A Dinner with Foster Friess

The good and faithful servant

Yesterday came word that Foster Friess passed away at 81 years-old.

Around seven or eight years ago after we’d just moved to Texas, I was invited to a dinner thrown by Foster Friess at the Four Seasons outside of Dallas. I knew who Mr. Friess was and what he did, but had not met him personally.

I didn’t know what to expect, but the first thing I saw was Friess’s cowboy hat and that he didn’t just wear it as an accessory, he knew how to wear it: You take off your hat to greet folks and you take and keep it off at the dinner table, just as he did. His handshake was firm and he knew what everyone did and how long they’d been in Texas. Friess even knew my husband’s background. I know he prepped himself about his guests before the dinner but you’d never have guessed. From this I immediately saw why Friess was so successful: he paid careful attention to the little things and made doing so a habit.

It was a lot like in that scene from “The Devil Wears Prada” where Meryl Streep’s character greets dinner party guests as assistants to her right and left act as her whispering mental rolodexes on guest information, except Friess needed no such help. He casually and effortlessly worked the room and spoke one on one with every person or couple invited. He employed no hovering assistants. Here he was, a longtime married man and successful entrepreneur comfortable with small talk, capable of throwing his own dinner party while traveling and working, not too busy to look over the food before it went to the tables. This, just like his charitable work, was just another form of stewardship.

In the small room where eight or so tables were situated with guests circling each, Friess kicked off the night’s conversation by asking each guest to reveal something to the room that no one present knew prior, aside from perhaps the spouse. It could be something as small as “played the clarinet in junior high.” The responses were revealing, funny, and fueled lively discussion for the rest of the night. It forced you to see attendees not as either Friess’s business associates or heads of organizations to which he donated, but as the woman who made paper mâché puppets as a hobby or the burly guy who could sing every word and pitch-perfect note of Whitney Houston’s cover “I Will Always Love You.”

After that evening we didn’t keep in regular contact, aside from Christmas cards featuring his family and horses. That evening wasn’t any kind of news-making event but upon observing him I did learn a few things from it: No detail is too small to be beneath your notice. It doesn’t take a lot of time to make a person feel comfortable, just sincerity.

During a time when wealthy GOP donors were putting money in dime-a-dozen “think tanks,” Friess helped spark the conservative new media revolt in the early aughts. A lot of you read well-known conservative news sites that likely wouldn’t exist today without Friess’s investment and early counsel. In addition to his charitable work, he helped finance voter outreach, grassroots groups, youth groups, numerous events that, a decade-plus on, yielded alliances which strengthened the conservative movement.

A giant in the movement, Friess was devoted to family, country, and stewardship of others. Matthew 25:23 was the first thought in my mind upon hearing the news.