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Kirksey, George Turner, 1904-1971 | University of Houston Libraries

Name: Kirksey, George Turner, 1904-1971

Historical Note:

George Kirksey, sportswriter, traveler, and baseball promoter, was born in Hillsboro, Texas on Feb. 22, 1904. Following his graduation from high school in Hillsboro in 1923, he attended the University of Texas at Austin for two and a half years, where he studied journalism and worked part-time for local newspapers.

Kirksey became a sportswriter for United Press in 1927. During the 1930s he became a well-known figure in sports journalism, publishing hundreds of articles. In 1933 he was sent by UP to China, India, Egypt, and Italy to write a number of travel stories. He married Ethel Shutta, singer and actress, in 1940.

During World War II, Kirksey joined the Air Force as a public relations officer with the rank of First Lieutenant with the Ninth Army Air Force Division. By the end of the war, Kirksey had achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, received several commendations for his work, and had been in Egypt, Libya, England, France, and Germany.

Following his return from service, Kirksey and his wife moved to Houston. Kirksey opened a public relations firm, and became involved in several local enterprises. He founded the Houston Civil War Round Table during the mid-1950s.

Kirksey's primary activity involved bringing major league baseball to Houston. In the late 1940s Kirksey began his work, which would include several different attempts to force the major leagues into allowing Houston to have a team. Kirksey was a supporter of the Continental League, which would have been a direct competitor with the American and National Leagues, and led a group of prominent Houstonians in their futile attempt to purchase the St. Louis Cardinals in 1952.

In 1957 he joined with several other men including R. E. "Bob" Smith, Roy Hofheinz, and Paul Richards, to form the Houston Sports Association. This group would eventually become the owners of the Colt .45s (later known as the Houston Astros), following the expansion of the National League into Houston in 1962.

Kirksey held the position of Executive Vice-President within the Houston Sports Association until 1966. During this time, he was instrumental in the promotion of the team and the "Eighth Wonder of the World," the Astrodome. Kirksey was also involved in the various controversies surrounding the Astrodome and its baseball team. In 1965 Kirksey realized that he was being pushed from the Houston Sports Association, as Roy Hofheinz moved to take control of the organization.

On July 21, 1961 he married Billie Joyce Smith. He and Ethel Shutta Kirksey had divorced in 1957. Kirksey had no children of his own but had two step-sons from his marriage with Ethel Shutta. Kirksey and Billie Joyce (Smith) Kirksey were divorced on November 13, 1964.

After Kirksey's contract with the Houston Sports Association was denied re-newal, he sold his share of the Astros to Roy Hofheinz in 1965, who later became sole owner of the team. Kirksey toyed with creating a new football team in Houston to challenge Bud Adam's Oilers, but quickly lost interest.

Kirksey became fairly wealthy from the sale of his share of the Astros, as well as the sale of his stock in KTRK, the first commercial television station in Houston. With this new-found wealth, Kirksey began traveling, primarily in Europe and the Caribbean. During this time he wrote a series of travel articles that were published in the HOUSTON POST, and he became involved in auto racing. Kirksey spent most of his last years traveling in Western Europe. Kirksey died in France in 1971 in an automobile accident.

Sources: Sources: "Chronology,"Houston Chronicle. Special Section, page 15, April 8, 1990; Gene Elston, "Let Houston live up to its baseball tradition,"Houston Chronicle Section 3, page 11, April 5, 1988; Campbell B. Titchener, The George Kirksey Storey: Bringing Major League Baseball to Houston. Austin, Texas: Eakin Press, 1989.

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