Longform

Moncrief Family Values

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By contrast, Mike's family was hardly even in the picture. Born Mike Trapp, Mike was the son of Mary Daily Wiley Trapp and was adopted into the Moncrief family when his mother married Richard Barto Moncrief. Richard and Mary later had two more children, Richard B. Moncrief, Jr., now 48, and Lee Wiley Moncrief, now 41 and incapacitated since a 1988 auto accident.

Mike says that he still does not know why his grandparents favored his uncle over his father. "I'm not sure I ever understood the entire story. What I understood was that initially my father did not want to be involved in the oil business but found himself in a position where he had to be. But that was not something he shared with me."

Mike blames Tex, whom he describes as intensely controlling, for driving a bigger wedge between his father and grandfather. "Tex has always been possessive of my grandparents. It's like he says: 'that's my mom and my dad, and I can love them but no one else can.'"

In his interview with the Star Telegram, Tex suggested that the work habits of his younger brother's family made them less a part of the fold. "Dick didn't like to start working until 5 pm," Tex told the paper. "He already was a wealthy man and that was good enough for him." A friend of Tex's makes the point more bluntly: "Dick didn't work like the rest of them."

Clearly sensitive to suggestions that his father was a layabout, Mike Moncrief concedes Richard started his days "late." But the senator--known as an advocate for abused women, the mentally ill, and other disenfranchised groups--contends that neither he nor his father ever worked any less hard than their kin; they just did different work.

Mike, for example, began a political career in 1970, at age 26. After one term in the Texas House, he was elected three times as Tarrant County judge, serving from 1975 to 1987. He has represented West Fort Worth in the state Senate since 1991. "I've probably put in a lot more long hours than they have or ever even thought of," Mike says of his uncle and cousins. "Now it might not be on a rig somewhere or in the middle of a blinding snowstorm in Wyoming. But it might be on the floor of the senate, trying to deal with issues like family violence. Or it might be sitting until three o'clock or four o'clock in the morning, listening to public testimony about patients being locked up for insurance money."

Moncrief also believes that Richard Barto Moncrief set a more humanitarian example than Tex. "My father had a big, big, heart. He really cared about people. He loved people. He loved to enjoy himself. He loved to play, whether it was dealing slot cars, model trains, go-carts, or boats. Not being around Tex, I don't know if he did like to play. I think he was certainly more work-driven."

The senator believes the split widened in 1958, when Monty and Tex moved into a new office building.

From their offices five blocks away, Mike Moncrief, his dad, and brother Richard Jr. went about their separate lives. Although they shared financially in some of the elder Moncrief's oil ventures, says Mike, Monty and Tex always dictated the terms. The patriarch and his eldest son would tell their relatives when to write a check to cover drilling costs, then mail them payment for their interest.

Mike and Goodwin, his accountant, say Monty and Tex rarely gave Richard's side of the family a detailed accounting of their oil properties. Nonetheless, Mike acknowledges, they never opted out of the family deals and never demanded a full accounting; they trusted the family patriarch. After all, Monty hit more than his share of gushers.

The divide within the family was as distinct at home as it was at work.
At Monty's and Elizabeth's mansion, an enormous Tudor affair near the River Crest Country Club in West Fort Worth, holidays were awkward. "When my grandparents were both alive, occasionally everyone would end up [at the house] or most of us would end up there at the same time," recalls Mike Moncrief. "When that happened, things got kind of tense. We just found that it was better to see whose car was parked there before we stopped."

The family owned vacation homes in Palm Springs, Calif., and Gunnison, Colo. But Mike remembers visiting his grandfather's California home only once, after Monty's death. Mike's side of the family got access to the Colorado house only if Tex and his family didn't want it. Once Mike had to cancel plans to vacation there at the last minute because his cousins decided they wanted to use the house after all.

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Miriam Rozen
Contact: Miriam Rozen