the Daughters of Charity who ran the St. Paul Hospital. He had the ability to bring an entire community together to make things happen.”
Paul Harris, Southwestern Medical Foundation Trustee, Florence Foundation Board Member, Past President and CEO of Hoblitzelle Foundation
The American Dream
Mr. Florence’s extraordinary life began in 1891 in New York City, where he was born to Lithuanian immigrants Mose and Celia Fromowitz. The following year his family moved to New Birmingham, Texas, and two years later to Rusk, where he attended school until tenth grade, sold newspapers, and worked in the family store. He rose from janitor to president of the Alto State Bank; served in the U.S. Army; became a town alderman and mayor; and was recruited to Dallas by Karl Hoblitzelle to become first vice president of the Guaranty Bank and Trust Company , which later became Republic National Bank of Dallas – all before the age of 30.
Upon his arrival in Dallas, Mr. Florence was determined to build the biggest bank in town and knew that to have a healthy bank, he needed a healthy community. He had a brilliant mind for banking and was president of Republic National Bank from 1929 to 1957, helping the bank survive and grow during the Great Depression and assisting other regional banks by investing in them during the banking crisis of 1933.
In addition to his banking career, he sat on national and local recovery and relief boards during the Great Depression. Mr. Florence was a director of various other Texas banks and businesses and held leadership positions on countless committees and boards in Texas and the U.S. In 1936, he helped bring the Texas Centennial Exposition world’s fair to Dallas and served on the board of the State Fair of Texas, which continues today to bring people from all walks of life together to celebrate all things Texan.
“We are grateful to the Florence Foundation in their efforts to sustain the Fred F. Florence Bioinformation Center, which honors a bold leader who made significant contributions to Dallas and its citizens. As a Southwestern Medical Foundation Trustee, Mr. Florence was surrounded by other trailblazers who brought out the very best in each other and inspired a generous community. Together they played a vital role in founding, nurturing, and dramatically shaping UT Southwestern into the world-renowned academic medical center that it has become today.”
Kathleen M. Gibson, President and CEO, Southwestern Medical Foundation