Ben Fortson, 1932 – 2024

by Jessica Fuentes May 29, 2024

Benjamin Johnson Fortson, Jr., a businessman and philanthropist who helped found the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, died Sunday, May 19, 2024.

A photograph of businessman and philanthropist Ben Fortson alongside images of the Kimbell Art Museum.

Benjamin Johnson Fortson, Jr. Image courtesy of the Kimbell Art Museum.

Ben Fortson was born in Fort Worth on June 9, 1932, to parents Benjamin Johnson Fortson, Sr. and Katherine Stripling Luckett. At a young age, Mr. Fortson accompanied his father on a trip to visit an oil derrick, an experience that left a lasting impression and later influenced his decision to go into the oil and gas industry. 

After studying at the University of Texas at Austin, Mr. Fortson joined the U.S. Army in 1953. Following his service, he completed a business degree at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. Mr. Fortson started as a landman at Champlin Oil in Oklahoma City and formed the Fortson Oil Company in the early 1960s. During his four-decade career, he drilled oil wells across the U.S.

Mr. Fortson married Kay Kimbell Carter in 1957. She was the only child of Dr. Coleman Carter and his wife Mattie, and was the niece of Kay Kimbell, an entrepreneur and art patron. Because Mr. Kimbell and his wife Velma did not have children, Mr. and Mrs. Fortson became responsible for bringing her uncle’s vision of a first-class museum to life. 

A remembrance shared by the Kimbell Art Museum noted that while Mr. Fortson often downplayed his role at the museum, he was “engaged from the museum’s early years and the opening of the acclaimed Louis I. Kahn building in 1972, and he was the driving force behind the construction of the Kimbell’s Renzo Piano Pavilion.” Mr. Fortson also served as the Executive Vice President and Chief Investment Officer at the Kimbell Art Foundation for over 50 years. 

Eric M. Lee, the Director of the Kimbell Art Museum said, “We will forever remember Ben as a kind and wise leader whose impact on the Kimbell — especially through the building of the Piano Pavilion and his oversight of the Kimbell’s investments and finances for half a century — is incalculable. He was a true gentleman, and his devotion to the Kimbell, always accompanied by grace and a sense of humor, was profound. He leaves a powerful and enduring legacy.”

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Michelle Crimmins Miller May 30, 2024 - 09:17

My father, ” Col.” Mike Crimmins, adored the family. Throughout his life the Kimbells, Carters, and Fortsons were important people to him. They were much more than “work” although they gave him employ until he passed in ’93 at 88. Heaven is filled with great people. It just gained another.


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