Susan Halsey, an attorney who was involved in big real estate deals and was only the second female chairwoman of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce in its 132 years, died Friday of cancer. She was 55.
Mrs. Halsey was a partner in the real estate section of the Jackson Walker law firm and opened its Fort Worth office in 1988, five years after joining the firm in Dallas. She had served as managing partner since 2010, overseeing 40 lawyers in six offices during some of the most prosperous and worst times in recent history.
She represented Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy when it bought the Pier 1 Imports building in 2008 for $104 million and was representing Majestic Realty Co. in California in its joint venture with Fort Worth’s Hickman family for a $175 million development in the Fort Worth Stockyards. Fort Worth-based Crescent Real Estate Equities and Texas Health Resources were also clients.
But beyond the high-dollar deals, Mrs. Halsey felt so strongly about Fort Worth and its commercial real estate community that when leaders with the Real Estate Council in Dallas asked her more than a decade ago to a meeting to talk about how they could tap into the Fort Worth brokerage community, she returned to Fort Worth, called on some high-powered leaders and single-handedly started the Real Estate Council of Greater Fort Worth. Today, the organization has more than 350 members focused on public policy issues.
Nina Petty, vice chancellor for real estate and facilities at the Tarrant County College District, who worked alongside Mrs. Halsey at the council, said Mrs. Halsey was passionate about her clients and the community.
“No one has done more for the real estate community,” Petty said. “Because of her efforts, the council has become one unified voice for the commercial real estate industry. She was the pillar of that. The city of Fort Worth and Tarrant County turn to us for advice now. That’s how influential this group can be.”
Her husband, Gordy Halsey, said his wife was adept at bringing people together and making deals happen, and she did so with grace and humor. She never dwelt on being one of the few women practicing real estate law but was proud to have been among the first women to have lunch at the Petroleum Club in Dallas when it opened to women several years ago.
“She lived to make people happy,” he said. “She had a great career.”
Kurt Nondorf, managing partner of Jackson Walker’s Houston office, said the firm respected and admired Mrs. Halsey’s skills and professionalism.
“She was tenacious in defending the rights of her clients, while always maintaining good humor in any negotiation,” Nondorf said. “Susan was so disarming, because she could both turn on the Miss America charm and also be one of the boys in a male-dominated industry.
“I can’t think of anyone else who so represented the complete package of intelligence, charm, grace and dogged determination.”
She was born Susan Anderson on Jan. 7, 1959, in Beaumont to Polly and Paul Anderson. She graduated from Louisiana State University with a bachelor’s degree and her law degree. She was an avid LSU football fan and was proud to have taught her two daughters, Brooke and Taylor, the LSU fight song before she taught them nursery rhymes, Gordy Halsey said. She was honored to receive a call from LSU head football coach Les Miles early last week, he said.
Colon cancer was diagnosed three years ago. Nevertheless, she led the chamber through one of its best years ever in terms of announced economic development deals. She also represented the chamber on city committees addressing education and transportation needs.
Mayor Betsy Price called Mrs. Halsey a dear friend and “one of the great women of Fort Worth. She was an inspiration and a role model. We will all miss her dearly.”
For many years, she was a presenter at the Real Estate Council’s Real Estate Forecast, held every January for 25 years. She gave a legislative update of what was happening at the local and state levels. The council plans to pay tribute to Mrs. Halsey at its Jan. 15 event.
Todd Burnette, managing director with Jones Lang LaSalle commercial real estate firm in Fort Worth, who presented forecasts with Mrs. Halsey, said he admired her for how she respected everyone’s opinions.
“There’s not a person in the real estate business like her,” he said.
Jeff Davis of Republic Title, current chairman of the Real Estate Council, said, “What’s really remarkable is she was the touchstone for everybody.”
Mrs. Halsey served for many years with the Fort Worth chamber and was its chairwoman in 2013-14.
The chamber issued a statement: “We will truly miss this great woman of Fort Worth. Susan’s accomplishments as a lawyer were recognized throughout the state.”
Whit Smith, president of Fort Worth’s Whitney Smith Co., preceded Mrs. Halsey as the chamber’s chairman. He recalled that in September 2013, Mrs. Halsey took a trip with chamber officials to the USS Nimitz, during which she went for a flight in a jet that made a tailhook landing on the deck of the aircraft carrier.
“She was as strong as an ox,” Smith said. “Susan had such a sharp and articulate mind for being able to say the right thing at the right time. She was just respected. It was that simple.”
A statement issued Monday by Jackson Walker said Mrs. Halsey served as a mentor, was quick to put others’ needs first and was an inspiration to everyone she met.
“She leaves a void that can never be filled,” the firm said.
In addition to her husband and daughters, she is survived by her father.
Sandra Baker, 817-390-7727
11 a.m. Tuesday at Christ Chapel Bible Church, 3701 Birchman Ave., Fort Worth.