A leap of faith…About Thomas Baker Slick Jr.
Himself a successful inventor and deeply interested in the ideals of scientific research, Tom Slick created a series of research organizations to meet the challenge to better mankind. After graduating from college, he decided to “realize in bricks and mortar the nonprofit approach to scientific research” that had always fired his imagination.
By 1940, Mr. Slick had already purchased 1,602 acres of land extending from Leon Creek west to Potranco Road and south of Culebra Road. Located eight miles west of downtown San Antonio, this section was the site of the Institute’s original laboratories and became the first part of his famed Essar Ranch, a phonetic name for the letters “S” and “R,” standing for “Scientific Research.” Its corrals were populated by herds of valuable breeding stock. His cattle breeding success included the original “Brangus,” a hybrid that combined the heat resistance of the Brahman and the meat quality of the Angus. The area would ultimately grow to a 4,000-acre tract.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Tom Slick volunteered for the U.S. Navy and was commissioned as a lieutenant in September 1942. It was during this time that he was to make a decision that would shape the future of his dreams for humanity and ensure their success.
While in the South Pacific, he came across an old 1937 Reader’s Digest article on the Armour Research Foundation of Chicago, then headed by Dr. Vagtborg, who would later become the Institute’s first president. In the article, Dr. Vagtborg was quoted as saying: “We can improve anything.” When asked about the story, Dr. Vagtborg claimed he was misquoted, because what he actually said was, “Anything can be improved.” Nevertheless, Mr. Slick later said it was then and there that he decided he was going to recruit Dr. Vagtborg to assist him in developing his research institutions.
The conventional wisdom was that Mr. Slick’s dream was wishful thinking on a grand scale because San Antonio did not have a university with graduate education, an extensive library system, or a major industrial complex to support an institute of applied research. “It was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” one skeptic duly noted. However, Mr. Slick did not believe it.
Undeterred in his quest to see his vision succeed, Tom Slick surrounded himself with strong business advisers and friends who became the board of the Institute. A significant step forward came in the late 1950s, when the Institute moved to its current location at Military Drive and constructed a modern laboratory building.
As Tom Slick’s vision, energy and drive powered the Institute’s early years, his family joined in his quest with great enthusiasm. His mother, Berenice Slick Urschel, was often the first donor when major projects were conceived. Meanwhile, his younger brother, Earl Slick, who along with Tom founded Slick Airways, served as a trustee from the institution’s conception.
Wanting to create a broad and permanent base of support for the Institute’s research programs, Tom’s sister, Betty Moorman, suggested the establishment of a high-caliber club whose members would make an annual contribution to the Institute. And so The Argyle, a stately southern mansion that originally served as the headquarters to a horse ranch, was purchased and converted into a unique, 1,400-member-strong, private club devoted to financial support of the Institute’s life-saving research. Betty’s husband, Lewis J. Moorman Jr., also shared her brother Tom’s vision and served as the Institute’s chairman for more than a decade. Other family members and descendants are involved with the Institute to this day.
Indeed, Tom’s family, friends and many others – even those who met Tom only briefly – caught his contagious enthusiasm and joined in his mission to build a “city of science” that would benefit all of humanity through advances in research. This shared vision, commitment and philanthropic support provided the impetus Texas Biomed needed to become what is today one of the leading independent biomedical research institutions in the United States.