Albert Bel Fay, Sr. (February 26, 1913 – February 29, 1992), was an American businessman who served as the United States Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago and was a Republican Party activist whose political involvement began with the first presidential campaign of Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Education and military service
Fay was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, to Charles Spencer Fay and the former Marie Dorothy Bel, hence his middle name. His father was an officer of the Southern Pacific Railroad. The family relocated to Houston, where Fay graduated from San Jacinto High School. In 1935, he married the former Homoiselle Randall Haden (August 26, 1908—February 6, 1990). They were the parents of three children, including Albert Bel Fay, Jr. (born 1945), of Houston, an active Republican Party donor.
In 1936, Fay obtained a bachelor's degree in geology from Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. At Yale, he was commissioned an ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve. During World War II, he commanded a submarine chaser in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. Later in the war, he was advanced to the rank of first lieutenant on the USS Yokes (APD-69) in Okinawa, Japan.
Extensive business interests
In 1938, Fay and his brother, Ernest Fay (1914–1986), founded Seabrook Shipyard, which built submarine chasers and rescue boats during World War II. After the war, Fay operated various businesses in Texas and Louisiana, including shipbuilding and his Bel Oil Corporation.
By 1972, his petroleum interests included holdings in several states as well as Canada, and New Zealand. He also had real estate interests in Nicaragua and the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean Sea. At the time of his death, his business interests had diversified to include ranching, timber, marinas, and banking.
GOP national committeeman, 1960-1969
In 1952, Fay began precinct level work for the Republican Party of Texas. He supported Eisenhower, who was a native Texan, having been born in Denison, and who was only the second GOP nominee since Reconstruction to have won the electoral votes of Texas.
By 1960, Fay had become Republican national committeeman from Texas and an automatic member of the Republican National Committee. At the 1964 Republican National Convention in San Francisco, California, Fay served on the Credentials Committee. In 1969, Fay lost his national committeeman's position about the time that the attorney William Steger was elected state party chairman to succeed Peter O'Donnell of Dallas. Steger had been the unsuccessful Republican gubernatorial candidate in 1960 and was later a long-serving U.S. District Court judge based in Tyler, the seat of Smith County.
Running for Texas Land Commissioner
In 1962 and 1966, Fay was the unsuccessful Republican nominee for Texas land commissioner. In the latter race he won the endorsement of the AFL-CIO executive board. He lost both races to popular Democrat Jerry Sadler, who once had gubernatorial ambitions of his own. In the 1962 campaign, Fay hailed U.S. President John F. Kennedy for signing into law the establishment of the Padre Island National Seashore north of Brownsville.
In 1966, Fay supported President Lyndon B. Johnson in the establishment of the Guadalupe Mountains National Park in West Texas near the New Mexico border. Both acquisitions had long been strongly promoted by Democratic U.S. Senator Ralph Yarborough. Previously, Texas had only one national park: Big Bend along the Rio Grande in the southwestern part of the state. Fay found himself allying with liberal Democrat Yarborough, whereas his opponent, Sadler, and the Texas Republican U.S. Senator John G. Tower were opposed to the additional park lands. Sadler took the view that the acquisition of lands from private individuals would mean less property tax revenues needed to provide the local share of financing of public schools as well as declining funds to the state Permanent School Fund.
No Republican was elected land commissioner until 1998, when current Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst won the position. Dewhurst succeeded long-time Land Commissioner Garry Mauro, who had first been elected in 1982.
1972 GOP Texas gubernatorial primary
In 1972, Fay ran against five other candidates for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. He made it into the second primary but lost the nomination to then state Senator Henry Cushing Grover (1927–2005), also of Houston, a staunch conservative. Grover was thereafter defeated in the general election by Democrat Dolph Briscoe. A third candidate was Ramsey Muñiz, nominee of the since-disbanded Raza Unida Party. In the low-turnout runoff election, Grover received 37,842 votes (66.4 percent) to Fay's 19,166 (33.6 percent), according to Congressional Quarterly's Guide to U.S. Elections.
In the primary campaign, Fay argued for another national park, this time in the Big Thicket of east Texas, a state park on Mustang Island in the Gulf of Mexico, and a recreational area along Armand Bayou. He also urged the development of a comprehensive water plan and advocated reducing property taxes on the homes of the elderly. The state does not collect property taxes in Texas, but cities, counties, and school districts depend heavily on such revenues.
GOP financier and U.S. Ambassador
Fay served as chairman of his state's Republican finance committee, as a member of the national Republican finance committee (1968–1976), a member of the Texas Republican Executive Committee, and a member of the executive committee of the Republican National Committee. He was a delegate to three consecutive national conventions: 1960 in Chicago, 1964 in San Francisco, and 1968 in Miami Beach; he served as co-chairman of the state delegation in 1960 and vice chairman of the state delegation in 1964.
In October 1969 President Richard M. Nixon appointed Fay to the 13-member board of governors overseeing the Panama Canal Company. He retained that position until February 1976, when President Gerald R. Ford, Jr., named him ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago. He served in that capacity for over a year, until April 1977, some months after Democrat Jimmy Carter assumed the presidency.
Civic leadership and sportsmanship
The Handbook of Texas lists Fay as a director and president of the Houston Museum of Natural Science, a director of the American Brahman Breeders Association, a vice president of the Houston Branch of the English Speaking Union, and a member of the Yale University alumni board.
According to the Handbook, he was also a licensed pilot and a yachtsman. He won the 5.5-meter world championship in Norway, in 1983, when he defeated twenty-five other helmsmen from around the world. He was also a three-time winner of the Scandinavian Gold Cup and the United States Nationals. Fay served on the United States Olympic Yachting Committee, the United States Naval Academy Sailing Advisory Council, and the board of trustees of the Yale University Sailing Association.
Fay is honored by the Albert Bel Fay Commodore's Trophy through the Texas Corinthian Yacht Club of Kemah near Houston.
Death and statement from first President Bush
Fay died in Cuernavaca, the capital of the state of Morelos, Mexico. He and Mrs. Fay are buried in Glenwood Cemetery in Houston. He was Presbyterian.
Then President and Mrs. George H.W. Bush issued the following statement on Fay's death: "Albert was a close personal friend, and we will miss him greatly. He was a Texan through and through. He was a leader in building the Republican Party in Houston, starting in the early 1960s. Albert was a mentor who helped guide me in my early years in Texas politics, when getting Republicans elected was next to impossible. His service to the Republican Party has been invaluable."