What's your 'crazy idea' that could change SA?

This week San Antonio is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Southwest Research Institute.  But our Randy Beamer thinks we should we also be making a big deal about its founder, Tom Slick, Jr.


Have you ever had a crazy idea that you think might just change the face of San Antonio - if only you had the money or the influence to make it happen?

Well, a guy named Tom Slick, Jr. had a bunch of those ideas here decades ago. And since this son of an oil tycoon actually had the money (and most likely was a genius) he actually saw a number of his 'crazy' ideas become reality and begin to make a huge, lasting impact here.

This week, San Antonio is celebrating the 70th anniversary of one of Tom Slick's 'babies' - the Southwest Research Institute (SWRI).

With 3,000 employees and research projects involving everything from deep sea to deep space, the Institute's estimated yearly impact on our economy is $1 billion. Yes, that's billion with a B.

SWRI also happens to be next door to another incredibly successful brainchild of Tom Slick: the Texas Biomedical Research Institute.

It boasts the only privately-owned Biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) laboratory in the U.S. And with dozens of scientists focused on research into genetics, immunology and virology, it's another world-renowned institution putting San Antonio on the map in Biomed.


So my crazy idea is - why don't we make a much bigger deal out of this pioneering visionary Tom Slick in San Antonio?

Why don't we have some kind of Tom Slick Day or Week or Festival or something that really tells the story of what he did? You come up with something.

That way we could put a human face on the kind of outside-the-box, risk-taking, philanthropic spirit we want to encourage in the next generation of San Antonians.

Now, if you've lived here for a while, you probably know there's a Tom Slick Drive in the Medical Center area. And there's a park out on the far west side named for him too.

But for one of the most colorful characters ever in San Antonio? That's not so much.

And do you really know much at all about Tom Slick?

I'm guessing you don't.

I suppose one reason is because a long-talked about Hollywood movie about his life hasn't materialized - at least not yet.

Nicolas Cage was set to star in one back in the 1990's and there's been talk of one ever since, but so far, no movie.


One reason we may not embrace the Slick legacy like we could is that he might have been too colorful a character for some people in San Antonio.

You see, not only was he a successful oil man, businessman and inventor (lift-slab construction technology), rancher (developed the Brangus breed of cattle), but later in his life he was also an adventurer who went on expeditions to search for the Yeti and Bigfoot.

Yes, like a real-life Bigfoot hunter who went to Nepal and wrote books about World Peace.

And the last of several organizations he founded here was the Mind Science Foundation, which years ago focused more on the esoteric topics of ESP and telekinesis compared to its current focus on science-based research of the brain and consciousness.

But that whiff of New Age, Bigfoot weirdness, which may have embarrassed some in San Antonio years ago, is also the kind of thing that just adds to Slick's larger-than-life legacy.

Sure, funding an actual expedition to find an Abominable Snowman is 'out there.' But so was creating world-class scientific research institutes on a ranch at the edge of what was then a remote town waaay down in Texas not known for its education or sophistication.

It took faith, sheer will, and, let's face it, a little bit of crazy to think he could make it work.

But he did.

And maybe a couple more reasons we don't make a big deal about his life here is that he died young and there isn't that much footage of him.

Tom Slick, Jr. was just 46 when he was killed in a plane crash in Montana. And because he died before TV news came into its own, there's little footage of him outside some black and white newsreel clips.


Yes, a movie could change all that.

But any movie about Tom Slick will probably focus on the most outlandish parts of his life.

The Nicolas Cage movie-that-never-happened was supposed to be an Action-Comedy titled 'Tom Slick, Monster Hunter.'

And the title of another still-rumored film project is Tom Slick, Mystery Hunter, based on the book by his niece, Catherine Nixon Cooke.

But I think we should embrace Slick's life and legacy and the audacity of all of it, Bigfoot-warts and all.

Remember, San Antonio has been shaped by a whole lot of people whose outside-the-box ideas really took off.

Think of those brave souls in the early 1900s who made sure we didn't do the sensible thing and pave over the always flooding San Antonio River downtown.

Instead of using a new bypass channel as a reason to get rid of the inconvenient River Bend, instead, eventually we wound up with our beautiful River Walk.

Before that, there were the women who decided to make a big deal out of saving the Alamo and the land around it. Some business and city 'leaders' at the time thought that was a little cray-cray too.

And more recently, there's the vision of Kit Goldsbury, who has turned the old abandoned brewery north of downtown into the Pearl, a vibrant, still-growing development that anchors an even larger booming neighborhood.

That was hardly a sure thing.


San Antonio has such a rich history and is now focused on it more than ever because of our upcoming 300th birthday next year and the fact our historic missions just became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We have treasured our past and fought hard to preserve so much of it.

Why can't we highlight this Slick piece of our history and showcase the fact we have had (and still have) some wonderfully colorful characters?

Think of it as capitalizing on one more thing that makes us unique.

If we do anything, I hope it's focused on encouraging people (like you - or my kids) to take those crazy ideas to improve this place and give them your best shot.

I mean, I had this crazy idea for a segment and it caught the attention of San Antonio's mayor? That proves anything is possible. So come up with some #SlickIdeas and post them on our News 4 SA facebook page.

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