Bill Harvey had a humble start, growing up in Depression-era Georgia, but after moving to Fort Worth in 1961, he became successful through land deals, including some of North Texas’ highest-profile projects.
Included are Fort Worth Alliance Airport, Texas Motor Speedway and the U.S. currency plant.
And from 1973 through 1988, he was a co-owner of the Texas Rangers.
Mr. Harvey died Friday of brain cancer. He was 81.
According to his sons, Mr. Harvey was dedicated to sharing his wealth to help children. In recent years, he donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Food for the Hungry and traveled the globe assessing the organization’s needs.
Mr. Harvey was an early supporter of the Presbyterian Night Shelter, son Bourke Harvey said. He volunteered time there, and he brought his daughter and three sons to share the chores.
“Two nights a week, the whole family went down there and helped serve,” Bourke Harvey said. “He wanted us to help, but he also wanted us to see life’s not a cakewalk for everybody.”
His father knew that firsthand. “Dad came from nothing,” Bourke Harvey said. “I mean zero.”
He was born Nov. 26, 1931, in Cartersville, Ga.
“He grew up without a dad,” Bourke Harvey said. “But his mother was an incredible lady. Her name was Octavia Harvey, and she motivated him.
“He’d set his mind to do something and he flat-out did it.”
Mr. Harvey earned a business degree from the University of Georgia in 1954 and was an Air Force pilot through 1957. By 1961, he was in Fort Worth with a young family and a growing business, Harvey Properties.
“Dad was extremely active and driven in real estate,” said Bourke Harvey, who owns restaurant franchises. “He didn’t operate on anyone’s agenda but his own. But he was home for every breakfast and every dinner. And he was there at every sporting event.”
Bourke and his brother Holman recalled how their father joined the late Brad Corbett and others to buy the Rangers in 1973 and how they got to run the bases before games, talk to managers and watch the action from seats above the dugout.
Later, Mr. Harvey participated in joint ventures to sell land for Fort Worth Alliance Airport and Texas Motor Speedway. And in the 1980s, he donated 100 acres for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing’s Western Currency Facility in far north Fort Worth.
He sold his stock in the Rangers to a group of investors that included George W. Bush, but he remained an ardent fan. His sons said he was one of the ballclub’s longest-tenured season ticket holders.
Holman Harvey, who works in private equities and real estate, said owners of the team later asked his father whether he’d be interested in buying new shares in the Rangers. He declined but instead suggested Holman, who is now a minority owner.
“I would not have been able to have that piece unless my dad broke down that door for me,” he said.
Longtime secretary Trish Barbee said Mr. Harvey once stopped for a hamburger at a Dairy Queen in Coleman and noticed a woman with three grandchildren. He visited with her and learned that she was struggling to raise them for her daughter.
“So,” she said, “Mr. Harvey got her number and address, and when he got back to Fort Worth, he had me send her a check. He wrote her an encouraging note. He just loved to do those things for kids.”
In 2007, he donated $260,000 to Food for the Hungry, an international relief and development organization, Holman Harvey said. The gift helped provide food, medicine and education for children in Asia, Africa and South America.
Holman Harvey said Food for the Hungry was among groups that benefited from his father’s recent gift of valuable land in Bedford.
“He always had candy and golf tees in his pockets that he just wanted to give to kids,” Holman said. “He had a strong will, and he was very strict on us, but I never met a man with as big a heart for others, especially the unfortunate, than my dad.”
Other survivors include son William Harvey Jr., daughter Octavia Leifeste and 11 grandchildren.