UNM People Changing Worlds: Emma Showman
Posted June 23, 2014
Emma Showman truly loved New Mexico and education. She gave testimony to those passions when she remembered the University of New Mexico in her trust. Her gift of mineral royalty interests—oil and gas—now fund in perpetuity the Emma R. Showman Endowed Teaching Scholarships at UNM.
Perhaps Shari Williams of Tulsa, Okla., remembers Emma best. When her cat ran into the neighbor’s garden, a 3-year-old Shari met Emma and Winfred Showman and began a lifetime relationship as their surrogate granddaughter. “I had my own room in their house, and I traveled with them,” she says. Even when Shari’s family moved to a different neighborhood five years later, Shari and Emma remained close friends. “She’d pick me up once a week from school and I went to their house.” Thus, Shari can tell a story or two about Emma Showman’s life.
Emma was born in 1903 to an Arkansas family so poor that their house had only a dirt floor. She helped care for her older sister who was mentally challenged due to a severe illness at an early age. In time the family moved to New Mexico, where Emma eventually became a schoolteacher in the Santa Rosa and Tucumcari areas. Emma most enjoyed teaching English to Spanish-speaking grade-school children. Shari recalls that when she was away at college, Emma even wrote her letters in Spanish, which Shari would need to have translated.
In the mid-1930s, Emma married Tulsa oilman Roy B. “Pete” Thompson, a 50-something widower who spent part of each year on his New Mexico ranch. Emma helped him oversee the buying and leasing of mineral interests, and became quite an astute businesswoman. In fact, in the 1940s when the 36,000 – acre Lazy Three Bar ranch west of Santa Rosa caught Emma’s eye, she arranged its purchase on her own. According to Shari, Pete told her to offer $1.50 an acre, certain that the owner wouldn’t go any lower than that. However, Emma bought the land for 75 cents an acre!
Shari gives another example of Emma’s keen business sense. “In 1980, Emma said she felt there was going to be a big turn in the economy—that it was going to go bad,” she says. “Emma put her ranch in New Mexico up for sale and a gentleman from St. Louis bought it the next week.” By 1981, the United States experienced an oil crisis.
Emma wasn’t just a sit-behind-a-desk person; she got involved. “Industrious” and “independent” could have been her middle names. One year, the drought was so bad that Emma feared losing the beef cattle on the ranch. Taking the situation in hand, Emma and her ranch hands mounted their horses and drove the herd to Kansas where they could be fed. “She was a pioneer kind of woman,” comments Shari.
Pete and Emma were living in Tulsa when Pete died in 1951. Emma continued to manage his oil wells and other interests. Characteristic of oilmen during that era, Pete believed his mineral interests would produce greatly at some point. On his deathbed, Pete asked Emma to locate the man who initially sold him the minerals in Loving County, Texas, and split everything with him fifty-fifty. She did, and in 1984 the site yielded an excellent gas well below 17,000 feet. “It was a big windfall for Emma,” Shari says. “She found the man in Florida and split the royalties, keeping her promise to Pete.” Not only was she honest and ethical, but she also “was very, very intelligent,” notes Shari. “Emma really could relate and work in a man’s world in the era when women didn’t work in those fields. She was able to negotiate and make incredible business deals and decisions in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s. She was the only woman on our church building committee in the 1950s —11 men and Mrs. Showman. That was a big deal back then.”
In 1954, Emma married Winfred A. Showman, one of the first dermatologists in the Tulsa area. He didn’t want to leave his rose bushes, so she made his home hers. Ultimately, the home came to include a game room for area youngsters. “She used to have all the neighborhood kids over to play and she taught us all to wager our pennies playing Pokeno,” Shari remembers. “She loved children. She talked to every child she saw at the store.” Of course, her caring for children focused largely on Shari. “I had a lot of illnesses when I was little,” says Shari, “and they’d take care of me. She told me, ‘When you get big, you’ll have to come take care of us.’”
That’s just what happened. In 1989 when the Showmans’ health began failing, Shari left her office manager position to manage the oil wells, leases and other affairs. Dr. Showman suffered a debilitating stroke in 1991, and from that time on, they each had a private nurse. “Their number one wish was to stay in their home,” says Shari, and they both lived there until their deaths. Dr. Showman passed away in 1994. Shari oversaw activities and managed the business until Emma’s death in July 2000 at age 96.
The Emma R. Showman Endowed Teaching Scholarships at UNM provide scholarships for students wanting to become teachers, based on merit and need.
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