RICE, COLONEL JONAS SHEARN, Banker, Man of Affairs — For many years a leading Texas banker and executive head of various financial and business institutions, the late Colonel Jonas Shearn Rice of Houston was long regarded as the first citizen of this community by right of accomplishment and the high esteem in which he was universally held. He was a member of notable pioneer families of the State and in his own career continued the fine traditions which he inherited by right of birth.
Colonel Rice was born in Houston on November 25, 1855, eldest son of Frederick Allyn and Charlotte M. (Baldwin) Rice. His maternal grandfather, Horace Baldwin, was mayor of Houston during the days of the Republic and was a brother-in-law of A. C. Allen, one of the founders of the city. Frederick A. Rice came to Houston from Massachusetts in 1850 to join his brother, William Marsh Rice, founder of Rice Institute.
At that time the future metropolis was still a tiny village and the great western plains stretched for hundreds of miles, an empire of open cattle ranges and sparsely settled towns. He was a man of vision and enterprise and became one of the builders of the first railroad, the Houston and Texas Central. In other ways he made important contributions to the development of Houston and lived to see the city progress far along the path of its appointed destiny. He died here on April 5, 1901, at the age of seventy-one years. There were ten children in this family, seven sons and three daughters: Elizabeth Randon; Jonas Shearn Rice, of whom further; William Marsh Rice; Minerva Rice; Horace Baldwin Rice; David Rice; Frederick Allyn Rice; Lillian Rice; Benjamin Botts Rice; and George Ennis Rice. Horace Baldwin Rice, a younger son, served with distinction as mayor of Houston for many years, making his administrations notable in the history of the municipality. Two other sons, William Marsh and Benjamin Botts Rice, achieved prominence in the business life of the State.
Colonel Rice's ancestors in earlier generations participated in the founding of the Nation. Both paternally and maternally he was descended from Revolutionary stock, coming of sturdy Scotch-Irish and English blood. In the Revolution itself, his great-grandfather Hall fought with the patriot forces at the battle of Lexington in 1775 and was wounded in that engagement. He survived, however, to the great age of one hundred and two years and died, with honors, in the State of Massachusetts, which was his home during almost all his life.
With this tradition and background, Colonel Rice entered active life. Educated in Houston by private tutors and at the Texas Military Academy in Austin, he was well equipped for the career of achievement and service upon which he now began and in business he was uniformly and brilliantly successful. Following his graduation from Texas Military Institute, he became a railroad clerk in the office of the general passenger agent of the Houston and Texas Central Railroad. In 1879 he was appointed bookkeeper and teller in the National Exchange Bank of Houston and in 1881, with his brother, William M. Rice, he entered the lumber and sawmill business in Tyler County.
They built up an enormously profitable enterprise, in the direction of which Colonel Rice played a major part. From 1895 to 1902 Colonel Rice was persuaded by Governor Charles A. Culberson to accept the office of Financial Agent of the Texas State Penitentiaries. Much against his personal inclinations, he undertook the necessary task of rehabilitating the financial structure of the penitentiary system and cleansing it of undesirable practices. He served as Financial Agent for seven years "with admirable success and credit."
In addition to his executive office with the J. S. and W. M. Rice Lumber Company, he was from 1904 to 1909 one of the receivers of the Kirby Lumber Company and was elected vice-president of that company on its reorganization.
His able management was chiefly responsible for overcoming the difficulties which had brought the company into receivership. He was also receiver of the T. W. House Bank in 1907.
Following his voluntary retirement from public life, Colonel Rice returned to Houston and in 1905, in this city, he organized the Union Bank and Trust Company now the Union National Bank, with a capital stock of $1,000,000. This institution, of which Colonel Rice became president in August, 1905, operated under Charter No. 1 and had the largest capital, while it continued in business, of any State bank in Texas. He remained as its president during its entire corporate existence, conducting its affairs with conspicuous ability and rare soundness of judgment. The panic of 1907, which came early in its history, was surmounted without strain and the resources of the institution were such that it was able to take over and protect weaker banks.
The Union National Bank, the present institution, was formed in 1910, when it was decided to nationalize the Union Bank and Trust Company. At that time the Merchants National Bank was also combined with the new bank, creating one of the State's greatest financial institutions.
Colonel Rice continued as president until, on November 8, 1924, at his own often-repeated request, he was relieved of the arduous burdens he had borne for so many years. He was immediately, however, elected chairman of the board of directors of the bank and reelected annually to that office until his death.
At the last annual meeting for the election of officers [to quote from a memorial tribute prepared at his death by the Union National Bank], as he lay stricken in his last illness, he was reelected chairman of the board by a unanimous standing silent vote of the directors, as a special mark of esteem and affection. For nearly twenty-six years, he had been the official head of this institution and its predecessor, and no man was ever more loyal in his devotion to the interests of any institution than Mr. Rice has been during all these years to this bank. Colonel Rice also had many other important connections. He was president of the Great Southern Life Insurance Company and at various times chairman of the board of the Bankers Trust Company ; vice-president of the J. S. and W. M. Rice Lumber Company; vice-president of the Houston Title and Guaranty Company; vice-president of the Houston Land Corporation; and a director of the Guarantee Life Insurance Company, the Texas and Brazos Valley Railroad Company, the Missouri Pacific Railroad Company, the Southern Drug Company, the Hogan-Allnoch Company, the Houston Recreation and Community Service Association and many others. He was affiliated fraternally with the Free and Accepted Masons and the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, being a member in the Masonic Order of many higher bodies, including the Commandery of the Knights Templar and the Temple, Ancient Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine. He was also a member of the Houston Country Club and was influential in councils of the Democratic party. He was especially well known as an admirer of Woodrow Wilson. Colonel Rice, through out his entire career in Houston, was active in every good cause and a dominant figure in the city's public life. His fine public spirit was an inspiration to all about him and he received many honors from the city and numerous positions of trust from the chief executives of the State. He was elected and served as president of the Thalian Club and was appointed by Governor Campbell as one of the San Jacinto Battleground Commissioners. He was accorded the full measure of respect to which his position and eminence of character entitled him and was greatly beloved by the city which was his home for so many years. Colonel Rice was a lifelong member of the Episcopal Church and was liberal in his contributions both to the church and to worthy charities.
He married, at Waco, Texas, in 1887, Mary J. Ross, daughter of the distinguished Texas pioneer, Colonel Peter F. Ross, "the hero of Corinth": granddaughter of General James E. Harrison ; and niece of General Lawrence Sullivan Ross, former Governor of Texas. They became the parents of three daughters: 1. Laura F., who married Richard Wayne Neff; they have one son, Richard Wayne Neff, Jr., born March 7, 1928. 2. Kate, who married Hugo V. Neuhaus ; they have five children : i. Katherine Rice Neuhaus, born March 31, 1912. ii. Hugo Victor Neuhaus, born March 5, 1915. iii. Joseph Rice Neuhaus, born February 17, 1917. iv. Philip Ross Neuhaus, born in December, 1920. v. James Harrison Neuhaus, born May 16, 1924. 3. Lottie B., who married S. P. Farish ; they have two children : i. Stephen Power Farish, born September 8, 1924. ii. Joan Rice Farish, born November 25, 1928.
Colonel Rice's own military title was earned by long and honorable service. He became a member of the Houston Light Guard in 1874 and was prominent as adjutant in the 1st Regiment of Texas Militia organized after the close of the Civil War. He was captain of the Houston Light Guard when that company was the crack company of Texas and one of the best in the United States. He was also adjutant general of the 1st Brigade on the staff of General F. W. James and was chief of the personal staff of Governor Ross. Colonel Rice's personal tastes were always simple. He was devoted to his wife and children, and the life of his home was ideal in the mutual love and companionship which existed there. He was fond of the company of congenial friends and "few men," it was written of him, "ever had such close, intimate, warm and devoted friends in so large numbers."
Colonel Rice died March 13, 1931, in Houston following a long period of failing health. To quote again from the memorial tribute of the Union National Bank:
This is a brief record of his services to this institution, but there is no pen which can draw an adequate and comprehensive picture of the man who was so much loved, nor of his high character, his splendid manhood, his kindly disposition, and the personal touch with which he seemed to cure all of our troubles and make himself the untiring and sympathetic friend of those with whom he came in contact. . . .
He was an outstanding citizen of this great city. .... He has lived a useful and busy life—useful to his family, to his friends, to his community, to his State, and to his country ; busy in all of the material and substantial and better things that make life sweeter to those who came in contact with him.