100 Years in the Business of Life
A century can barely contain all the accomplishments of these inspiring alumni.
By Matt Turner
Shudde Bess Bryson Fath, BBA ’37, of Austin and Dr. Light Townsend Cummins, BBA ’37, of San Antonio turned 100 this year, but a century can’t contain all the life inside these two alumni. Back when UT tuition was about $25 per semester, both went to business school and graduated during the Great Depression with the same formula for success: a little tenacity and lot of doing what you love.
PASSION AND GRIT: SHUDDE FATH
“I talk so much you won’t believe it, but I’m an introvert,” says Fath, the famed Austin civic activist whose voice has rocked city hall for more than five decades. Always gifted with numbers, Fath graduated valedictorian of Bastrop High School. Her father, a physician, ran a small hospital, and her mother — who had completed two years of medical school herself — administered anesthetics and took X-rays for him while raising their six children.
In 1933, when women’s work choices were mostly limited to teaching, nursing, and clerical jobs, Fath met with some skepticism as a UT business major. One professor of accounting, C. Aubrey Smith, “picked on me,” she recalls. “He would call on me more often in class, and seemed to hope that I would fail to answer the question.” She would always disappoint him.
Fath graduated with highest honors and, in 1938, landed a job at $90 a month in the tax department at the Texas Employment Commission — the same year she married UT student Conrad Fath. The two would have one child, Betsy, and Fath would eventually retire after 42 years with TEC.
But her life was never about quietly crunching numbers. “I’ve always cared about some issue or some cause,” says Fath. Indeed, in the early 1970s, the issue was a large difference between commercial and residential electric rates; as a member of the advisory Electric Utility Commission, Fath helped keep residential rates low for decades. She still sits on the commission, which meets in the Shudde Fath Conference Room.
Also bearing her name is a 77-acre tract along the Barton Creek Greenbelt. She served 29 years as treasurer of the Save Barton Creek Association. And in 1980, Fath was the first woman in Texas to win a sex discrimination case, against the TEC — breaking the glass ceiling for countless women. Her advice to new graduates: “You gotta give a damn about something and then work hard to try to make it happen.”
PLANNING FOR HAPPINESS: DR. LIGHT T. CUMMINS
He had long known he would be a dentist like his father — a renowned physician dentist who conducted medical experiments with the Curies. “I had no intention of going to business school to be a businessman,” says Cummins. From high school, Cummins knew his path; and he knew his business classes would fuel the journey.
After completing his studies at UT, Cummins landed a job in New York City, where he worked three years as an account representative for the Black Diamond Steamship Lines. He roomed with several friends from UT, including Walter Cronkite, and earned his MBA from Columbia University.
But dental school — and Texas — beckoned. Cummins took his DDS from Baylor University straight to the Army Dental Corps, where he served as a captain. Married in 1945 to Roberta Kelley, whom he’d met in New York, the young oral surgeon devised his own retirement plan by investing in oil — a little trick he’d learned in business school. For the bulk of his career, Cummins specialized in prosthetic reconstructions, rebuilding the palate in patients with birth defects or cancer. “There were only two of us doing this kind of work in South Texas, so I traveled a lot,” he recalls.
His reputation as a surgeon was matched only by his leadership in the business of dentistry. In the 1950s, Cummins incorporated his private practice — the first dentist in Texas to do so. Today it’s almost standard. His colleagues also followed his lead in financing, billing operations, and insurance coding. Texans can, in large part, thank Cummins for their corporate dental insurance plans. As hard as he worked, he was “always happy” in his career. “That is a difficult thing for most people — to find what they like to do,” he says. “I found it.”
Cummins stayed true to his plan: practicing dentistry in San Antonio for 25 years and retiring in 1976 at age 60. He tracks the investments that have made a 40-year retirement feasible using double-entry bookkeeping — by hand — which he learned at UT in the 1930s and has been using ever since. Cummins has filled his retirement with service, helping homeless people “get back on their feet” through Christian Assistance Ministry, and volunteering at museums and schools. The trick to reaching 100? “Keep breathing!” he says with a hearty laugh.