Walter Nold Mathis passed away on 30 December 2005 at the age of 86 years. He was born in San Antonio on 13 August 1919 to Arthur Mathis and Jessie Bell Mathis. He was the grandson of Thomas Henry Mathis, rancher and founder of Mathis, Texas and co-founder of Rockport, Texas. His maternal grandfather was Samuel C . Bell, former mayor of San Antonio.
Mathis was a direct descendant of Maria de Jesus Curbelo, a member of one of the original Canary Island families who founded San Fernando de Bexar in 1731 and of John W. Smith, who brought 32 volunteers to the Alamo from Gonzales, was the Alamo's last messenger, and San Antonio's first Mayor under the Republic of Texas. Mathis graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor's Degree in business administration. He was a member and officer of the Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity.
On the morning after Pearl Harbor, Mathis enlisted in the Army Air Corps. Following pilot training, he was given command of the 45th Squadron, 265th Division, 9th Air Force. The unit, called "First Pathfinders," provided front line B-26 aerial support for the Normandy invasion and later for General Patton and consisted of 196 men. Only 28 survived. Although eligible for discharge after completing 25 missions, Mathis completed 65 missions and remained on active duty until the war ended. Captain Mathis mustered out of the Army Air Corps on 29 December 1945, rewarded by three Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Air Medal, and a Presidential Citation.
Upon returning to San Antonio, Mathis was hired by Dittmar and Company and became one of the youngest stockbrokers to hold a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. He was elected as president of Dittmar and Company and finished his career as first vice president-investments, chairman's council, and financial consultant for Smith Barney, recently celebrating his 60th year with the company. In addition to having a successful career as an investment banker, Mathis was a collector, philanthropist, and preservationist who worked tirelessly for the benefit of San Antonio and Texas.
Mathis continued the tradition of civic service that had inspired his family for twelve generations. He became president of the San Antonio Symphony, the Order of the Alamo, and the Christmas Cotillion Club. He was a founder of the Argyle Club, founding member and director of Club Giraud, lifetime trustee of the McNay Art Museum, first chairman of the San Antonio Riverwalk Commission, and chairman of the Historic Review Board for the City of San Antonio. Mathis served on boards of the San Antonio Museum of Art and the Witte Museum. He was a life member of the Witte Museum and the San Antonio Little Theatre. He was a member of the Friends of the McNay, the Quillin Society for the Witte Museum, the German Club, the St. Anthony Club, the King William Association, the Victorian Society in America, the Napoleonic Society of America, the Royal Scottish Dance Society, San Antonio's Founding Heritage Society, the Friends of the Canary Islands, the Sons of the Republic of Texas, and a Knight in the Order of San Jacinto among others.
Mathis was responsible for the preservation and redevelopment of the King William Area by first buying and restoring his house, Villa Finale, and later purchasing fourteen other 19th- Century historic houses in the area. He restored eight houses completely, and after fixing the foundations and installing metal roofs on those remaining, he often sold the homes to young couples or friends, carrying the notes at low interest and assisting them with guidance during their restoration process. Through his efforts, the King William District was designated as a National Historic District, the first in Texas.
Mathis was a member of the Texas Commission on the Arts, chairing the Governor's Mansion Restoration Committee and assisting with the restoration of the Fulton Mansion in Fulton, Texas. He raised the funds to restore the Anton Wulff House for the Conservation Society Headquarters and led the effort to restore the Ursuline Convent and acquire the surrounding property for the Southwest Center for Arts and Crafts. He was a member of the San Antonio Conservation Society and received 8 different awards for his conservation efforts on the Riverwalk and in the King William Area. Mathis was made an honorary member of the San Antonio and Texas Chapters of the American Institute of Architects. He received a Conservation Award from the Texas Historical Commission; a Stars of Texas Preservation Award from the Gillespie County Historical Society; the Ruth Lester Award from the State of Texas, the state's highest award for Historic Preservation; the Amanda Cartwright Taylor Award, presented by the San Antonio Conservation Society for a lifetime of dedication to the restoration of historic places in Texas; a National Award of Merit from the Historic Homeowners of America; a Lifetime Achievement Award from the San Antonio Downtowners' Association; the Louise du Pont Crowninshield Award, the National Trust for Historic Preservation's highest national recognition; and The Cornerstone Award from the Texas Society of Architects for lifelong efforts to preserve and restore important historical and architectural icons in Texas.
In addition to amassing amazing collections, Mathis gave significant gifts of art to many organizations including the Witte Museum, the San Antonio Museum of Art, and Trinity University. Three years before his death, Mathis donated his house and extensive collections to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and established a sizable endowment for its operation as a museum.