By Don Bolding
Killeen Daily Herald
Killeen developer Gary W. Purser Sr., 17th recipient of the Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce's Roy J. Smith Award, says the city needs to raise new leaders like the early winners of the top prize as the city moves toward the size of a small metropolis.
"The reason Killeen has reached its position now has been the personal leadership and financial backing of Roy J. Smith, Roy Reynolds, Ted Connell and people like them," Purser said. "We're going to need powerful leadership to face future needs – new thoroughfares, for example. In the next 10 or 15 years, we'll have 150,000 people in the city."
Killeen has a pool of strong leaders, he added, but they need an organization to support them, and he acknowledged that new power brokers need the personal financial resources to devote significant time and energy to civic affairs.
"People in their 40s and 50s need to step up to shape themselves into someone everybody will respect and follow," he said.
Purser said he was "totally taken aback" when his name was called as the award recipient at the GKCC banquet recently, but he seems to fit the mold he was describing. He heads three companies, Purser Construction Co., Chafin, Purser, Inc. and Bentina Construction Co.
He built the original Killeen City Hall, now the Killeen Police Department headquarters, the building that houses Lott, Vernon & Co., the first Killeen Daily Herald building, Connell Chevrolet, and the library, power plant and gymnasium at Central Texas College, among other landmarks. He has given away much land and granted easements for water and sewer lines in the city, and he purchased several sites for schools in local neighborhoods. He said he built almost all the 7-Eleven food stores in town, partly because the Veterans Administration and Federal Housing Administration once required some nearby shopping to issue loans.
He is currently working on a half dozen subdivisions whose maps are on the office walls.
He came to Killeen in 1941 when the town had about 850 people, before the arrival of Camp Hood. He graduated from Killeen High School in 1950 and started in the construction business in 1955.
"Roy J. Smith was my banker when I had nothing," he said, "and he helped me along until I could get going." Smith was president of First National Bank of Killeen.
He tells of local leaders who called then-President Lyndon B. Johnson about the need for dams on local rivers. "LBJ said, 'Well, why don't we build two at once, then?'" The results were Belton Lake and Stillhouse Hollow Reservoir.
The Smith award is given for lifelong contributions to improving the Central Texas area, and in most cases, the lives were long before people qualified for the prize. Several of the recipients are now deceased, although some are still strong in their careers. Some were instrumental in turning the temporary Camp Hood into Fort Hood and helping it become the largest military installation in the western world.
"We told the Army, you send the troops here, and we'll house them," Purser said. "Our policy of keeping housing prices low for the military personnel has been the best thing ever done for the city or for the fort." It has been a major factor in the decision of many Army retirees to stay or return to the area, he said.
Other Smith award winners
Roy J. Smith got the award when it was instituted in 1991. Other recipients, chronologically, have been H. Roy Reynolds, retired Lt. Gen. H.G. "Pete" Taylor, Tommy Joe Mills, Bob Shoemaker, Bernice Beck, Ted Connell, Bill Yowell, Gene Goodnight, Dan Manfull, Terry Tuggle, Mary Kliewer, Dr. Charles Patterson, William S. "Bill" Bigham, retired Brig. Gen. Jack Hemingway Sr. and Bill and Jean Shine, who received the honor as a couple.
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