Ben Fortson III often donned a tuxedo and smoothly navigated the arts and social functions that came with being a Kimbell scion.
He was equally comfortable in a cowboy hat at a Western event.
“Whenever I would see B3, as I liked to call him, whether it was at the [Fort Worth] Stock Show in his never-out-of-fashion Shady Oak-style hat or at Bass Hall impeccably dressed, Ben was always bright, cheerful and full of enthusiasm for the event,” businessman Ed Bass said Friday.
“He was a member of the board of both organizations, but I think most passionate about the Stock Show and Rodeo. He saw his own family roots in our Western heritage. It’s dedication and active participation like Ben’s that makes our city such a special place.”
Mr. Fortson died Monday of heart disease. He was 55.
“He never let on about the challenges of his heart issues,” said longtime friend Mike Berry, president of Hillwood Properties.
“He was always looking forward, always positive. I’ve had a lot of people call me this week, shocked at the news, because they had seen him in the last few months working out at the Fort Worth Club or at Shady Oaks. No one really had a clue. This was the testament to his positive nature.”
Benjamin Johnson Fortson III was born Dec. 3, 1959, in Fort Worth to Kay Kimbell Carter Fortson and Benjamin Johnson Fortson, founders of the Kimbell Art Museum. Kay Fortson is the niece of business leader Kay Kimbell, whose fortune was the basis of the Kimbell Art Foundation and Kimbell Art Museum.
Mr. Fortson sat on the foundation’s board with his mother.
Mr. Fortson graduated from Fort Worth Country Day School and attended the University of Texas at Austin. He later graduated from Texas Christian University.
Mr. Fortson and Berry, along with George M. Young Jr. and Dee Kelly Jr., became friends in elementary school at Country Day.
Young and Kelly boasted of being “on the last great Country Day football team” with Fortson.
“Ben was an offensive lineman, and he was good,” Young said. “We were on the 1978 state championship team with Dee Kelly. It was the high point of our high school careers.”
Mr. Fortson, Young and Kelly went on to UT Austin.
Mr. Fortson later spent two years in the business management program at Sotheby’s International.
“Ben’s best qualities were his people skills,” said Young, co-owner of the oil and gas exploration company Collins and Young.
“He lit up a room when he walked in. He always had something funny on his mind. He had an irreverent sense of humor.”
Kelly, a managing partner in Fort Worth’s Kelly Hart & Hallman law firm, said: “Ben was very friendly, incredibly friendly. Ben always made people feel comfortable. He respected people. It was one of his greatest qualities.”
The friends eventually replaced football with golf. Only Mr. Fortson would participate in heli-skiing.
The friendships were multigenerational.
“His parents were friends of my parents,” Young said. “And all the second generation remained very close.”
Mr. Fortson’s business interest was in Benco Oil and Gas, of which he was owner and operator.
His civic and cultural interests included the Kimbell and Performing Arts Fort Worth. He supported the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo and the Houston-based Texas Business Hall of Fame Foundation.
“As a member of the Kimbell Art Foundation’s board for many years, he was devoted to advancing its mission of collecting and preserving art of the highest quality and to making it accessible to all,” Kimbell Director Eric M. Lee said. “All of us here at the Kimbell mourn his passing.”
In addition to his parents, survivors include his wife, Lisa Palermo Fortson; two sons, Benjamin Johnson Fortson IV and Coleman Carter Fortson; his twin sister, Karen Fortson Davis, and sisters Kimbell Wynne and Lisa Burton.
Gaile Robinson, 817-390-7113
10:30 a.m. Saturday at Christ Chapel Bible Church, 3701 Birchman Ave., Fort Worth