Jonathan Perlman, founder of Tradition Senior Living in Houston & Dallas, TX.

“It’s the people that make these organizations go!” 

Ed McMahon

Ed McMahon simply doesn’t do things by halves.  This high-spirited Houstonian, after graduating from Louisiana State University in 1967, became a lifetime member of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.  And that was just the beginning of decades of leadership and volunteer fund-raising for the Rodeo (which promotes agriculture by educating the public, supporting Texas youth and showcasing Western heritage).   What got him interested in this non-profit?

“Dad was in the cattle business, so I was involved with cattle and horses from the time I was a kid,” said Ed.  “My college degree was in Agricultural Engineering, and I worked on Dad’s farm and expanded it.”

Since then, he says, he’s led many lives.  For the present, we will gloss over Ed’s highly successful residential and commercial development firm (Ed McMahon Interests), through which he built, among other structures, one of the largest homes in Houston at the time. We’ll just head straight for the philanthropy.

His initial involvement with the Rodeo began with a phone call.  “What are you doing tomorrow?” asked Dick Freeman, then president of the Rodeo.  “I want you to join the Chicken Committee!”  Ed went to a meeting to see what it was all about. He would stay on that Committee for some time, then move to the Lamb and Goat Committee—until he got another call to be Chairman of the Corporate Development Committee.  There, he would match corporate donors with scholarships starting at $2,000 each, and that first year, the Committee raised $200,000. This amount would eventually grow to more than $2 million a year under his leadership.

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Rania Mankarious

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His next call would be an invitation to be a Vice President of the Rodeo—there are only eight of them—and then to be on the 12-member Executive Committee. “They oversee a half-billion-dollar operation and 22 thousand volunteers!” says Ed, who is still an executive member.

But the Rodeo hasn’t been his only philanthropic focus. Years ago, he helped Norma Myers, founder of the Women of Distinction fundraisers for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, by building a dramatic set from which the 12 women would come out one by one – through a smokey haze.  There were 1,000 guests and a lighted dance floor.

Ed then thought, “Let’s recognize men!”  There are so many worthy Houstonians, he said, naming Dr. Michael DeBakey and Dr. Denton Cooley, among others.  “Now, we’re 12 years into the Men of Distinction, which benefits Texas Children’s Hospital.  Two of the honorees are always doctors, and the money raised is to go toward medical research for children.”

Next, another call came from the Bryan Museum of western art in Galveston to be on its executive board.  “I got involved because of the Rodeo, and it’s one of the finest museums ever,” he says, with its 20,000 artifacts – more than the Alamo’s – including historic maps and Santa Anna’s sword.  Ed doesn’t say this, but he continues to support the museum financially, helping with their education programs. His connection to the Museum is, once again, personal.  Ed has been a collector of western art and artifacts for years, including two Remingtons, a Russell and paintings by celebrated California artist Tim Cox.

There are many more philanthropic endeavors Ed McMahon has thrown himself into through the years. When asked what has motivated him to work and give on behalf of these organizations, Ed responds, “My Dad told me the city has always been good to him. He started the Diamond M Drilling Company in 1965 and the Don McMahon Research Foundation in 1975, which I took over 20 years ago.”  The Foundation has donated significant funds to medical research and education programs over last 25 years.

Ed has felt his own need to give back to Houston, which, he says, has also been very good to him. Ed now focuses on his philanthropic endeavors, which have earned him many awards. Certainly, one of the most coveted is the Social Book’s “Houston Treasure” award in 2019.  

This colorful, energetic philanthropist repeats a recurring phrase during our interview. “It’s the people that make these organizations go!” 

Yes, and among those at the top of those “people” is Ed McMahon. 


Linda Faulkner Johnston – The Tradition 

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