Photo by Earl Nottingham / TPWD
A Man for All Seasons
Hixon led efforts to preserve Government Canyon.
By Lydia Saldaña
The Texas Parks and Wildlife family lost a treasured friend when Tim Hixon passed away in July 2018. A former commissioner of the agency (1989–95), Hixon also served as the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation’s second chairman (1995–2002), was honored as a trustee emeritus and was inducted into the Texas Conservation Hall of Fame in 2010.
Hixon’s life was defined by his love for his wife, Karen, and his extended family, and his passion for conservation.
Along with his Texas Parks and Wildlife service, Hixon was a leader at the Nature Conservancy and the Texas Nature Conservancy, the San Antonio Zoological Society, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute. Hixon also served as the president of the Boone and Crockett Club and as director and executive vice president of Game Conservation International.
His circle of friends and colleagues remember him as a man of honor and integrity, a consummate outdoorsman and generous philanthropist for causes he cared about.
“Conservation was simply part of his DNA,” says TPWD Executive Director Carter Smith. “It defined him in so many ways as a sportsman, a rancher, a businessman and as a philanthropist. He was the proverbial man for all seasons.”
Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission Chairman Emeritus Lee Bass was appointed to the commission the same year as Hixon. He recalls Hixon’s dedication to his role there.
“Tim’s conservation ethic was unwavering,” Bass says. “He always stood 100 percent in the corner of what was best for the resource. He was very pro-sportsman and constantly sought ways to expand and enhance sportsmen’s opportunities, but the well-being of the resource always came first.”
Photo courtesy Hixon Family
Tim and Karen Hixon were instrumental in the acquisition of Government Canyon State Natural Area. Hixon felt at home in the boardroom and on the ranch.
Hixon brought his lifelong love of hunting and fishing to the commission and applied that passion and knowledge to other areas of wildlife conservation.
“Tim was always very supportive of wildlife diversity and conservation, though he himself came into the conservation movement as a hunter and angler,” says Andrew Sansom, who was the TPWD executive director during Hixon’s tenure on the commission. “He was an active supporter of the Boone and Crockett Club, but was also a steadfast supporter of nongame conservation, wildlife viewing and the importance of outdoor recreation in state parks. His national reputation as a strong supporter of hunting and fishing enabled him to be an even more effective spokesman.”
Hixon provided leadership on a wide range of issues, from water to waterfowl and from parks to private lands.
“He was a big-picture guy who was very well-versed in complicated conservation issues,” Smith recalls. “He was ultimately focused on making things better for hunters, anglers, land stewards and anyone who cared about the future of our lands, water, wildlife, parks and the outdoors.”
As in any group, one voice cannot make a change without the ability to persuade others to agree.
“Tim was a soft but steady voice, always a team player,” Bass says. “His fellow commissioners listened closely to what he had to say; he always seemed to be on the right side of the issue.”
Perhaps Hixon’s most significant conservation accomplishment was championing the acquisition of Government Canyon State Natural Area. Thanks to Tim and Karen Hixon’s leadership, more than 12,000 acres within the city limits of San Antonio are now conserved in perpetuity, forever protecting a large portion of the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone.
“That project simply would not have happened without him,” Sansom says. “Tim was always a steadfast supporter and champion of acquisition, which was exemplified by Government Canyon.”
Hixon saw an economic and community conservation imperative in protecting the Edwards Aquifer through the land purchase. He knew that both components had to be present to make the project work.
“Tim was a real visionary, but also the ultimate pragmatist,” Smith says. “Government Canyon really brought to the forefront the critical nexus between land and water conservation and why it is important to invest in protecting and conserving land to protect water quality.”
San Antonio had been Hixon’s home since 1962, when he left the Army and moved there to work with his uncle and attend Trinity University. It was there he built a life and family with his wife of 43 years, Karen, and their two sons. Hixon took his love of nature and his love of San Antonio and created something wonderful.
“Government Canyon was a great concept, but at the time, it was one without an existing constituency,” Bass says. “Tim had the vision to make it happen. It was his gift to his hometown.”
As his colleagues note, it takes leadership to get all sides working together on a project as big as Government Canyon.
“The philanthropic piece of the Government Canyon project was critical,” Smith recalls, “and the Hixons’ charitable support was key to encouraging other families and foundations and businesses to invest in the project. That set the stage for a very notable public/private partnership for conservation and ultimately for water.”
When Hixon’s Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission term was nearing its end, he was approached about another volunteer opportunity to serve the people of Texas: as chairman of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation’s board.
“It was obvious that Tim’s commitment to all things TPW wasn’t going to subside just because his commission term was ending,” Bass says. “The Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation happened to be at a transition point at that same time. Tim had tons of experience in conservation philanthropy and, of course, he knew TPW like the back of his hand.”
Paula Peters was the foundation’s first executive director, and an admirer of her boss.
“Tim grew the organization and took it to the next level,” she says. “It was his idea to bring on non-commissioners, and people who had business contacts, access to funds, and who knew about fundraising. He was a great businessman, and he brought best business practices to the foundation.”
Hixon’s success wasn’t confined to the San Antonio project, and his funding methodology contributed to a new age of park acquisition in Texas.
“That public/private partnership model that Tim helped to cultivate at Government Canyon absolutely set the stage for projects like Powderhorn Ranch and the new Palo Pinto Mountains State Park project west of Fort Worth,” Smith says. “All of those projects and many more were set in motion by Tim’s well-established notion that public and private conservation dollars could and should be leveraged.”
Lydia Saldaña is communications director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation.
Photo courtesy Hixon Family
Tim and Karen Hixon, married for 43 years, were partners in family, civic life, conservation and philanthropy.
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