Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Meet the Founder of The Maverick - Gayle Hill

What is a maverick? Someone who refuses to abide by the dictates of a group, and who is independent in thought and action.

Gayle Needham Hill, founder of Maverick Fine Western Wear  and The General Store and Trading Post, both located in the Historic Fort Worth Stockyards, truly embodies the maverick spirit. With courage, persistence and pluck, she has built a thriving business that remains true to the authentic Western spirit of her hometown.

A Texan and a baby-boomer, Gayle was born and raised in Fort Worth, Texas. Only months after her birth, her father, Oran F. Needham, left for Officer Training Camp at Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia, then flew overseas to fight in World War II.  A member of the elite Screaming Eagles squadron, he fought in Germany, returning home via France in 1946.

The quintessential company man, Oran F. Needham spent his entire career with Millers Mutual Insurance in Fort Worth, serving as President and Chairman of the Board until shortly before his death in 1992. He was an avid horseman and an elegant dresser with an impressive collection of custom-made boots, silver-and-turquoise accessories, and beautifully-cut Western suits. An astute business man, Oran also instilled in his daughter a strong sense of ethics and the leadership qualities so instrumental in determining her future.

While not a business woman, Gayle’s mother, Grace, gave her daughter strength in other ways.  The daughter of local dentist, Dr. William Gayle and his wife, Lou, Grace was lively, intelligent and attractive, and her elegance and style continue to inspire Gayle to this day. Never hesitant to speak her mind, Grace taught her daughter to express her opinions and think for herself, both important traits for a maverick to have!

Surrounded by a loving family, Gayle grew up comfortably on Fort Worth’s West Side, where she attended North Hi Mount Elementary, Stripling Middle School and Arlington Heights High School.

When she headed off to Sweetbriar College in Virginia, Gayle’s primary ambitions were to marry and have a family.

But then she fell for a cowboy, and everything changed.

When Gayle married Steve “Cowboy” Murrin, in 1964, she still imagined for herself the tranquil life of a housewife. But progressively, Steve Murrin’s involvement in the conservation of the Fort Worth Stockyards became an all-consuming affair, and the entire family was called into service. So in addition to organizing play-dates for her three young children and volunteering for the Junior League, Gayle found herself working in the ticket office of the Cowtown Coliseum every Saturday night, supporting her husband’s efforts to bring the rodeo back to the stockyards.

“The city wanted to tear down the Cowtown Coliseum. At the time, they wanted to tear down anything that was old…Steve convinced them not to, leased the building from the city, and brought the rodeo back. And that was just the best thing in the world for the Coliseum, and for the entire Stockyards area.” The rodeo revived, and much more. Gayle remembers the excitement, “I’ll never forget when Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Emmylou Harris came to perform on the coliseum’s dirt floor. It was just incredible !“

The marriage did not last, but Gayle’s relationship with the Stockyards was just beginning. Like many young divorcées of her era, Gayle found herself in the unexpected predicament of having to earn a living. After completing her degree, her father quickly helped her secure a position at Fort Worth National Bank, in the Women’s Services department. The job might have been perfect on paper, but the maverick in Gayle was starting to surface.  One thing became absolutely clear : the corporate life was not for her. “I knew that I wanted to succeed, and I couldn’t think of any promotion there that would have made me happy. That’s when I knew I had to make a move, and the Stockyards was already planted in my mind as something fun to do.”

She approached her ex-husband, and they made a deal. She would leave the bank and go to work for him.

It might seem unorthodox, but the plan worked. Gayle knew that several of Steve’s stockyards properties were under-developed, and seized the opportunity. In September of 1983, she took over operations at the GeneralStore and Trading Post  with a limited inventory consisting of little more than a few red bandanas and an odd assortment of bric-a-brac. “They had snakes in formaldehyde jars…it was pretty strange!”, she muses.

So Gayle got to work, and the business grew. In only four years, the General Store was such a success that she was able to launch Maverick Fine Western Wear just across the street. Both stores are located in historic buildings dating back to 1905. Over the years, the Maverick building has served as a hotel, a bar, a private club, but it has always been known as, “Maverick”.

When asked to describe what excites her the most about her business, Gayle says, “I love the combination of things : the people on both sides, and the merchandise. The teams in both stores are friendly, they work hard, they get to know the products well. And of course, I enjoy the customers so much. There are people that come to our stores from all over the world, in addition to our core customer group, who have become our friends, and then there are the people who walk through the door and fall in love with the place.”

With the support of her husband of twenty years, William R. Hill,  and a loyal, hard-working team, Gayle has created a unique shopping experience at the Maverick Fine Western Wear. Where else can one saddle up to the bar for a cold beer or a glass of wine, relax and enjoy the experience while shopping for beautiful leather jackets from José Luis or Maverick’s own private label, a pair of fabulous, Old Gringo boots or a sterling-silver belt buckle from Vogt?

When asked to describe what inspires her most, Gayle says, “At the Maverick, I love the Southwestern flavor. We carry beautiful clothes, engraved, sterling silver and authentic Native-American jewelry. I love all the family businesses we support and the many fine manufacturers that over the years have become dear friends - all businesses with great values and ethics.

All a reflection of Gayle Hill herself, Head Maverick of Maverick Fine Western Wear.

To know more about Maverick Fine Western Wear or The General Store and Trading Post, visit each store’s website : www.maverickwesternwear.com & www.generalstorestockyards.com

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