Willard H. Hammonds Sr.
Legendary South Texas businessman and bon vivant Willard Howard Hammonds Sr. died in Corpus Christi, TX on Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017. He was 87. Known for his real estate empire and globe-trotting lifestyle, Hammonds lived life by his motto “Let the Good Times Roll!”
Born in Pilot Point, TX on June 21, 1929, he was adopted by Lela and Johnnie Hammonds the next day. A hard worker all his life, he began earning money when he was eight, delivering the Corpus Christi Caller Times. In high school, he picked up another habit that would accompany him through life – his love of gambling. Under the high school bleachers, he shot dice and ran a craps game. And, as was true throughout his charmed existence, more often than not Hammonds walked away a winner.
At sixteen, he joined the Merchant Marines, boarding the USNS Mission San Francisco. A year later, he debarked in New York City where a fellow seaman took him to a pizza parlor. He turned up his nose at the mess, refusing to eat the stuff. It wasn’t until ten years later, when he finally tucked into his first pizza, that he realized the error of his ways and the wasted decade. But his adventures at sea would give him a lifelong love of travel that he would indulge at every opportunity.
At the Nazarene Church in Corpus Christi, Hammonds met a woman with beautiful blue eyes named Jeannine Delores Schmidt. Winking at her while they prayed silently at the altar, Hammonds began a love affair with the woman who would become his wife and the mother of their two children. They wed on June 22, 1950 at the same church. They were happily married for 51 years until Jeannine’s untimely demise in 2001.
Hammonds’ first and only daughter, Johnnie Lynn Hammonds (later Russell), was born on May 6, 1951. From her father, Johnnie inherited a wanderlust and the will to make her own way in the world. When she was 16, Johnnie left Corpus to follow in her father’s footsteps traveling the world. That same year, Hammonds’ second child was born – Willard Hammonds, II. , known affectionately as “Bud.” A loving and loyal son, Bud would remain in Corpus to expand the family business while raising his own family with his wife Carol in the house next door.
Over the years, Hammonds would parlay a house moving business into real estate holdings that stretched from Corpus Christi to Dallas, TX. And while he loved closing deals and making money, first and foremost Hammonds worked to live, which he did in high style. In private planes, which bore the apt call sign Whiskey Hotel, to his outsized pleasure boats the Sundancer and the Jeannine D, Hammonds traveled the world and brought the party with him. A raconteur ready to spin never-ending tales to anyone willing to listen, he made friends wherever he went. Along the way, he lost a finger, made a fortune, hooked many a marlin, piloted planes, smoked cigars while waterskiing, buttered his pizza, made friends out of strangers, barked at loved ones, took good care of his loyal employees and always picked up the tab.
His extreme generosity impacted countless lives. An avid, lifelong reader, he was always willing to share his knowledge and wisdom. As Hammonds himself said of his singular life: “I climbed to the top of the mountain and loved what I saw.” He was, and remains, THE ORIGINAL.
In addition to his countless friends and loving children, Johnnie Russell (Jay) and Willard H. Hammonds II (Carol), he is survived by his four grandchildren: Tiller Russell (Jessica), Chase Russell (Ashley), Willard Hammonds III, and Whitney Hammonds, along with his six great grandchildren, and his sister-in-law Jenny Bone (Wayne).
A private service will be held by the family. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to one of the following three charities:
Mrs. Willard (Jeannine) Hammonds Sr., Memorial Endowed Scholarship, 6300 Ocean Drive, Unit 5741, Corpus Christi, TX 78412 (scholarships for women business majors at Texas A&M CC); Ark Assessment Center , 12940 Leopard St., Corpus Christi, TX 78410; La Retama Central Library 805 Comanche, Corpus Christi, TX 78401 or a charity of your choice.