Who is 'Moody,' and why is everything in Austin named after them?
On Saturday, UT's Blanton Museum of Art will officially open its renovated outdoor space called the Moody Patio.
Of course, it's just the latest space/building/school/other thing named Moody in Austin.
You've got the the Moody College of Communication at UT. The Moody Bridge at the Moody College of Communication. The Moody Rooftop at the Contemporary Austin. Moody Hall at St. Edwards University. The Mary Moody Northen Theatre — also at St. Ed's. Moody Bank. The Moody Pavilions at Laguna Gloria. The YMCA's Camp Moody in Buda.
Then there's ACL Live at the Moody Theater. The Moody Amphitheater at Waterloo Park. And Moody Center.
It can all be a little confusing.
"Like today, we were trying to figure out where to meet," said Christine Young, whom I met a few months ago at the Moody Theater (that's the one by City Hall). "The center, the amphitheater, the theater, which one? We could have totally not met because we accidentally went to the wrong one."
All these Moodys led Christine to a simple question: "Who is Moody, and why is everything named after them in Austin?"
Who is Moody?
The story starts with a man named William Lewis Moody, Jr. He was born in Fairfield, Texas — about an hour east of Waco — in 1865. His parents were Pherabe Moody and William Lewis Moody, Sr. (It should be noted that Moody Sr.'s father, Jameson Moody, owned enslaved people in Virginia.) Moody Sr. served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War and later moved to Galveston, where he started W.L. Moody and Co. They worked in cotton and railroads.
W.L. Moody, Sr., and W.L. Moody, Jr., went into business together, starting a bank in 1889. W.L. Moody, Jr., went on to build an empire that included insurance, ranching, hotels and newspapers.
W.L. Moody, Jr., became one of the richest people in Texas.
In 1942, W.L. Moody, Jr., and his wife, Libbie Rice Shearn Moody, started the Moody Foundation, a nonprofit that would manage the vast majority of their fortune after they died and make charitable contributions to causes across Texas. Libbie Moody died in 1943 and W.L. Moody, Jr., died in 1954.
Various Moodys would sit on the board of the foundation over the years, including their daughter, Mary Moody Northen. One Moody was convicted of defrauding the foundation in 1987. But over time a lot of things around the state would come to bear the Moody name.
There are two Moody Coliseums, one in Dallas and one in Abilene. There's Moody Towers at the University of Houston. The Moody Planetarium in Lubbock. In the Moody's hometown of Galveston, there are tons of things that bear the name: Moody Mansion, Moody Gardens, the Moody Neurorehabilitation Institute, etc.
To review: Who is "Moody?" You could say the original Moody is W.L. Moody, Jr. But the people who run the foundation now are all Moodys, too, so you could say that "Moody" is all of them.
Why is everything named after them?
The second part of Christine's question is relatively simple. All these things in Austin are named Moody because the Moody Foundation donated a whole lot of money to each one of them.
"The beauty of the foundation's mission is that we can specifically help any nonprofits within the state of Texas," said Ross Moody, W.L. Moody, Jr.'s great-grandson and one of the current trustees of the Moody Foundation. He spoke to my KUTX colleague Jeff McCord in 2022.
Many foundations focus on one very specific thing, like health care or education. But the Moody Foundation — one of, if not THE, biggest foundations in Texas — donates money to a wide variety of causes.
For instance, the Moody name is attached to three major music venues in Austin.
"I live in Austin. I love Austin. The music scene is big," Ross Moody said. So, the foundation has given big money to support music venues.
In 2009, the Moody Foundation gave $2.5 million to help outfit ACL Live at the Moody Theater.
In 2017, it gave $15 million to help build the Moody Amphitheater in Waterloo Park.
In 2019, it gave UT $130 million, and in return, we got Moody Center.
But they must have known what they were doing, right? That three major music venues would all be called Moody?
"There was not a strategy to do this," Ross Moody said. "They happened individually. To be honest, without a lot of thought, going into the fact that there would be three."
But I still wonder: Why is there only one game in Austin with pockets deep enough to get their name on all these things? OK, there are a few other names: Dell, Long and a handful of car dealers.
In a city as wealthy as Austin, why isn't there a wider variety of names on the sides of buildings?
"For the most part, Austin [does] not have a history as a major capital center," said Ken Gladish, who used to run the Austin Community Foundation and the Seton Foundation. He said, up until relatively recently, Austin hasn't been the kind of place where someone like W.L. Moody, Jr., would build a fortune and later start a huge foundation with all that money.
Austin has had state government, higher education and real estate, but up until the 1990s, it's hard to argue that Austin was ever a real commercial center. So, we end up in a situation where one or two names dominate.
OK, fine, but now we've got three music venues all named Moody. Isn't that weird? Gladish says not really. He points to Indianapolis, where he used to live.
"In Indianapolis, every street corner is named for Lilly — the Lilly Pharmaceutical Company," Gladish said. "Because the private family foundation, the Lilly Endowment, has been the most significant, important and impactful donor in the history of almost any town."
OK, so it's not unusual. But why? Why would anyone want their name on all these buildings? I have no doubt there is some element of ego in having your name on a building. But Gladish points to another, more practical reason.
"A lot of giving follows the patterns of leaders," he said. "So if you're XYZ Foundation, and you really love and are interested in advancing the state of K-12 education in Central Texas, you want to encourage others to join with you."
Having a constant reminder of your financial support (your name on a building) is a way to do that. And here we are, talking about nonprofits that the Moody Foundation supports.
Plus, we get to have this as a treat.