Did You Know? “Mr. Pipeliner” and THI benefactor, Ray C. Fish

The institutions of the Texas Medical Center owe much of their existence to the generosity of Texas oil and gas magnates, and THI is no exception. Natural gas engineer Ray Clinton Fish was one of THI’s first and greatest benefactors—although not during his lifetime.

Born and raised in New England, Fish moved west at age 21 to work in a Utah coal mine and later the Signal Hill oil field in California. In his off hours, he studied engineering for 3 semesters at the University of Southern California before taking a full-time job at the General Petroleum Corporation, where the technically gifted Fish became an engineer through on-the-job training rather than by earning an academic degree. He later designed natural gas plants and pipelines for the Sterns-Roger Manufacturing Company.

In 1946, Fish struck out on his own, coming to Houston with a few of his colleagues from Sterns-Roger to form the Fish Engineering Corporation. The company grew into a major international enterprise, building key gas pipelines all over North and South America, including the 1,140-mile Texas-Illinois Natural Gas Pipeline and the 1,800-mile Pacific Northwest Gas Line, which ran between New Mexico’s San Juan Basin and Bellingham, Washington. These massive projects earned Fish the nickname “Mr. Pipeliner.” His great financial success enabled him to establish the charitable Ray C. Fish Foundation in 1957, selling 1,000 shares of Transco stock to finance it.

Fish died of a heart attack in 1962, at age 61. Four years later, to support THI’s mission to fight heart disease, the Ray C. Fish Foundation pledged $5 million to THI and started a campaign to raise $15 million to help fund the first phase of THI’s expansion, which would increase the Institute’s capacity from 400 beds to 1,063. The Foundation’s board of trustees was chaired by Robert Herring, who had worked closely with Fish at Fish Engineering before becoming senior vice president of the Houston Natural Gas Corporation. At the time, this fundraising effort was the Foundation’s largest charitable undertaking yet. Herring considered supporting THI a fitting legacy for Fish, to whom Herring owed much of his success. (Herring later became president of THI’s board of trustees.) The pledge was approved by Fish’s widow, Mrs. Mirtha Dunn, who also was a foundation board member.

By 1969, the Foundation had raised $42 million for THI, St. Luke’s, and Texas Children’s Hospital. In 1972, THI established its highest professional award and named it the Ray C. Fish Award for Scientific Achievement—a fitting honor for THI’s great posthumous benefactor. LINK to other post.

by Stephen Palmer, Manager, Sr Scientific Medical Writer, Scientific Publications

Photos: (Top) Robert Herring (right) and artist Robert C. Joy posing with the portrait of Mr. Fish. (Bottom) Portrait of Ray C. Fish (1902-1962), which currently hangs in the lobby of THI’s boardroom.