Former McAllen Mayor Othal Brand Sr. died peacefully in his sleep at 1:05 a.m. Dec. 12, 2009, in McAllen, Texas, surrounded by his family.
Born Aug. 12, 1919, in Grayson, Ga., to Homer Eugene Brand and Ilee Americus Brand, he was the second of six children. His early education was in Atlanta public schools, but during the Great Depression, he and his older brother, William, dropped out of high school to begin a small family produce business that provided financial support for their mother and younger siblings.
Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and served from February 1942 until October 1945 in Guadalcanal
and the Solomon Islands. Following the war, he was married to his sweetheart, Kathryn Louise Brand, in a Marine ceremony at Quantico, Va.
They have been married 64 years and were the great love of each other’s lives.
Mayor Brand served for six decades in city, state and national government and was a globally recognized figure in the agricultural business. An international businessman whose early career started humbly as a barefoot boy selling produce on the streets of Atlanta, Georgia. Mayor Brand understood the intricacies of starting and managing business, negotiating trade agreements, and shipping produce around the world in seven foreign countries and 48 states. As founder and CEO of Griffin & Brand, he developed one of the largest family-owned produce companies in the world.
Under his leadership, Griffin & Brand built multi-million dollar businesses with facilities in countries around the world with branches located in Mexico, England and Central America, and became the largest shipper of produce in Texas. He was a guest on “What’s My Line?” as the world’s largest grower and shipper of onions.
Mayor Brand served several presidents as an agricultural consultant, and served on Legislative Roundtables in Washington under numerous different administrations. In addition, he received two presidential appointments including an appointment by President Nixon to serve as a member of the Industry Advisory Committee for the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act, and an appointment by President Reagan to serve as a member of the National Commission of Agricultural Workers.
He was widely recognized for his leadership in the agricultural community and served numerous posts for professional organizations, including post as director of the National Onion Association, as council member of the South Texas Onion Marketing Order Commission, as a member of the organization of Texas Food Processors, as Association Chairman of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council Board and as a member of the Executive Committee on the Board of the Texas Association of Business Director of the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association. In addition to his service in the agricultural industry, he served as director of the Commission on Regional Export Expansion, as director of the Texas Association of Businesses, and as a member of the National Federation of Independent Business, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of free enterprise.
In recognition of his leadership in the industry, Mayor Brand was inducted in 2003 to the Horticulture Hall of Fame of Texas A&M University, for his support of scientists and students with funds, land, labor and facilities.
In addition, he was recipient of the prestigious Knapp-Porter Award by Texas A&M University, the Distinguished Service Award of the Professional Agricultural Workers of Texas, and was inducted in 2004 into the Texas Heritage Hall of Honor for his contributions to the Texas vegetable industry.
Although he became an icon for big business in multi-national agriculture, Mayor Brand may best be remembered for his contributions during two decades as McAllen mayor. He was considered the most influential figure in South Texas politics for over a quarter of a century. A colorful and sometimes controversial character, he remained a force to be reckoned with until the day of his death. Prior to his tenure as mayor, he served on the McAllen School Board for six years, and then as City Commissioner for the City of McAllen for four years. As commissioner, he assumed an appropriate leadership role and completed the necessary apprenticeship needed to prepare for his service in the Office of the Mayor, which he maintained for 20 years.
He was an active member of Calvary Baptist Church, which was a mission outreach of First Baptist Church in McAllen that began meeting 54 years ago in the backyard of Mayor Brand and his wife Kathryn. Othal, Kay and their children were among the first dozen charter members of the church. Until the first building was completed, church meetings were held in the Brand’s backyard, and baptisms were held in their backyard swimming pool
Active in matters of faith, Mayor Brand served as National Director of the Religious Roundtable, as director of the Baptist Foundation of Texas, as president of the Rio Grande Valley Baptist Brotherhood Association, and as a Deacon and Sunday School teacher for over 25 years.
Working in various states in Mexico, Othal carried his Bible and his pistol through the rural countryside earning the title “pastor con pistola.”
Other than his family and his faith, the City of McAllen was his greatest joy. During his tenure as mayor, the City of McAllen became the leading and most progressive city in the Rio Grande Valley, and remains so today. His visionary guidance in educational excellence and community improvement is still evident in the City. Under his leadership, the City of McAllen received many state and national awards, including All American City. McAllen is now the third fastest growing MSA in the nation.
During his years in public service, he worked tirelessly to initiate migrant education while serving on the McAllen School board, spearheading the building of the Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs, initiating an affordable housing program for lower wage earners and fighting in Austin for an independent charter for a local community college. He also served, as president of the Tip of Texas Girl Scout Council, was instrumental in founding the Rio Grande Valley Children’s Home and in the development of the McAllen airport.
As mayor, he was instrumental in filling the gaps in the education system by creating and constructing three new school facilities, Texas State Technical Institute, South Texas Community College and was a founder of Academy of Learning, a school for special needs and expelled students.
Because he was deprived of an education during the Depression, he greatly valued the opportunity to support education for young adults, and provided college scholarships for countless young adults. In addition to financial support of individuals and universities, he served on several university boards and ultimately received three honorary doctorates for his contributions to education including an Honorary Doctorate in Humanities from University of Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1971, an Honorary Doctorate in Law from Hardin-Simmons University, Abilene, Texas, in 1976, and an Honorary Doctorate in Business Administration, Howard Payne University, Brownwood, Texas, in 1964.
He also endowed the Chair of Free Enterprise and Public Policy” at Howard Payne University. In addition, he was awarded the Freedom Medal from Douglas MacArthur Academy of Freedom in Brownwood, Texas, “For his dedication to duty, honor, country, and his active participation in the preservation of our American Heritage and the free enterprise system, and his role as defender of liberty and the ideals of freedom…”
Mayor Brand’s commitment to education was a life-long passion that was expressed throughout his years of public service. He served as president of the Board of Trustees of the McAllen Independent School District, served for eight years as member of the McAllen Independent School District Board, president of the Rio Grande Valley Association of School Boards, member of the Texas State Committee on Public Education, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, University of Corpus Christi, Chairman of Development Board, University of Corpus Christi, Chairman of the Board, General Douglas MacArthur Academy of Freedom; Howard Payne University, 1962-72 and 1973-86, and served as a member of AFS (Foreign Student Exchange) Associate Program as well as a host family for Turkish exchange student.
Mayor Brand received numerous other honors and recognitions during his lifetime, including induction in 2004 into the Texas Heritage Hall of Honor for his contributions to the Texas vegetable industry. He received the First Rio Grande Valley Outstanding Citizen of the Year Award, an award as Founder of the McAllen Boys Club (First in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and Member of the Regional and National Boards), and was recognized with the Boy Scouts of America as McAllen’s Distinguished Citizen Award.
In addition, Mayor Brand received the seven-state regional Medallion Award from the Southwestern Region from the Boy’s Club of America, and the Silver Keystone Award from the Boy’s Club of America, which is the highest award a layman can receive, as well as being honored with the Humanitarian of the Year Award from the National Arthritis Foundation.
Mayor Brand also received numerous awards for his international work, including becoming recipient of the Men of Achievement of Texas Award, the City of Peace Award from the State of Israel, the Ambassador of International Goodwill Award, the International Yearbook Award for contributions to Inter-Americanism, the Humanitarian Award from Los Niños Huerfanos de Mexico, and an Appreciation Award from the City of Reynosa, Mexico. With his personal commitment to the building of the maquilas in Reynosa, many consider Othal Brand to have been one of the best mayors Reynosa ever had.
A visionary and a builder of many things, Othal Brand will be greatly missed, but his gifts of insight and leadership to his family and his community will continue to be felt for many generations.
A loving husband and adoring father, Mayor Brand is survived by his wife of 64 years, Kathryn Louise Brand, and by their four children, Marjorie Lynn Ferrell, Karyn Brand Purvis, Othal Eugene Brand Jr. and Cynthia Lee Brand.
Eighteen grandchildren, and 19 great-grandchildren also survive him.
Visitation was held at Calvary Baptist Church on Monday, Dec.14, 1600 Harvey Dr., McAllen, Texas, from 4 to 6 p.m. Funeral services will be held at Calvary Baptist Church at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 15.
Graveside service will follow in the Roselawn Cemetery with a 21-gun Marine salute.
The family requests that memorial contributions be made to the Brand Christian Youth Camp, P.O. Box 4408, McAllen, TX 78502 or any other charity of choice in lieu of flowers.