Sherwood Blount’s First Million
Poor Texas boys used to get rich running cattle or drilling for oil. Now they get rich doing real estate deals out on the urban frontier. And those deals all start with someone deciding he doesn’t want to be poor—ever again.
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Sherwood E. Blount, Jr. learned that he wanted money one Saturday morning in the winter of 1961, when he went into the kitchen of his parents’ small, neat white clapboard house in East Dallas and asked his mother for a quarter so he could go to the afternoon double feature at the Arcadia Theater. “Honey,” she told him, “I don’t have a quarter. Daddy doesn’t get paid till Monday. It’s not in the budget.” That was when Sherwood decided he wanted not just as much money as Daddy had — enough to eat and live in a house — but enough so he could always go to the movies, enough to buy a Chevrolet, enough to eat at Kip’s Big Boy every night, enough to join the Lakewood Country Club and play golf. Even as a boy he knew that the main worry in the lives of his parents and his grandparents was not having enough money. He knew the whole point of the hard work they did all day was money, and that even so there was never enough.
Sherwood’s father, Sherwood E. Blount, Sr., grew up in the Depression. His most vivid childhood memory is of his father coming in from the fields to the family’s sharecropper cottage in Kaufman County one cold day and his mother looking up from the stove and saying, “George, we lack three hundred and eighty-five dollars to pay the landlord.” The family, destitute, had to leave the farm and move to the town of Terrell. When Sherwood Blount, Sr., grew up he left Terrell and, after serving in World War II, moved to Dallas and became a fireman. On nights and weekends he moonlighted to make ends meet and dreamed of something better for his only son. The Blounts knew that big things were happening in Dallas, that the city was growing and that fortunes were being made, and they hoped Sherwood, Jr., could be part of that.
When Sherwood E. Blount, Jr., was a senior at Woodrow Wilson High School in East Dallas, he was all-city in football and baseball and the college recruiters were courting him. One of them was a man named Dick Davis, who had gone to SMU and played ball on the great team of the late forties with Doak Walker and Kyle Rote and then gone on to become a stockbroker. One night Davis took Sherwood and three other football prospects to a Golden Gloves match and then to dinner at the Dallas Petroleum Club. Sherwood had never seen a fancy place like that before, in fact had no idea such places existed. Somehow, it was clear, Dick Davis had made a lot of money, and his friends in this club had, too.
Davis ordered everyone a steak, and when they were finished he asked the boys whether they’d like another steak. At that moment Sherwood was still unsure how he was going to make his fortune, but he knew that the first step was to keep playing ball and go to SMU.
He did well there; he made good grades and was co-captain of the football team in his senior year. He even made some all-Southwest Conference teams as a middle linebacker. He was a clean-cut, direct, polite young man, confident and hard-working and a Christian. After receiving his degree he went to graduate school for business for a semester, but he was restless there and wanted to get out into the worlds. It was time for him to decide what to do. “I looked at all the opportunities,” he says. “I looked at insurance, finance, marketing, accounting. And I said ‘Okay, in all the areas of business where do you see the greatest opportunity for achievement and the chance to accumulate real wealth?’ I decided to be in selling. I wanted to competitiveness and the self-sacrifice and the hard work of athletics. I wanted to be able to get up half an hour earlier than the next guy. And, I decided, I wanted to be selling a big ticket item, where I’d be really, really, well compensated. So I decided to sell real estate.”
Today Sherwood Blount is 29 years old, president of his own real estate brokerage firm, and the owner of two 1979 Cadillacs and a brand-new house in the fanciest subdivision in Dallas. In the first four months of this year he made more than a quarter of a million dollars. His net worth is $2,194,800. He is a true self-made millionaire.
There are thousands of Texans like Sherwood — people who live in the booming cities but are just a generation removed from tenant farming and the Depression. Somewhere in all of them is the conviction that they are a generation living in a special time and place in which it is possible — through hard work, or faith in God, or somehow running in tune with the engine of urban growth — to erase the worrying about money that dominated their parents’ lives, and to live in a world where everything is new and clean and nothing is impossible.
Early one morning in June, Sherwood Blount got in his pearl-gray Cadillac Brougham and drove up Preston Road into North Dallas, to a subdivision called Northwood Hills. He pulled up at a huge brick house with a mansard roof, double wooden doors, and leaded windows. In the driveway was parked an odd assortment of Lincoln Continentals and pickup trucks. This was a Peter Shaddock home — “professionally designed,” as the brochure for Shaddock and Cook, custom homebuilders, puts it, and featuring, “an abundance of handcrafted cabinetry, distinctive wall paneling, high wood-beamed ceilings, elaborate fire places, elegant foyers, lush atriums, and many other fine appointments.” In fact, it was the home of Peter Shaddock himself, with whom Sherwood had some business that morning. Sherwood took his suit coat off a hook in the back of the car, put it on, squared his shoulders, took off his sunglasses, pulled in his waist a little, and rang the doorbell. He looked just the way he wanted to look: like an ex-athlete who, eight years out of school, is still close to his playing weight and doing very well indeed in the business world.
Peter Shaddock, on the other hand, looks like he works outdoors. He is a solidly built, ruddy man of 37 with a mop of blond hair that, along with his air of perpetual unconcern, calls to mind the little Dutch Boy. He grew up in Orange, majored in residential home construction at TCU, and made his first million building expensive homes in North Dallas. His life seems to have unfolded exactly the way he had envisioned. He is reserved, determined, uncomplicated, and a staunch family man. He is building a house in North Dallas for his mother; his sister lives three doors down from him, and her husband, Jerry Cook, is Shaddock’s business partner; his brother, Bill, handles the legal work.
Sherwood and Shaddock chatted a little inside the house, then went out to Sherwood’s car and drove out Preston Road, across the northern border of Dallas County and into Collin County. On their left was the hottest real estate in the Metroplex, the “magic corridor,” as real estate people call it, between Preston Road and the Dallas North Parkway.
Virtually all of the land south of the corridor has been developed already into subdivisions and apartment complexes and shopping centers. On either side, the city was building new roads. To the north ran the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroad tracks, right next to which, it had long been rumored, would be built a new “outer loop” that would ring the suburbs outside IH 635, the LBJ freeway. Dallas was growing very quickly, and the corridor seemed to be the area where it would grow next. The new freeway would make it easier to get downtown, which would encourage people to live that far out. And in 1977 the corridor, which until then had been in the sleepy town of Renner, was annexed into the city of Dallas, shortly after one of Renner’s major land owners, Bob Folsom, was elected mayor. That meant there would be city water and sewer lines and new roads, but that the people who lived there could still send their children to suburban, rather than Dallas, public schools. The annexation sent land prices in Renner through the roof. Now the fields and farms of Renner were full of bulldozers and concrete pipe, the harbingers of development.
Sherwood drove up to the railroad tracks on Preston and turned left into the magic corridor, down a dirt road, the big Cadillac kicking up plumes of dust in its wake. After fifty yards or so, he stopped beside a field of maize.
This was the site of the greatest triumph of his real estate career — the Ballinger deal, a plot of 201 acres long owned by a wealthy Dallas family and the current residence of a tenant farmer named Buddy Kimball. Sherwood’s job as a broker is to use his sales ability and knowledge to put buyers and sellers of real estate together. Two weeks earlier, on May 18, after several years of trying, he had finally persuaded the Ballinger family to sell the land to a homebuilder named Jerry Don Stiles for $6 million, or $30,000 an acre. As is the case whenever he closes a deal, Sherwood got a commission for his trouble — in this case $195,000, which works out to the broker’s standard 6 percent on the first $500,000 of the sale price, plus a negotiated lesser percentage on the remainder. Deals like this one take place because of the desire of the participants for economic gain, but they are being negotiated all over Texas, all the time, and so have larger effects, too. They are the means by which are worked out the particulars of the single most important change in Texas of the last generation: the growth of our cities. They are also, right now, probably the best way for hungry and ambitious poor boys to leap up the social and economic ladder.
Like Peter Shaddock, Jerry Stiles is in the business of building expensive new brick homes in North Dallas with sloping shingled roofs and double wooden doors and leaded windows. Both men build houses for people much like themselves, and, for that matter, like Sherwood: self-made millionaires who have gotten rich as Dallas has grown and want a house that shows it. “You’re a success, and you wear it well,” says Stiles’ advertisements. “There’s no better reason to consider a new J. Stiles custom home. Everything about it says success. Prestigious location. Preferred schools. Award-winning style and design. Perfection in craftsmanship. And an unyielding desire to excel in everything we do. Success. Elegant formal rooms. Sybaritic bathing areas. But perhaps the most memorable climax of all is just to revel in the knowledge that you’re in a rare setting with a privileged outlook. Success. It feels good. Come share your success with us.” Now success was going to come to this placid maize field by a railroad track.
Shortly after buying the 201 acres, Stiles had hinted to Sherwood that he might be willing to sell it for $8 million, an immediate 33 percent profit. It was not entirely clear what Stile had in mind here: he is a restless and cryptic man and his motives are hard to divine. Perhaps something had come up — difficulties in getting financing, say, or a sudden need for cash — to make it imperative that he unload the property right away. Perhaps, having bought it, he was now tired of it. Perhaps he had no intention of selling it and just wanted reassurance that it was worth more than he had paid for it, or wanted it broadcast by Sherwood in the real estate community that he had gotten a good price in the first place. It was impossible to tell. Stiles, like Sherwood and Shaddock, had already made so much money that he was now driven by various complex forces — boredom, craftsmanship, competitiveness, desire for glory — as well as economic ones. But Shaddock, sitting in Sherwood’s Cadillac, knew there must be some reason why he had been brought out here.
“Stiles wants to sell this?” he said, looking out across his competitor’s deal.
“Yep,” said Sherwood.
“Oh, I’ve convinced him there’s still some profit in it.”
“How much does he want for it?”
“He says forty thousand an acre. That’s eight million dollars. I think he might go for thirty-seven-five, though.”
“Hm,” said Shaddock.
They backed out the dirt road and went south a ways on Preston Road then turned back into the magic corridor on another road. They drove past some plowed-up fields and across a creek and stopped at an iron gate in the middle of a beautiful stand of woods. They were exactly in the center of the most coveted land in Dallas now, at the entrance to John McKamy’s house.
John McKamy is the great-grandson of the first settler in the magic corridor, William Cooper McKamy, who came to this parcel of land from Tennessee in 1832. William McKamy acquired 1800 acres — which later became most of Renner — and farmed it, raised a family, and founded a school and a cemetery and a church. Just before the Civil War, he built a spacious one-story white house on a rise overlooking White Rock Creek, and that’s where John McKamy, now 57 years old, lives today. Over the years the McKamys became rich by selling off their land bit by bit, and the old home place now stands on 324 acres, separated by a couple of subdivision tracts from the old church and the cemetery, which is now full of McKamys.
Despite the ardent efforts of every realtor in North Dallas, John McKamy has steadfastly refused to sell the 324 acres. Everybody thinks his home place would make a wonderful subdivision. As far as Sherwood and Shaddock were concerned, the Ballinger deal was a good deal, certainly, but it was only a maize field: whereas the McKamy deal was tucked a respectable distance away from the railroad tracks, and was full of woods and meadows and backed onto a lovely creek. McKamy was so rich that he didn’t need to sell the land. But real estate people know that everybody sells sooner or later, when the price and the time are right, and McKamy seemed just interested enough to keep the offers coming in. He was caught between two systems of values — the old one in which he had been brought up in which one’s status was a product of the size and age of one’s land holdings; and the new one of present-day Dallas, in which one’s status was just a function of how much money one had. At times McKamy seemed to want to be a country squire; at other times he wanted to be a Dallas millionaire. On top of all that, he is a man of many eccentricities.
Sherwood and Shaddock had tried hard to buy the land. They had slopped hogs with McKamy. They had brought him contracts. They had spread feed for him. Nothing seemed to work. The suburbs grew closer and closer, until they brushed up against McKamy’s fence line. McKamy was now surrounded by them, obviously standing in the way of progress. But he held on to his home place.
Sherwood drove up McKamy’s private road. The land rose to a crown and the woods dropped away. The old house stood at the top of a rise, surrounded by a grassy pasture that sloped gently down to the creek. A couple of horses were grazing idly, and nobody seemed to be home.
“I wonder where he went this time,” said Sherwood.
“Sherwood,” said Shaddock, “you know what we ought to do? We ought to come out here to McKamy’s place every morning, until we talk him into selling it. That’s what we ought to do if we want to buy this property instead of somebody else.”
“I mean, this is the land I want. This is first place. Stiles’ land is second.”
“Well, John’s not here. What do you want to do on the Stiles deal?”
“Well, Sherwood,” said Shaddock, “I really don’t know.”
At noon that day Sherwood drove down to the LTV tower and took the elevator up to the Lancers, a men’s lunch club. He scanned the room — taking in leather couches, dark wood tables, men sitting in earnest groups of three or four with papers spread in front of them, making deals — until he spotted the man he was looking for, Norman Medlen. Norman played in the line for SMU in the mid-sixties, and now he’s a huge, beefy guy with a sweet, unlined smile and a big bay window on which his neckties perch daintily. He looks like a very big angel. Norman is Jerry Don Stiles’ right-hand man.
Sherwood and Norman talked football for a while, and then Stiles came over and sat down. He is a man of average size and build, but real estate people tend to run into the big sizes, and amid his business associates Stiles looks elfin. He has piercing, emerald-green eyes and a beard that climbs up the hollows of his cheek in a way that makes him look wise and mysterious, which isn’t the way most homebuilders look.
“How you doing, Jerry Don?” said Sherwood. “I wanted to see you about that Ballinger land. You still want to sell it? ‘Cause I think I may have a buyer.”
“Who is it?” said Stiles.
“Now I can’t say his name, but he’s a good builder-developer here in town, just like yourself.”
“Who is it?”
“I can’t tell you, Jerry.”
“Well, let’s see.” Stiles stroked his beard and stared at Sherwood, as if with his strange brilliant eyes he could somehow see inside him and divine the name. “There’s Talmadge Tinsley. There’s Peter Shaddock.”
Sherwood raised his hand. “That’s enough.”
“Hm,” said Stiles. “Well, you tell this builder-developer that I want to sell the whole two hundred and one acres and I want to sell it for eight million dollars. That’s an easy deal, right? I gotta go now, but you stay and have lunch on my tab, Sherwood.”
“Don’t have time for lunch, Jerry,” said Sherwood and gathered up his papers and left.
Now Sherwood could go back to Shaddock with the information that the land was definitely for sale. The first prerequisite for a deal is that the seller really wants to sell; this, it seemed, was true. The second prerequisite is that the buyer really wants to buy, and being sure of this was Sherwood’s next problem. He knew Shaddock was running low on house-building land and had to have some soon, but he also knew that Shaddock’s heart was set on the McKamy land. Somehow he had to figure out a way to get Shaddock to put the McKamy deal out of his mind — not forever, of course, since Sherwood wanted to make that deal later, but for long enough to make the deal with Stiles. He didn’t know yet how to accomplish that, but he was confident he’d find a way. The best thing to do now was to see Shaddock.
“I saw Stiles,” Sherwood said when he sat down in front of Shaddock. “He told me to reply to anyone who inquires that the two hundred and one acres is for sale for eight million dollars. That’s the story. He made it very plain and very simple.”
Shaddock regarded Sherwood across his desk. All around him were the accoutrements of a homebuilder’s work—blueprints, carpet samples, doorknobs, subdivision plats, plumbing fixtures, floor tiles. “I don’t really think he wants to sell it,” he said. “I think he just wants to run the price up and make himself feel good about buying it. I don’t see why he’d want to sell it. He doesn’t need the money. He’d just have to shelter it.”
“I think he wants to sell,” said Sherwood.
“You really do?”
“I really do.”
“What d’you think it’d take?”
“I wouldn’t offer more than thirty-five thousand an acre. I tell you what he’d take, about thirty-seven-five.”
It ain’t that good a piece of land, you know, Sherwood,” Shaddock said. “Now the McKamy property’s worth that. If we could get the McKamy property I’d have a clear three hundred acres.” He paused for a minute and stared off into space, thinking wistful thoughts about the McKamy deal and how much more he liked it than the Stiles deal. “Well, look,” he said finally. “Let’s do this about Stiles. I got to check a couple of things. Let’s talk to Stiles and if he really wants to sell—well, then let’s see what the color of his blood is.”
Sherwood’s instinct was that unless he could get Shaddock’s mind off McKamy it would be difficult to do the deal, so he decided to spend the rest of the afternoon getting himself a little insurance—another potential buyer whom he could fall back on if Shaddock pulled out. He drove to a complex of gold-tinted office buildings on Central Expressway called Campbell Centre and called on Bruce Weale, head of a development company called The Apartment Group. He spread an aerial photograph of the magic corridor before Weale, a quiet man with longish graying hair who was wearing a brightly colored shirt, open at the neck, and a gold chain.
“Now, Bruce,” said Sherwood, “this is the Ballinger tract right here. We closed it on May eighteenth. Stiles’ price is forty thousand an acre. If it were lower he’d have to think about it.”
“It doesn’t front on Preston Road,” said Weale.
“No, it doesn’t.”
Weale stared at the aerial for a long time and scratched his head, as if he were trying to decipher an encoded message. “You got to have a lot of vision to see that as an apartment complex, don’t you?” he said, and laughed nervously.
“You sure do,” said Sherwood. “It’s hard to imagine. But think back two years. Would you have thought land a little ways down on Preston’d be selling for eighty-five thousand an acre?”
“Hell, I wouldn’t have thought that a year ago. I wouldn’t have thought that six months ago.” He stared at the aerial again. “Well, you better just let me play around with my numbers and go out and look at it.” Sherwood thought Weale probably wouldn’t be interested, but you never could tell when a visit like this would pay off.
The next morning Sherwood walked into the office grinning triumphantly, picked up the phone, and called Shaddock.
“Shaddock?” he said. “You sitting down, boy? Guess what just happened? John McKamy got married last weekend to Bobbie Jacobs. She called me up last night and told me. She said he’s getting his cows loaded up and taking them to Fort Worth and then they’re going traveling. I said, ‘Bobbie, what about selling the place?’ She said, ‘Honey, he’s not gonna sell that place now.’
“When you get down to it, Peter,” Sherwood went on, anxious to underscore the import of the surprise wedding, “I think this means we’ll buy the land one day but it’ll take more time. It could be this time next year”—which is to say an eternity in far North Dallas real estate—“before we buy that deal.
“Now I wanted to tell you this right away because I know it’ll affect your decision on what other land we’ll buy up in that corridor since we could can’t buy the McKamy place.” Sherwood knew that Shaddock knew there was just one piece of property in the corridor that he could conceivably buy—Stiles’ maize field. It was that or nothing now. “I’ll talk to you soon, Peter.” When he hung up, Sherwood had the feeling that his fish had taken the hook.
Thursday is driving day at Sherwood Blount and Company, Realtors, and one Thursday in June the staff gathered in preparation for the drive at seven-thirty in the morning. Sherwood believes in getting an early start; he gets up most days at five-thirty to jog, and likes to be in the office by seven, an hour ahead of everybody else. “I’m always thinking about that competitive edge,” he says. “I know my competition meets at nine, so we’re gonna met at eight. You got to stay sharp. You get a little fat, a little saggy, and somebody’ll knock you off. That’s why I have every phone number I ever dialed memorized—if you make thirty calls a day like I do, and it takes you thirty seconds to look up each number, that’s fifteen minutes a day wasted. It adds up to another week of work a year. Lunch? My philosophy is, don’t waste time eating lunch if you don’t have to. You’ll just blow two hours.”
On driving day everyone meets in Sherwood’s office, and in they came: Rusty McDearman, the old man of the office at 30, a tall, affable red-haired man who played defensive end at SMU; Rick Fambro, compact and determined, a formed SMU quarterback and Sherwood’s first employee; Alden Wagner, Jr., son of a prominent shopping center developer, another SMU boy but not a ballplayer; Robert Aycock, also the son of a real estate man and a friend of Alden’s from SMU; Tim Black, a strapping 24-year-old who started his working life as a fireman under Captain Sherwood Blount, Sr., and is now switching to a career in real estate; and Buck Aubrey, a tall, genial, chubby young man, the son of a well-to-do North Dallas orthodontist who does deals with Sherwood and arranged for Buck to work there as a summer intern before his senior year at the University of Texas. All of them had come to work there for pretty much the same reason—as Sherwood wrote Rick Fambro after Rick had closed his first deal, “I know of no other business where a young man willing to work can attain greatness as quickly as in real estate.” Captain Blount was there too, pouring coffee for everyone, a solid man with an iron-gray pompadour who spends his off-duty hours helping out—putting up signs, filling up the company car—in his son’s business.
Like everyone else in his office, Sherwood wears brand-new three-piece suits even in midsummer, an immense college ring, a gold Rolex watch, tasseled loafers of soft leather, and an expensive haircut that just grazes his collar and the tops of his ears. A visitor would immediately identify Sherwood as the leader of the group by his strong, self-conscious stage presence. He cocks his head and shoots his cuffs and swaggers a little when he walks and winks and does double-takes, holding all these gestures for a long second to make sure they register on his audience. Together, Sherwood Blount and Company could have been a Sunbelt football coaching staff on its way to an alumni luncheon.
They sat talking for a while around a big oval conference table in Sherwood’s office, which is on the tenth floor of the Metropolitan Savings building in Preston Center near North Dallas. One wall of the office is covered with a huge aerial photograph of the Metroplex; two other walls are gold-tinted glass. When all of them had started on a second cup of coffee, they went downstairs and got into the company car, a big Chevrolet Silverado, with Sherwood behind the wheel, and drove off into their turf—the areas to the north, east, and west of the office, an endless American dreamland of shopping centers, apartment complexes, subdivisions, town homes, new homes (never houses), convenience stores, gas stations, and fast-food restaurants.
A realtor’s best friends are his telephone and his car, because it is imperative that he know intimately both the people in the business and the empty land of the city where he works. The rite of passage into the business is six or nine months spent trying unsuccessfully to make the first deal and driving relentlessly around town in every spare moment, memorizing the location and particulars—size, access from the street, nearby development—of every vacant lot and supermarket and gas station. If the construction crews at the new mall are taking long lunches, if a fish-and-chips shop in Garland is doing badly, if there’s a For Sale sign on a weedy patch of ground in Mesquite, a good realtor will know about it. The ability to make deals depends on knowing what’s going on, which in turn depends on driving. Dallas’ best-known realtor of a generation ago, an old codger named O.L. Nelms who used to buy land cheap from farmers and resell it to developers, made the bond between realtor and car famous in Dallas. He drove an old white station wagon that wheezed along dirt roads and fields, its sides painted with the legend thanks for helping o.l. nelms make another million.
Sherwood headed north on Preston Road. “Now fellas,” he said, “it’s really a dice game up here in North Dallas. But if you want to get up there and really devote yourself to learning this real estate, if you really run your wagons, then we can go up there and really, really be competitive.” He drove over the LBJ Freeway, festooned with malls and office buildings. “Man, oh, man,” he said, and shook his head philosophically. “I hope I’m around the next time they build a freeway. You can make a killing. I mean enough to retire on.”
He crossed Alpha Road and Arapaho Road, still heading north, and the development became sparser. There would be an office building or a convenience store set in the middle of pastureland, as if somebody had sent the wrong plats to the construction company. In some of the open fields along the road, cows were grazing; in others there were bulldozers and piles of pipe and beribboned surveyors’ stakes. Signs proclaimed the imminent arrival of subdivisions, with many model homes from which to choose: Accents, Flairs, and Todays; The Carriage House, The Estate, The Oxford, The Heritage. Driving past it all, Sherwood kept up a running commentary: there was no recent sale, no demographic trend, no nasty family squabble over a piece of property, no recent death of an obstinate property-owner that he didn’t know about. He does a lot of homework.
“Any of y’all been to Bennigan’s yet?” asked Sherwood. “I went there last night. Quite frankly, I thought the food was average. Now the design—let’s talk about design for a second. They’re trying to cash in on that Friday’s flavor, but I don’t know if they’re gonna be able to get that Friday’s crowd—you know, your young singles. But it’s a neat concept.”
“Holiday Inn’s starting to get into restaurant concepts,” said Rick from the back seat. “They’ve got a concept called Good Company. It’s got kind of a sit-down Friday’s concept and a salad-deli type concept. Dallas is gonna be their flagship on this, and they’ve got a dynamite location. We did the deal.”
“Rick really did a super deal with them, fellas,” said Sherwood. “A twenty-year lease with two five-year options.”
“They’re aiming for the sophisticated suburbanite,” said Rick.
“These people are out working,” said Sherwood, “and they’ve got a little more income. And yet your Friday’s concept is really the best of many worlds. You appeal to your singles, and to your people who live nearby, and quite frankly you appeal to your older people too.”
By now it seemed they had gone far enough north to have passed the edge of civilization, but Sherwood turned right and presently there were more subdivisions by the side of the road. These were the outskirts of Plano, a town of 3600 souls in 1960 and 65,000 today, and the site of some of Sherwood’s breakthrough deals—his first shopping-center deal, the deal he sold three different times, the deal he sold five times. The keys to these deals, besides persistence and hard work, were relationships and commitment. Real estate people talk about relationships and commitment as much as characters in a Woody Allen movie, but they mean business relationships. Sherwood made that first shopping center deal in part because he built a relationship with Alden Wager, Sr., a relationship that has since deepened into true commitment with the bringing of Alden Wagner, Jr., into Sherwood Blount and Company. Rick is building a fine relationship with Del Taco and Burger King, and Rusty with some Canadian investors.
Good relationships will stand a realtor in good stead, but bad ones can be painful. Once a realtor in Dallas named Herb Weitzman was doing a shopping-center deal in Grand Prairie. A man who wanted to open an Italian restaurant leased one of the first spaces in the center even though it was well known that a national pizza parlor chain was considering a space in the same building. The pizza franchise opened and the restaurant went broke. The owner was irate; he sued but settled out of court. Then one afternoon, more than a year later, as Weitzman approached his car after work, he was accosted by the restaurant owner, who was brandishing a pistol. “Herb Weitzman,” the man said, “this is the last drive you’ll ever take. Because right now we’re going to your grave. And it’s going to be in the town of Grand Prairie, Texas!” When they were almost there, Weitzman managed to jump out amid a hail of gunfire, and now he’s doing deals again—but it just goes to show what can happen.
Sherwood turned and headed west, toward the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, and drove through Farmer’s Branch, Coppell, and Lewisville. This was a curious area. In the late sixties and early seventies Dallas real estate was booming beyond everyone’s wildest dreams, and the hottest of the hot areas was this one. Raw land went from $4500 an acre to $30,000 an acre in two years. In 1974, when the bottom fell out of the market, no area was hit harder. Overoptimistic realtors and developers and homebuilders went broke. Now, in 1979, the market was booming again and Dallas was growing, but all the talk was that there was a recession around the corner and that gasoline was running out. So everyone wondered whether towns like Coppell and Lewisville, near the airport and just past the outer reaches of the suburbs, were finally going to hit or not.
So far they haven’t. Coppell is a tiny town, not much more than a crossroads. “Now, boys, you got to have vision when you get out here,” said Sherwood. “See this corner right here?” He pointed to the intersection of two dirt roads where some horses were meandering. “A motel would just jump at that. And I’ll tell you something else. This town’s ripe for a Seven-Eleven or a Stop-and-Go.” He drove past Coppell and into Lewisville, where he pulled into the parking lot of a half-leased shopping center and surveyed the stores. Off to the side there was an empty asphalt lot in the middle of which stood a weathered ten-foot-high bowling pin, testament to some long-ago deal that hadn’t worked. Across the street some cows grazed under a wooden sign that said Centennial Homes. “Okay, Robert Aycock,” said Sherwood. “You up on this center? You know who Tomlin Clothier is?”
“No, Sherwood,” said Robert. “I sure don’t.”
Sherwood gave him a sharp look. “But you will this time next week, won’t you?”
“Yessir,” said Robert.
Then everyone piled out of the car and went to a Southern Maid Donut shop in the center. Outside the shop hung a faded plastic sign showing a Southern belle in a hoop skirt; inside, the walls were full of bowling trophies, and silent, defeated-looking men sat staring into their coffee cups. They looked up momentarily at the seven sharp young bucks ordering doughnuts, then let their heads fall downward again.
For more than a week Peter Shaddock didn’t make any move to buy Jerry Don Stiles’ maize field. Sherwood didn’t know exactly what Shaddock was up to. Maybe he was waiting to see if a couple of other deals came through first. Maybe he was lining up financing. Possibly, he still thought he had a shot at the McKamy land, but that was doubtful—McKamy and his new wife were out of town, no one knew where, and Sherwood was sure he had convinced Shaddock that they weren’t ready to sell and that he had to buy Stiles’ land. Sure enough, Shaddock finally called and set up a meeting in his brother Bill’s law office for the afternoon of Wednesday, June 20.
“My objective,” said Shaddock, when everyone had gathered that day, “is to write a contract for this land subject to something. I don’t care what. It just had to be subject to something.” This meant he wanted to try to buy the land, but he wanted to be able to back out of the deal if for some reason he got cold feet.
“Okay,” said Sherwood. “Then let’s make it legitimate. Let’s make it subject to engineering.”
“And the second thing is, we got to keep it quiet. We’ll do it as Sherwood Blount, Trustee. If Stiles knows I’m buying it, he’ll never sell. You can’t let anybody know. So maybe we’ll set up a dummy corporation or something.”
“Okay, fine. But you’ve got to make him a good offer. He’s got to recognize that Sherwood Blount, Trustee, is the representative of a legitimate purchaser. Remember, you’re looking at a guy with Canadian investors coming into town this week. A guy who fell in love with this property. But he said he’d sell.”
“Well,” said Shaddock, “I’m thinking thirty-five thousand an acre. Seven million. But let’s go back to Sherwood Blount and the commission and so on.”
“I have an agreement with Stiles,” said Sherwood. “I made a hundred and ninety-five thousand commission on the last sale. Stiles said, ‘You son of a bitch, if you sell it again I’ll pay you on the basis of my profit.’ At your price that’d be forty-five thousand. And please don’t tell that to everybody on the street. I want everybody to think that I double-dipped this deal and made another two hundred thousand.”
“You turkey,” said Shaddock, and chuckled.
“But you gotta tell him you’ll pay seven million. Is that what you can do?”
“That’s what I have to do. But if Stiles found out it was me who was making a play at it, see, he wouldn’t sell for ten million.” Shaddock frowned, upset at the thought that Stiles bore such a huge animus against him, although there was no apparent evidence that this was the case. “Now, I’m supposed to get some kind of message Friday. I can’t tell you what kind of message, but hopefully after that I’ll feel very confident. On the other hand, maybe I won’t feel so confident. But let’s plan on getting the contract submitted Monday.”
“Okay,” said Sherwood, “but remember we’ve got to move. He’s got his Canadians coming in tonight. He works seven days a week. No telling what he might do.”
“Shit, Sherwood,” said Shaddock. “he plays golf on Wednesdays, and I know that for a fact.”
When he left the office and got into the car, Sherwood was charged up. He had the feeling that he was almost there, and he wanted to move quickly. “Now, what I’m gonna do,” he said, “I’m gonna call Stiles tonight and say, ‘Look, baby doll, please just sit tight for a couple of days.’” He squinted contemplatively and shifted his grip on the steering wheel. He came to a red light and wanted to turn right, but there was a yellow Toyota stopped in front of him in the right lane, its turn signal blinking. Sherwood frowned. “Come on, dammit, you Toyota,” he said. “Get competitive!”
On Saturday, June 23, Peter Shaddock drove out to Sherwood’s house and dropped off a copy of a contract for the sale of 201.723 gross acres in the County of Collin from Stiles Land Corporation to Sherwood Blount, Trustee and/or Assigns, for the sum of $7 million, or $35,000 an acre.
Monday morning Sherwood took the contract to Stiles’ office, a one-story building far north on Preston Road. He parked and walked in the side door and found Norman Medlen, who took him into Stiles’ sanctum, a big, deep-pile-carpeted room with assorted plaques (What It Takes to Be Number One by Vince Lombardi), photographs (Stiles by Gittings; Stiles with his wife; Stiles with Rosalynn Carter), and stuffed heads of exotic deerlike animals on the walls. Stiles himself sat behind his desk, a vast, thick slab of wood set on a chrome pedestal, on which rested a few papers and a worn copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People. He was wearing cowboy boots, blue jeans, a work shirt, and a belt with a horse on the buckle and his initials on the back.
“Fellas,” said Sherwood after everyone sat down, “I am pleased to present . . .”
“Come on, Sherwood,” said Stiles. “Just give it here.”
Sherwood persisted. “Fellas, I am pleased to give you a contract from one of our city’s finest builder-developers,” he said, and gave Stiles and Norman each a copy of the contract.
Stiles glanced at it for a moment. “You’re the trustee?” he said.
“That’s right,” said Sherwood.
“He doesn’t want me to know he’s buying it?”
“He says if you knew you wouldn’t sell at any price.”
“He’s crazy. I’m not proud.”
Stiles lapsed into an enigmatic silence. He glanced through the contract, looking extremely tired, just on the verge of falling asleep. Sherwood began to outline various minor aspects of Shaddock’s offer, but Stiles appeared to be off in some dream world where he couldn’t hear any of it. When Sherwood finished talking, Stiles continued to stare down at his hands, looking mournful. Finally he mumbled, “What is he thinking about that I wouldn’t sell it to him? Doesn’t he know that I know it’s him?”
“Uh-uh,” said Sherwood. “He hasn’t figured that out yet. And I don’t think it should be a factor in the negotiations.”
“No, I don’t either. It just surprises me.” Stiles lapsed into another long, dolorous silence, as if to imply that Shaddock’s secrecy constituted some shattering revelation to him about the ignobility of human nature. “I’d been hoping for a straight eight million,” he said at last, disappointment in his voice.
“Look, Jerry,” said Sherwood, “I have really had to get him off the McKamy land. I have had to get him to focus his attention on this property. And now he’s finally done it. But I don’t know if he can get more money.”
“Well,” said Stiles, “if he can’t, we better forget it. Right, Norm?”
“That’s right,” said Norman.
Stiles raised his eyebrows. “We’re gonna be late. Let’s go.”
“Let me have your thoughts,” said Sherwood.
“Will I have a counter to the contract?”
“Yeah,” said Stiles. “I’ll counter it tomorrow or the next day.”
Sherwood and Stiles got up and went out together to look over another piece of property. On the way they could, under the unwritten laws of real estate dealing, let down their respective guards and talk, like opposing lawyers who have lunch together during courtroom recess. Sherwood didn’t have to pitch, and Stiles didn’t have to be skeptical, although those are close to the natural attitudes of the two men.
“Let me tell you, Jerry,” said Sherwood, “whatever happens in this deal, it’s great to have the opportunity to experience your and Peter’s philosophy. To really experience what it is that makes you build two hundred houses a year, while he chooses to build seventy-five.”
“He never built seventy-five houses in a year,” said Stiles sharply. “You know, back in ’75 he almost semiretired. He was in some speculation deals, and then his father died, and they were very close, and Peter started thinking maybe he oughta be smelling the roses more.”
“What do you think made him stay in?”
“His basic competitiveness. He saw what Talmadge and me were doing and he wanted to go along. He wanted to win. It’s like . . . did you see Barbara Jordan on TV last night?”
Sherwood said he hadn’t.
“Well, they asked her, was it more fun getting there or doing it once you got there? And she said, ‘Getting there. When I got there I was bored.’ And that’s exactly right. You think it’s interesting, building houses? I just always had a terrible fear of being a failure, so I had to make myself a success. But if I ever get it all put together in the business, you know what I’d like to do?”
“Be a country-and-western singer. You know? I was a music major for a while at North Texas State. That would be fun.”
“But Jerry,” said Sherwood, a little taken aback by this kind of talk, “you’ve got to say that we’re two guys who have been successful. That’s undeniable. You more than me, of course, but then you’re so much older, too.”
“Yeah,” said Stiles, “screw you.” And they both laughed, the thorny issue of motivation having been laid to rest.
The Way It’s Done
Most of the people Sherwood knows in Dallas share certain attributes. They have a marked affection for SMU, particularly its athletic programs, and for sports generally, particularly football. Most of them have personally dedicated their lives to the service of Jesus Christ. On the subjects of SMU, sports, the free enterprise system, and religion, they are serious to the point of piety; on everything else though, tough and ironic. They work in the business world, give money to good nonpolitical causes, are usually married. What distinguishes them from most Americans, besides having a lot more money, is the extent to which their lives are defined by deals. They spend their days discussing deals over their car phones, having deal-oriented breakfast meetings, doing deals in each other’s offices; they live in houses that were good deals themselves when purchased. Although making deals is a competitive matter, it also has a generous element of personal loyalty: somehow in a deal it often turns out to be important whose daughter you married, or what fraternity you were in, or where you played ball. Economists can say what they want about the absolute rationality of the free market, but the associations formed in college, church, or neighborhood pay off. For instance, the appeal to Sherwood of his lawyer, Wayne Miller, lies not only in Wayne’s legal skill but also in their having played ball together at SMU—and it doesn’t hurt that Wayne is married to the mayor’s daughter. That’s the way Dallas works.
One morning in June Sherwood drove the Cadillac down to a white office building on Stemmons Freeway to call on Max Christian. Christian played ball at SMU in the fifties and then started an insurance company called Unimark with a friend of his from school, Charles Terrell, who once served on the Dallas City Council. Christian and Terrell are legendarily close partners. They work behind a single, immense desk and confront visitors as a pair—Christian huge, bald, and jovial; Terrell small, wiry, and inquisitive.
Sherwood sat before the huge desk, over toward Christian’s side because it was Christian that he had business with. “Max, I’ll be real direct and not take much of your time,” he said. “I’m here as chairman of the capital funds drive for the Town North YMCA. Now the Dallas Metropolitan Y is trying to raise nine point eight million dollars, and Town North’s goal is a hundred thousand. We’re gonna build some new tennis courts out there. Can you help us?”
Christian smiled, puffed on his cigar, and looked at Sherwood over the rims of his half-moon glasses. “You know, Sherwood, Charlie and I write the insurance for the Houston Metropolitan Y”—he looked over at Terrell and winked—“but I don’t know who writes it for the Dallas Y. It sure isn’t us.” He leaned back in his chair. “Sherwood, I’m not going to help you right now.”
Sherwood forced a smile. “Okay, Max. Could you just sign this pledge card for me? Just write down a zero right there and sign it.”
Christian took the card, signed it, and handed it back.
“Ya’ll doing any real estate deals these days?” Sherwood asked.
“When we do real estate,” said Christian, “we do it with John Eulich.”
When he got back to the office, Sherwood picked up a stack of pink message slips, returned phone calls for half an hour, and then took the elevator downstairs to the fifth floor and went in a door on which was embossed:
In the reception room an immaculately dressed, suntanned young man with a neatly trimmed black moustache was talking on the phone. “No,” he was saying, “you’re confused. I’m not talking about my four-well deal in West Texas, I’m talking about my nine-well deal in West Texas.”
The man with the neat moustache was Melvin W. Jackson, Jr., whose business empire (oil and gas and real estate development) Sherwood had just entered. He hung up and shook hands. “Sherwood, hi,” he said. “Come over here and meet somebody.” He led Sherwood down a hallway to a desk behind which stood a tall, gangly, shy blond-haired kid wearing jeans and sneakers and a T-shirt. “This is David Piehler. He’s starting next fall in the basketball program at SMU and he’s here for the summer on an intern basis, just to get a feel for the business world. David, I think Sherwood can tell you that one benefit of involvement in the SMU athletic program is a real good future in the Dallas business community.” David looked down at his sneakers, mortified at this attention.
“Now let’s go on into my office. Let me just buzz Ron.” He pushed a button on his telephone and in walked Ron Williams, a tall, thin, perpetually grinning man with a scraggly mop of black hair and a moustache and wearing an open-necked shirt and a gold chain around his neck. Williams was new to MWJ Corporation, hired because of his reputation for having excellent contacts with wealthy foreign investors.
“Now let’s talk about trailer parks,” said Jackson. “I think what I want to do is buy one for myself first and see how I like it. Then I’ll think about what to do next. We might get some of our Germans to put up the money.”
“You get the right location and these things can be cash-generating mothers,” said Williams.
Jackson nodded. “No curbs, no sewers, and they can’t move in till they buy the trailers from us. We’ll finance ‘em. Think you can find us one, Sherwood?”
“We’ll sure start looking for you today.”
Sherwood went back to the office and gathered up Tim Black, and together they took off in the Cadillac for Carrollton, northwest of Dallas, an old town now quickly being transformed into a suburb. They pulled up in front of a fading brick hardware store and walked inside. Not much was going on. A couple of sleepy clerks sat behind cash registers and back in a corner the owner, Milburn Gravley, a country businessman in his fifties, sat at a rickety wooden desk. Sherwood and Tim sat down next to Gravley, and Sherwood pulled out a contract for the sale of 122.21 acres of Gravley land for $1,833,150, or $15,000 an acre.
Gravley flipped through the contract, stroking his chin. “Well,” he said, “I think your arithmetic is pretty good. I don’t have much trouble with it.”
“Fine,” said Sherwood. “You have until five o’clock Monday to give us an answer. That’s when the contract expires.”
Gravley gave Sherwood a sharp look. “Wait a minute. I won’t accept a contract for another month. I want to see what some other bidders come up with.”
“Are you saying to met that you want to get all the contracts in at one time?”
Sherwood’s face hardened and his jaw muscles bunched up. This was quickly turning into a real estate broker’s nightmare—a bidding war in which a broker couldn’t get a quick yes-or-no answer and had to keep making annoying trips back to his prospective buyer to ask for a higher price. “Well,” he said, “quite frankly, that’s not what I expected.” He clenched and unclenched his firsts, then picked up a paper clip, unbent it, and twirled it between his fingers.
“Look,” said Gravley patiently, “I’m not a developer. I own a hardware store. I just happen to have some land. And I know the suburbs are coming out here and I know it’s a hot piece of property now and I know it’s time to sell it. I just want to get the best price I can, that’s all.”
“I know how you feel. And I’m asking you to name your price.”
Gravley looked a little puzzled at the attitude of these young men in their three-piece suits who wanted to do everything very fast and who seemed to take great offense over the slightest setback. “I never said I’d do that, Sherwood.”
“Damn,” said Sherwood, when he and Tim were back in the car.
“I was afraid of something like that,” said Tim.
“He’s gonna prostitute himself, is what he’s gonna do.”
“That’s right. He’s gonna get five or ten offers”—Tim had contempt in his voice, as if he were talking about sexual promiscuity—“and he’s gonna go through each one of them before he makes up his mind.”
They drove in silence for a time.
“Well,” said Tim, “you did a heck of a job pitching him.”
“Yeah,” said Sherwood, “but the only real value of pitching is winning.”
After a while they came to an empty field that had been freshly bulldozed, the future site of an apartment deal that Sherwood had consummated. In the front of the field was Sherwood’s least favorite sight, a Sherwood Blount and Company sign that had fallen down so that passers-by could no longer see it. In the field, a couple of construction workers sat on top of a bulldozer, watching the world go by.
“Look at those old boys out there,” said Sherwood. “Think they’re worried about the price of Milburn Gravley’s land?”
“All they’ve got to worry about is the price of watermelons and new cars,” said Tim.
“And when it’s gonna be five o’clock. Hell, at five o’clock we’re just starting.” Sherwood got out of the car and tried to prop the sign back up. He held it for a moment against the pale blue summer sky, straining against his vest, and the, disgusted, let it fall back on his face. Then he got back in the Cadillac, drove it straight over the curb, and took off bumping across the rough field toward the bulldozer, intending to have a stern talk with whoever it was that had let his sign fall down.
On Tuesday morning, June 26, Sherwood drove out to Stiles’ office and picked up the contract for the 201 acres. Stiles had crossed out Shaddock’s purchase price of $7 million and written in pen above it “8,000,000.00”—his original price. He hadn’t budged an inch. Sherwood had a problem on his hands.
Sherwood whistled when he saw the contract. “Eight million dollars!” he said.
“Well?” said Stiles innocently.
“Well, for a bunch of guys who change the price, ya’ll sure don’t change the commission.”
“I’m serious as a heart attack, Jerry. It’s gotta be seventy-five thousand now. You take that forty-five in the commission clause and make it a seventy-five and initial it out there to the side.”
Stiles looked at Norman and winked. “That son of a bitch sure is a stickler about that, isn’t he?”
“Sure is,” said Norman.
In the car, Sherwood drove immediately to a brand-new fast-food place in a bright orange building, called Del Taco. He went though the drive-in line, got a Double Del with cheese, and parked. In one hand he held the Double Del; in the other, his pocket calculator, which is silver and makes odd chirping noises when its buttons are pushed. He had to think. Stiles wanted $8 million. As near as he could tell, Shaddock wasn’t going to pay $8 million. He had to figure out a way to save the deal.
He put down the calculator for a minute and looked at a land plat Stiles had given him. It showed 75 acres of the maize field being zoned multifamily and turned into an apartment complex, and the remaining 126 acres being zoned single-family and turned into a subdivision. Because more units per acre can be built on it, multifamily land is worth about twice as much on the open market as single-family land. What makes land suitable for apartments is not so much anything intrinsic about the land itself as how the city decides to zone it. Having been annexed into Dallas only recently, the maize field was at that moment unzoned; on July 12, the City Plan Commission would vote on the zoning and, in effect, determine how much it was really worth. Chances were that the people who lived nearby and the city’s planners would want all the 201 acres zoned single-family, to preserve the residential quality of the neighborhood and keep out the swinging singles. The realtors would want as much as possible to be zoned multifamily in order to make more money from it.
For Sherwood’s purposes—which at that moment were to prove to Shaddock that the land really was worth $8 million—it was best to assume that the city would agree to the 75 acres of apartment zoning Stiles wanted, thus doubling the value of those acres. The question of whether the city would in fact turn down the apartment zoning was one that, perhaps, Sherwood could finesse.
“Okay,” he said, picking up the calculator again. “Let’s take our hundred and twenty-six acres of single-family and figure that at thirty-five thousand an acre.” The calculator chirped and a number appeared on its screen:
“Okay, that’s four million four hundred thousand dollars for the single-family, more or less. That means you’ve gotta come up with, let’s see, three million six for the seventy-five acres of multifamily land.” He punched the calculator again, and another number appeared:
“That’s forty-eight thousand an acre. Cheap for apartment land up there.
“Now, what’s ol’ Sherwood doing with all these numbers? First of all, he’s thinking maybe he can find some old boy that builds apartments who’ll agree to buy the seventy-five acres from Shaddock—that way, Shaddock gets to stay at his thirty-five an acre price. And second of all, he’s trying to make another commission or two out of this deal.”
He picked up the car phone and called Bruce Weale.
That night Sherwood called John McKamy, who asked him to come out to the home place the next day, Wednesday. So late Wednesday afternoon Sherwood went out Preston Road again, turned left again into the magic corridor, and pulled through John McKamy’s gate and up his private drive. Parked next to the house was a new Lincoln Continental Mark V with license plates that said 2 BOBBEE.
“I like that new car, Bobbie,” said Sherwood when he walked in.
Bobbie was sitting behind a desk going through some papers, a petite and demure woman of 55 with a silver-blonde bouffant hairdo. “Well,” she said, “in fact John’s going to get ride of some more of his cars. He just wants enough to be able to say, you know, that he’s ‘got some cars.’”
“You know, it makes me so glad to see the two of you together and happy,” said Sherwood. “Heck, who cares about selling this land? As long as he’s found peace and happiness with you, that’s all I care about.”
“We’ve got plans to build our dream house right down there on the creek.” Bobbie pointed out the window at the spot she had in mind. “But first we’re going to buy a house on Westgate to live in now. ‘Course, we’ll always keep this house. And my house. And our new house. ‘Cause wherever John wants to hang his hat, that’s fine with me.”
“John’s outside. He just wanted to go unplug a battery. He should be just a minute. ‘Course, with John that could mean three hours.” Bobbie sighed resignedly.
But John appeared right away, dressed in brown slacks and a white short-sleeved shirt, a big man with a stand-up iron-gray crewcut, an aquiline nose, and the comfortable potbelly and erect, almost sway-backed posture of a country gentleman. He absently handed Sherwood a copy of a magazine called Big Farmer and sat down. “Sherwood,” he said, “Bobbie wants to buy a house on Westgate and she needs you to put a value on it. She didn’t want to live here because it’s a hundred-year-old house, you know, bad associations, the divorce, all that. She’s an old country girl from Mississippi and as you know she runs a town-house complex that’s worth, well, billions of dollars. Billions. It’s a God-given knack that she has. Only three per cent of the people on earth have it.”
“Let me be one of that three per cent, John,” said Sherwood. “Tell me what you want done, and I’ll try to do it.”
“I want to find out something about this house Bobbie wants to buy. But first let me show you something.” He wandered off into another room.
“We want to know if three hundred and fifty thousand’s a good price for this house,” said Bobbie, “and then if it is we want to sell off however many acres it takes to buy it.”
John returned bearing a huge stack of papers. He was carrying stationary from his church, old farming magazines, pictures of himself riding a horse in 1947, a deed to the cemetery plot where he would one day be buried. “But we don’t want to sell any of this land,” he said. “It’ll be from some other land I own. You know, I’ve been raised to appreciate land. It’s in my system, my body, my soul. It’s been my life.
“Sherwood,” John continued, “this is my home place. I’m never going to sell you this as long as Bobbie and I are living. But I’ll sell you some other land.” He held out a key. “Now, Sherwood, I want you to come over here and unlock my gun case. I’ve got some guns to show you. Don’t worry. I know what you’re thinking. They’re not loaded.”
It took Sherwood a while to ease himself out of there, and when he did he was in a big hurry—Bruce Weale was already waiting for him back at the office, and there was, if you used your imagination, $20 million worth of deals hanging in the balance, all generated by Sherwood out of an isolated maize field in only a little more than a month. All he had to do now was get Weale interested in buying that 75 acres of multifamily land for one of his apartment complexes, and it looked like he would have a deal.
When Sherwood pulled up at his office, Weale and a chubby, bald middle-aged man were waiting outside in the heat, wearing sunglasses, sweating in their flowered shirts. Sherwood parked the Cadillac in front of them, opened the door and waved, and picked up the car phone and called Shaddock. “Peter,” he said, “if you had a deal going with the seventy-five acres of multifamily land already sold, would you be interested in doing the deal? Because you know Bruce Weale? The Apartment Group? They can buy anything they want anytime they want it.” He winked at Weale. “Let me bring him by Friday morning at ten and we’ll see if we can come to a resolution by noon and I’ll go straight back to Stiles.”
“Sherwood,” said Weale, when he had hung up, “this is Harry Lasky. He’s one of my partners. Works out of Fort Lauderdale. Look, we gotta talk in the car. You gotta drive us out to DFW. Harry’s got a plane to Atlanta to make.”
They piled into the car and Sherwood went into his pitch—how Stiles wanted $8 million for the whole 201 acres, how they could promise to buy the 75 acres zoned for apartments from Shaddock, how this would make it possible for Shaddock to afford to buy the whole plot. Harry Lasky was checking his watch every few minutes as Sherwood talked, and chewing on the second knuckle of his thumb. “Assuming this guy Shaddock’s not gonna get cutesy with us,” he said when Sherwood was finished, “then we ought to sit down and work out our numbers together.”
“That’s what we’re gonna do at ten Friday,” said Sherwood.
“Well,” said Harry Lasky, “there’s a hell of a multitude of problems to be solved in a very, very, very short time, but I think we can do it. Bruce, I’ll check with you tomorrow. The phone in my plane’s broken so I’ll have to call you before I leave Atlanta. Then I’ll be in Fort Lauderdale till four, and then I’m flying to Boston.” Weale nodded casually. “Sherwood, it was nice meeting you, and I hope we can do a deal.”
Now everything looked set. Shaddock would buy the maize field from Stiles for $8 million. Weale would buy part of it from Shaddock for $3.6 million. Everyone would get a good price. Sherwood would get two commissions. It seemed to him, driving back from the airport, that the brainstorm of calling in Bruce Weale had worked perfectly and that nothing could possibly go wrong.
Every once in a long while, Sherwood will drive back to East Dallas after work and look at the places where he grew up. He’ll drive by 4728 Victor Street, the first place he lived, a one-story duplex that the Blounts rented for $35 a month. He’ll look at his elementary school, James B. Bonham, where nowadays all the kids in the playground are black or Mexican. He’ll pass the small white house at 2202 Bennett Street that his father bought for $3000 in 1956, and the old brick Memorial United Methodist Church where the Blounts used to pray on Sundays, and J.L. Long Junior High, and the old fire station, and Woodrow Wilson High. It’s a run-down neighborhood—one that, no doubt, people want to get out of today just as much as they did when Sherwood was growing up there. But there’s something pleasant about it. There are always people around, on porches and in the streets, and there are lots of shade trees, too.
The last time Sherwood went back to East Dallas he stopped for dinner at the place where he had liked to eat when was in high school, a tiny restaurant on Henderson called Here-Tis. Inside everything was white—the linoleum floor, the Formica tables, the painted metal walls. Behind the counter sat two sleepy-looking Indians.
Sherwood ordered a fried chicken dinner and, in the familiar tone of a hometown boy, asked the man who took his order, “Hey, is Mr. Mack still around?”
“No,” the man said blankly. “He’s at home now.”
Sherwood smiled as if remembering a long-ago joke. “He still as crazy as ever, Mr. Mack?”
“I don’t know, man,” said the Indian. “He doesn’t even own the place anymore.”
Now Sherwood lives in Bent Tree Royal, a small part of a large subdivision just south of the Dallas County line developed by Mayor Folsom. The mayor now lives in the next subdivision over, Preston Trails, but he’s building a new house near Sherwood’s. Down the block is the house Shaddock is building for his mother. A stone’s throw away, on one of the fairways of the Bent Tree Country Club golf course, is Stiles’ house. All the houses in Bent Tree are custom built, with light-colored brick and leaded windows and sloping shingled roofs, on lots with expansive lawns and a few scattered, spindly four-foot-high trees, with English antiques and hunting prints and sunken bathtubs inside. The oldest houses there were built five years ago. A lot in Bent Tree now costs in the neighborhood of $75,000, and a house about $300,000.
Most evenings Sherwood leaves work at seven or seven-thirty and has dinner with his fiancée, Phyllis Bisch, a pretty, brown-eyed woman of 30. Phyllis is the daughter of a funeral home director and grew up in Batavia, Illinois, but she left that small, cold town to go to TCU, where she received a degree in fashion merchandising. At the urging of her sorority sisters she entered and won the Miss Fort Worth Pageant in 1969. Through the pageant she picked up some modeling jobs and met her first husband. After the marriage broke up she went to work as a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines, where she is now a supervisor. As soon as she could, she moved to Dallas because it seemed to her to promise everything that her early life hadn’t brought her—it was big and new and clean and warm.
Sherwood and Phyllis met on a Southwest flight a couple of years ago. She saw him sitting in back and whispered to one of the other flight attendants, “There’s a guy back there with the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen, and I’ve got to meet him.” She did, and he asked her for a date, but when they went out, he says, somehow there was no immediate strong rapport and he didn’t ask her out again. Then, last fall, Phyllis saw Sherwood’s picture in the real estate section of the Morning News and sent him a note about it. He called her up and asked her to lunch, and this time the romance worked.
Phyllis lives in one of Bruce Weale’s apartment complexes, a place on the Dallas North Parkway called Windridge, but she and Sherwood spend most of their free time together. Sunday mornings they go to services at Sherwood’s church, Lovers Lane United Methodist, a modern white edifice that houses the world’s third-largest Methodist congregation. In the evenings Phyllis cooks dinner at Sherwood’s house or they go out, a handsome young couple who take great pains with their appearance. One night they were at a seafood restaurant on McKinney when a middle-aged man in a knit shirt with a polo player embroidered on the pocket walked up to their table and said, “You know, whenever I see a really attractive person I just have to come over and tell them so. I’m from San Francisco and they teach us to do things like this there.” Sherwood grinned and gave the man a who-me look, but the man offered his hand to Phyllis instead. “Thank you,” said Sherwood. “I don’t mind your doing this at all. In fact, I’ll be honest with you. It happens all the time.”
In December 1971, in his senior year at SMU, Sherwood married Kay Jones, his high school sweetheart, whom he had met in the ninth grade and dated since his junior year at Woodrow Wilson. Marriage seemed like the thing to do at the time. “We’d been dating seven years,” says Sherwood. “We thought we were in love, and thought we were compatible, and we thought it was the next step in our relationship. But it became clear as I achieved in the real estate business and began to spend more time on it—the Saturdays, the Sundays—that we weren’t compatible. Our goals weren’t the same. See, Kay never really felt that she knew her father until she was sixteen. He was a self-made man. He was always out chasing the dream, building condos and office buildings and apartments, doing deals. And she detested that, that anyone would spend that much time at their work.” In early 1976, just when Sherwood was leaving the Hank Dickerson Company and starting his own business, he and Kay were divorced. “I’ve had some of the greatest successes ever,” he says, “but I’ll tell you, that was my greatest failure.”
On the Brink
On the way to Shaddock’s office Friday morning, June 29, Sherwood took a little time to drive around. He hadn’t slept well the night before and cruising like this helped him calm down. He drove past dozens of apartment complexes: Meadowcreek, Springcrest, Spanish Trail, Shelter Ridge, The Cables, Winchester Ranch. Every few blocks, there was a string of cars leading, somewhere blocks ahead, to a gas station.
Waiting at Shaddock’s office with Bruce Weale was a surprise participant, a young lawyer named Kirk Williams. Williams is a pleasant-looking young man, but to Sherwood he was an ominous sight because he lacked an incentive to make deals. He was being paid by the hour, not by commission.
“The reason Kirk’s here,” said Shaddock, “is that he does a lot of rezoning work. That’s his profession. I wanted him to tell us what the prospects are for getting that seventy-five acres of multifamily zoning from the city. The contract isn’t subject to zoning. Can the zoning be attained?”
“Are y’all aware of what the city’s land plan for Renner is?” said Williams. “The city recommended that that whole area remain single-family. So I think the staff down at city hall isn’t going to recommend the approval of any multifamily.”
Sherwood saw right away that he had a difficult situation on his hands. He was, essentially, asking Shaddock and Weale to take a gamble: the gamble that the city would approve the multifamily zoning. If the city didn’t do that, Shaddock and Weale would be stuck with land worth less than what they had paid for it. Now Kirk Williams was saying the gamble was unlikely to pay off. That prospect would probably scare off Shaddock and Weale. “Okay,” Sherwood said, ticking off the names of some members of the City Plan Commission, “but those guys are very good friends of ours. I mean right down the line.”
“But you gotta remember,” said Williams, “if staff’s against you, you got the women against you. Your women go with your staff. That’s the rule of thumb. And that’s three votes right there. That doesn’t give you much wiggling room.”
“So after talking to Kirk,” said Shaddock, “I think Stiles is going to have a harder time getting his zoning than he thinks. That’s my conclusion.”
Sherwood glared at Williams. “Who you been talking to down there?”
“Eli Martinez, the planner for North Dallas.”
“Well,” Sherwood said triumphantly, “it doesn’t mean a rat’s ass till Gary Seib tells you.”
“Seib isn’t talking,” said Williams. “Eli is the most senior man in that department. They listen to Eli.”
Sherwood was getting nowhere. “Kirk, how can they prevent this man from getting his zoning?” he said in the tone of a kid who’s just been told there’s no Santa Claus. “He paid six million dollars for that land.” He looked plaintively at Shaddock and Weale. “I want to sell this land!”
“Maybe Stiles has it wired,” said Williams. “I don’t know. But the Renner plan says single-family. That’s why staff’s gonna deny multifamily. That’s all there is to it.”
Now the urge to do the deal seemed to have left everyone but Sherwood. He talked for an hour, throwing out combinations of numbers, sometimes making sense, sometimes not, mostly just trying to keep the possibility of a deal alive. As he became more and more animated, everyone else sank further into his chair and looked overcome by lethargy. It was noon. Sherwood was due back at Stiles’ office at one. He was running out of arguments.
Then Bruce Weale, who, looking bored, had been conducting a minute examination of his ball-point pen, asked very softly, “How greedy is Stiles?”
Sherwood stared at him. “Greedy. What’re you thinking?”
“Will he take more money for zoning?” said Weale.
“More than eight million?”
“Not much more, but a little more, subject to zoning.” What Weale was saying was, let Stiles take the gamble. If he got his multifamily zoning, the deal was on; if he didn’t, it was off. And his reward for taking the risk himself would be a higher purchase price.
Sherwood pulled out his calculator and punched a few buttons. “So we bump the price to maybe eight point eight million?”
“How about eight point five?” said Weale.
“Okay. Eight million five subject to zoning or you get your money back.” He pulled out a copy of the contract and started furiously leafing through it, crossing out old clauses and writing in new ones. He showed everyone his changes. He had Shaddock’s secretary make eight copies of the new contract. He called his secretary and had her draw up a check for $25,000, which would be the earnest money payment that would go to Stiles if he signed the contract and was hence the only cash Shaddock and Weale stood to lose if the zoning decision went the wrong way and they backed out. He dispatched Buck, the summer intern, to Stiles’ office with the check. He called Norman and said he was on his way out there. He changed his commission to $85,000. At 12:57, he was in his car and driving.
But Stiles was unimpressed. “Goddam,” he said, looking over the new contract. “I sure am relieved. I was afraid he was gonna sign my counter and I’d have to sell the son of a bitch.” He wiped his brow in an exaggerated way to show what a load had been taken off his mind. “Whew! I am relieved. Now I don’t have to sell it.”
Sherwood wasn’t expecting this, and it took him a minute or two to get over his surprise and gather his thoughts. “Jerry Don,” he said, “this is two and a half million dollars profit for you. In cash. Cash. And you’re gonna get it zoned anyway.”
Stiles looked at Sherwood and spat into a paper cup.
“This is two and a half million dollars cash, Jerry.” There was pleading in his voice. “All you gotta do is get the property zoned. That’s not bad for five weeks of owning it.”
Stiles scratched his neck. Sherwood plunged ahead.
“Can I tell you something as a friend, Jerry? Take this contract and strike the commission. Just take it out. I don’t care. I just want you to sell the damn property.”
Now Stiles was interested. “You’re saying, taking the eighty-five thousand out?” The prospect of Sherwood doing all this work for no commission delighted him.
“If that’ll make the difference, yes. I don’t see how it’ll come down to that, but if it does, go ahead and take it out.”
“The point is, Sherwood, all week I’ve been afraid I was gonna have to sell the son of a bitch.”
“Don’t fall in love with it.”
Stiles looked at Norman. “He knows all the lines, doesn’t he, Norm?” He turned and looked at Sherwood seriously. “Well, let me think it over for a few days.” He looked at Norman again and broke into a broad smile. “Well, this is exciting!” He pounded his hand on his desk. “It really is. I mean, Goddam!”
Stiles was nothing if not clever. On Tuesday afternoon, June 26, he gave Sherwood a counteroffer that, on first glance, looked like a capitulation: an $8 million price for the land, plus $10,000 for each acre zoned multifamily, up to a maximum price of $8.5 million. If the city zoned 25 acres multifamily, Shaddock would have to pay $8.25 million; if 50 acres, $8.5 million; if 75 acres, the same price. Therefore, it was a contract subject to zoning, just what Shaddock and Weale wanted.
That was on first glance. In fact, if the zoning was all single-family, Shaddock would be stuck with the same $8 million price he had turned down before. So what Stiles had come back with was really just the same old offer. It was just written to look like it was subject to zoning, but it wasn’t at all. He wanted Shaddock to take the gamble on zoning.
From Stiles’ office, Sherwood drove to Forestwood Townhouse Community, a dry, treeless complex where Bobbie Jacobs McKamy lives. He had with him the information that $350,000 was indeed a fair price for the new house the McKamys wanted to buy. He also had a contract for the sale of a piece of land on the Dallas North Parkway that John owned, not his home place.
Sherwood waited a few minutes and then the McKamys pulled up in the Lincoln with the 2 BOBBEE plates. John was wearing a straw cowboy hat and a bright yellow blazer, Bobbie a pink dress. Sherwood helped them carry in some grocieries, John poured himself a beer, and they sat down to talk.
Bobbie’s house was a symphony in blue. The lamps had blue velvet shades. There was a blue sofa and a blue tufted reclining chair. Bobbie wore blue-tinted glasses. There were blue candles, blue vases, blue flowerpots suspended form the ceiling on blue ropes, blue drapes, blue statuettes, a painting of a sailboat on a wide blue sea.
“We’re leaving tonight at midnight for Mississippi to see Bobbie’s parents,” said John, “and then we’re going to San Francisco. We’re gonna be riding in a private railroad car. Now here’s what we’re gonna do. When we get ready to leave Dallas on the train, we’re gonna call the New York Times. We’re gonna call the Washington Post. They’re all gonna come and see our private car. This is how we’re gonna change the image of Dallas. We’re gonna change that Kennedy image. I’m sorry he got killed, Sherwood, and I’m sorry he got killed here.”
Bobbie interrupted. “John,” she said gently, “maybe we should get to the business at hand.”
“Absolutely,” said John. “I’ll call up my lawyer right now. Sherwood, you get on the extension. Now just let me put some ice in my beer and then we’ll be ready.” He wandered into the kitchen and returned with his beer glass jammed with ice cubes.
Bobbie looked sweetly exasperated. “Can I just say something?” she asked, simply and plaintively. “I don’t want much. Here’s all I want: I just want y’all to sell enough land so I can buy that house, and furnish it, and take a year off, and travel around the world. That’s all I want.”
“Okay, Bobbie,” said John. “I’m just trying to help this man.” He pointed dramatically at Sherwood. “Right here. Him.”
“And he wants to help us,” said Bobbie.
“Okay!” said John. “Great! What do we do?”
“We call the lawyer,” said Sherwood.
“Oh.” John looked mildly surprised. “Well, y’all go ahead. I’ve got to check on my tomatoes.” And he walked out the back door.
When Sherwood brought the new contract on Thursday afternoon, June 28, it took Shaddock about ten seconds to figure out what Stiles was up to now. If he accepted this offer and the city zoned all 201 acres single-family, he was going to have to buy it anyway, and he didn’t want to do that. He wanted to find out the zoning first, and then, if there was a good amount of multifamily, buy the land with the assurance that he could sell the multifamily to Weale. He didn’t want to roll the dice on the zoning, and since Stiles didn’t want to do that either, it seemed to him that there was no way to do the deal. As far as Shaddock was concerned, the deal just had to be subject to zoning.
“I got a suggestion,” said Sherwood. He leaned across Shaddock’s desk as if about to share a secret. “Okay, you be Stiles for a minute.”
“Jerry Don, I got you more money than I offered you last Friday. I got you eight million, seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars for that property. And it’s subject to zoning. And this is my final offer. You got three hours to make up your mind.” He leaned forward again, having finished his imaginary speech to Stiles. “See, Peter, I’m getting to a price where the temptation is gonna be irresistible.”
“Shit, two million, seven hundred and fifty thousand cash profit.”
“That’s the way we do it, right there.”
“Well, he might do it,” said Shaddock. “You can never tell.”
“Easy business, isn’t it?” Sherwood asked Buck on the way out to Stiles’ office Friday morning. “Money just rolls in, doesn’t it?”
“I guess so,” said Buck.
“But let me tell you this. Man, I’m so charged up right now I feel like I’m playing Texas again. We’re in the Cotton Bowl. I can see ol’ Darrell over there on the sidelines, pacing, wearing that headset. The Longhorn marching band’s playing. Whoo! Did I ever tell you about the ’71 Texas game, Buck?”
“Well, that game was stolen from us by the line judge, C.J. ‘Bubba’ Gernand, the gutless wonder from Baylor. That ain’t no sour grapes, baby. That’s just a bold factual comment. Man, ol’ Sherwood was great that day. I must have made thirty tackles.
“Now here’s my strategy. I want to give Norman a chance to talk to Stiles before he makes up his mind. What I’m banking on is that Norman’s got a piece of this deal. See, we’re talking about a guy who works for a salary.” Sherwood shook his head compassionately. “Now let’s say he’s got twenty per cent of the deal. They clear two million, that’s four hundred thousand. Cash. Then he puts that into industrial property and really goes to town.”
He was right about Norman, at least. Stiles was in a meeting when Sherwood got there, so he could talk to Norman alone for a while. “Look, Sherwood, you know I want to buy this deal,” Norman said in confidential tones. “But let me tell you something about this, friend to friend. Remember last month, when Jerry had his lot drawing for his Riverbend development? Okay, well, Shaddock said he’d buy ten lots. Then we have the lot drawing, and Peter doesn’t even show up. We called him up. He said he didn’t like the lots but he’d buy eight of them. Then he sent his mother out with the contract. His mother! And that’s part of what’s eating Jerry about this deal.”
Stiles was in a bad mood when he came in, and in a worse mood after he had seen the new contract. “They just don’t understand how I’m ready to sell this sucker,” he said, exasperated.
“Jerry,” said Sherwood, “he’ll put the money up if you get the zoning.”
“But I’m not gonna do that. He’s not running any risk. He wants me to sell it to him after zoning. And I’m just not gonna sell this land that way.”
“Listen to what I’m saying, Jerry.”
“Well, goddammit, Sherwood, listen to what I’m saying.” Stiles seemed genuinely angry now, and Sherwood sat back in his chair and began to speak more calmly. There was obviously nothing to do but try a completely different approach.
“Okay. How about this? Eight million, flat. Fifty thousand earnest money, flat.” This way, if the multifamily zoning were turned down and Shaddock backed out, Stiles could at least pocket the $50,000 earnest money.
“I haven’t seen a contract like that,” said Stiles. “No, wait a minute—yes, I have. Isn’t that the contract we went back with the first time? Why didn’t they make this deal when I was in the mood to make it? Now, Sherwood, you might go back to your client . . .”
“. . . and tell him to be back here this afternoon with the kind of deal I want to do.”
Sherwood was so wound up when he left that he couldn’t say anything until he was most of the way to Shaddock’s office. Then he turned to Buck. “See, you can’t ever let the ball hit the ground,” he said. “You got to keep it in the air. Or else you’re dead.”
He told Shaddock the situation straight and in a hurry. “I said to him, ‘Jerry, will you close that deal at eight million, fifty thousand earnest money?’ He said, ‘Let me think about it.’”
“So you’re saying, eight and fifty no matter what the zoning is,” said Shaddock.
“We are at the end of the dance card, Peter. The lights are getting dim. Let’s take one last pop at this deal. You put up twenty-five thousand of the earnest money, and I’ll get Weale to put up the other twenty-five or I’ll put it up myself.”
“Sherwood, let me tell you what it boils down to: the possibility of getting it zoned. And he’s not gonna get his zoning. If I thought he was gonna get it, I’d take the damn chance. But I don’t.”
If this was meant to be a final no, Sherwood certainly didn’t take it that way. “Let me do this,” he said. “Let me go back out there. Let me see if he’ll put something in black and white for me.” And he walked out and got in the Cadillac without a contract, without Shaddock having agreed to the latest terms, without, in fact, even Stiles having agreed, without any earnest money, fully confident that he was about to close the deal.
“Sherwood?” said Buck on the way out. “I’ve been with you a month now, and I’ve been thinking about my future and everything, and, well, I think I’d like to join you in the real estate business after graduation, if you’ll have me.”
“Well, I’d have to break a few rules, now, to do that,” said Sherwood. “Bringing in a UT boy. We’d have to lower our standards.” He looked at Buck with mock seriousness for a moment, then broke into a wide grin. “But I think we could find a way.”
Sherwood’s strategy when he talked to Stiles for the last time was to wing it. He offered $8 million for the property, with $25,000 earnest money, knowing he could come up with the $25,000 out of his own pocket if necessary, gambling that he could talk Shaddock into the $8 million later.
Stiles looked at him evenly, saying nothing, stroking his beard, occasionally exchanging cryptic glances with Norman. When Sherwood was finished talking he looked at Norman again. “Still doesn’t seem like that good a deal, does it?” he said.
“The eight million is strong,” said Norman, “but the twenty-five thousand isn’t.”
“So do I need to sell?” Stiles asked, shrugging. “I don’t know, man. It’s two million dollars profit. But I still don’t have a guaranteed sale. We don’t get the zoning, then he doesn’t close the deal and all I’ve got’s twenty-five thousand. He’s a bigger spender than that. I mean, that guy! He’s got to have fifty thousand dollars.”
“Is it worth it if it can be fifty grand?” Sherwood asked.
“Seems like it always has been.”
“Then let’s write a contract, and give me till noon tomorrow to get it for you.”
“No, Sherwood, I don’t want to do that.” Stiles looked exhausted, and his voice was completely flat. “See, they screwed around with my mind for so long, and now I don’t know if I’ll still do what I said I’d do. I wish they’d have signed my first counter and ended my misery. You tell them if I counter at all I won’t counter for another week.”
The ball had hit the ground. The deal was dead.
“I thought I was going to get him to sign a contract this afternoon,” Sherwood told Buck on his way back to the office. “I really did. I really, really did.”
“Seemed to me like he didn’t know what he wants to do,” said Buck.
Hearing that somehow made Sherwood brighten. “Hey,” he said, “it’s America. Nobody does.”
The Chosen Few
At the end of that day Sherwood had a visitor at his office—a small, immaculately groomed, sincere, gimlet-eyed man in his fifties named Dr. Bill Bright. Dr. Bright is the founder and head of the Campus Crusade for Christ, and Sherwood had met him at a Campus Crusade dinner the previous weekend, which he had attended at the invitation of the oil man Bunker Hunt. Dr. Bright had called Sherwood earlier in the week and asked if he could come by and talk. He brought with him a tall, pale young man named Bob Simmons.
Sherwood poured sugar-free Sprites all around and chatted awhile with Dr. Bright and Bob about Texas athletes who were also Christians. Dr. Bright radiated a beatific calm that had an immediate effect on Sherwood; all the toughness and hard bargaining of the day was suddenly gone and he was a new man, quiet and reverent.
Presently Dr. Bright cleared his throat and leaned forward, signaling that it was time to get down to business. “You know,” he said, “Dallas and Houston are the two most strategic cities in the world, in terms of Christ. Dallas is one of the most blessed cities in all the world.”
“Amen,” said Sherwood.
“People talk about the healthy economy of Dallas and Houston,” said Dr. Bright, “and I think the business climate here is blessed because God has blessed it. Because the people believe. Now New York City, New York City is one of the most corrupt, decadent cities in the world. It’s a Sodom and Gomorah. And that’s why its economy is declining. It’s a cesspool. It’s a garbage pail. And it’ll continue to be a millstone around the neck of this nation because of its decadence.
“Now Sherwood,” Dr. Bright went on, “we’ve militarily become a paper tiger. We’re impotent. We’re in a great spiritual crisis. There’s no optimism anywhere. There’s no hope. We need an awakening. And frankly, that’s why I’ve come here today. My one great objective is to mobilize men, Sherwood, like yourself. I’m looking for a thousand men like you and Bunker who will put their shoulders to the wheel. It’s always only a handful of people.”
“You can count on me,” said Sherwood. “Tell me your needs, and I’ll try to respond.”
“Basically,” said Dr. Bright, “I’m looking for a thousand men who will give or raise a million dollars each.” A billion dollars. Sherwood didn’t blink. “We have to move faster than we’ve ever moved. We have to do things we’ve never done. We want to set up training centers in every city of over fifty thousand people in the world. We need millions of decisions for Christ. We’re working in Colombia. In Kenya. In India. In Korea. Getting decisions for the Lord.”
“Let me say this to you,’ said Sherwood. “Dr. Bright, I cant’ give you a million dollars today. I have made a lot of money by anyone’s standards but I’ve never made a million dollars in a year. I may soon. But not now. But I want you to know I’m with you and I’ll put my wallet where my mouth is.”
Dr. Bright smiled a wan, holy smile. “I want to lay before you a challenging, exciting way to pray,” he said. “You can say, ‘Lord, you’ve given me everything I have.’ You can say, ‘I would like to make a faith promise. If you give me a million dollars, Lord, I’ll know what do with it.’”
“Well, I’ll accept your challenge,” said Sherwood reverently. This was a special moment for him; it was an honor to be asked to give a million dollars and to have your name mentioned in the same breath with that of a man like Bunker Hunt, and it also meant that all the hustle of the business day was a sign not of greed, but of faith. “It would not be a miracle for that to happen in my life. I’ll pray that prayer, Dr. Bright.”
After Dr. Bright and Bob Simmons left, Sherwood sat for a moment, dazed, then carefully gathered up the Styrofoam cups in his office and washed and dried them. Then he shook his head and allowed himself a small grin. “Imagine that,” he said. “Him asking an old East Dallas boy like me for a million dollars.” He poked his head out into the hall. “Anybody still here?” he asked. “Alden? Rick? Ya’ll make any money today?”
On July 12, the Dallas City Plan Commission zoned 46 of Jerry Stiles’ 201 acres multifamily and the rest single-family, although city staff had recommended that all the land be zoned single-family. The next day, Peter Shaddock submitted to Stiles, through Sherwood, a contract for the sale of the land for $8 million, with $50,000 earnest money. Stiles turned the offer down. He had decided to develop the tract out himself.
In August Sherwood arranged the sale of the 46 multifamily acres from Stiles to Bruce Weale for $3.4 million, and the sale of a nearby 150-acre tract of land on the Dallas North Freeway to Peter Shaddock for $3.6 million. Sherwood’s commissions on the two deals totaled $250,000.
On September 1, in a small private ceremony, Sherwood Blount, Jr., and Phyllis Bisch became husband and wife.