Cowboy Hall of Fame inductee reflects on life as a cattleman
Like country music artist Willie Nelson, Gerald Sullivan’s heroes have always been cowboys.
So, it was a special privilege for the Galveston native when he was inducted into the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame in January.
“It was probably one of the greatest honors of my life,” Sullivan said.
In his acceptance speech, Sullivan thanked his wife and family and talked about how much the recognition meant in context of his life’s work.
“My father has been dead some 35 years, but I still try to please him every day,” Sullivan said. “He truly was my hero. I took a great deal of satisfaction in the honor, but I wish he had been here to see it. He should have been the one to get it.”
Almost since the day he was born in 1945, Sullivan’s life has centered around ranching and cattle, he said.
Sullivan is a fifth-generation Galvestonian. His father worked in the dairy industry and later managed a ranch in what is now the Indian Beach Subdivision, he said.
Sullivan would eventually take up his father’s work after graduating in 1967 from Texas A&M University in College Station.
“Always, while we have been involved in many other things, we have been in the cattle business,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan is co-owner of the Santa Rosa Ranch in Crockett and Navasota, which is the largest registered producer of Brangus and Ultrablack cattle in Texas.
“That’s what we do,” he said. “And becoming the biggest breeder has been a big objective of ours for the last seven or eight years.”
And that other work?
Sullivan also has been active in real estate development, maritime operations and construction. He served as chairman of the Port of Galveston’s governing board as the port recovered from Hurricane Ike, which struck in 2008.
He also has volunteered for many island organizations, including on boards at the University of Texas Medical Branch.
“The future of Galveston is very important and leadership is going to be key,” Sullivan said. “I have always thought that you have to involve yourself in a community and give back. You can’t just expect others to do it.”
At the end of the day, however, it all comes back to cattle for Sullivan.
Sullivan is quick to talk about his ranch’s operations and emerging markets in Asia and Europe.
“I’m proud of my people and what they’ve accomplished,” he said. “I think they are some of the best in the industry and the proof is in the pudding.”
Much in Galveston has changed since Sullivan first took up ranching in the area.
Sitting on his porch in the Evia neighborhood his family developed, Sullivan remembers the vast ranches wealthy Galveston families used to keep on the West End of the island, he said.
“The cattle population on the island is minuscule compared to what it was,” he said. “A number of the old families all had ranches out here.”
Sullivan’s father, in fact, used to own the land that later became Evia and Sullivan later owned it.
The family ran cattle on the land until about 2005.
“Really nice people live here,” Sullivan said. “When my wife and I moved into the neighborhood, the neighbors all welcomed me because they thought I was brand new. It was heartening that they were so nice.”
His family has been in the cattle business for more than a century, and with daughter Kelley Sullivan involved with ranch operations, the Sullivans don’t see that changing soon, he said.
“We believe you have to be a progressive thinker in this industry,” Sullivan said. “If you aren’t, you can get left behind in a hurry.”