Waltrip Alumni Association

Mr. S.P. Waltrip, The Man    

written by Cindy Greene Reibenstein '72 


Who is this man that our school is named for? We may have not even considered this fact while attending the school but his exceptional character and devotion to service, leadership and learning propelled him to great respect within the community and within the field of education during his short time here on earth.  Stephen Poole Waltrip was born on December 17, 1878 in Missouri and came to Texas as a child.  He began teaching at the age of 16 and continued his studies at The University of Texas and in 1910, at the age of 32, became area superintendent of the three school districts outside Houston: Harrisburg, Heights, and West End.  This is the Heights area we know today. He led an extensive bond movement to build a new Heights High. When these areas became annexed into Houston in 1918, he was became Principal of Houston Heights High School and then he opened the new high school, John H. Reagan in 1926.  He led Reagan building service and leadership with education until his untimely death on February 21,1932 at the age of 54. He and his wife, Hattye, had twin sons: Robert E. Waltrip and Maurice C. Waltrip.  Maurice became a dentist and musician who loved the magical tricks to entertain his patients as his father had used thus enlightening character to inspire him and others. Hattye and Robert E. continued the funeral business that the family began in 1925, Heights Funeral Home.  Robert E. Waltrip also died young in life, leaving his wife and young son, Robert L. Waltrip, to build the largest funeral home corporation, SCI, in the world.  From the Heights Funeral Home, the first branch out was the Waltrip Funeral Home, opening in 1962. The inspiration of Mr. Waltrip leaves a service of legacy with the family and with the student body.      


But more about the man.  Stephen Poole Waltrip was a Master Mason, head of the Reagan Lodge in '23 and '24; he was active in the Methodist church and he loved the study of nature. He loved the outdoors, walking in the woods.  You could find him walking on a daily basis as he loved to study nature. He also loved carpentry, specifically making cabinets.   He made the cabinets in his principal’s office.  His enjoyment with nature and cabinet making highlights one of his sayings, "learn to be of good company to yourself’ and he would stress this with his family and students by encouraging them to go walking alone, sit quiet in nature and learn to enjoy you! He considered himself an average man, realizing we all have shortcomings but he felt it a duty to himself and the Maker to make the best of what you have.  He stressed along with other words of wisdom but more importantly with his actions the quality and importance of character with his students, his co-workers, friends and more importantly with his family. 


Mr. Waltrip was proud of his Welsh heritage and visiting with family was important. He stood for truth, honor, service and leadership.  Mr. Waltrip was known for being a strong, steady man with sayings to learn by: “Make best of what you have.” “Learn to make decisions and abide by those decisions. . . this gets you to the right one.”  “Get your trouble out in the open and come to grips with it.”   He led the community in many growth arenas and was a friend to many in all walks of life and from all ethnic backgrounds. He was a man of great integrity. He was fair and did not show favortism.  He even expelled his own son, Robert, from school for a spit wad incident.   It should come as no surprise that service and leadership were strong components, foundational blocks, for S.P. Waltrip Senior High.             


In 1917, Mr. Waltrip was the Superintendent of the three school areas that were not annexed into Houston at that time.  To get a feel of his spirit, here is a poem he wrote to the Class of 1917: “This year’s book is closed and sealed at last.  Nor can we alter what is past.  Our griefs, our pleasures, thoughts and acts, are all on record as plain facts.  But here before us pure and white are pages now on which to write, are free but to choose twixt joy and sorrow and start our future from tomorrow.”  In 1919, as the area schools become annexed into the Houston School District, he becomes Principal of Houston Heights High School, what is now known as Hamilton Middle School.  But before the area was annexed, it is written that Mr. Waltrip spent ‘tireless efforts on the bond issue.’  For building the new school, he went to New York and had the bond approved by a bond attorney and then he went to Chicago when it was sold. He did not surrender to the discouraging factors. The bond built new rooms for the Houston Heights High school, now Hamilton, improvements for Harvard and Cooley and Helms elementary; when Central High burned down, Heights welcomed those students in.  “Mr. Waltrip never deserted the ship but stayed faithfully with the job with a perseverance that will bring and has brought forth some wonderful results.” You can get to know a person from the student body and a senior stated, “being suspended by Mr. Waltrip was better than he being mad at me.”  He was also known for taking a joke, as this one was in revealed in the yearbook:   Mr. Waltrip: Earl, why are you late for school this morning?  Earl: the bell rang before I got here. 


During the years of Mr. Waltrip being Principal at Heights, he opens the new Heights High School, now Hamilton, and is known by the senior class as ‘the Inspector General’  and in 1925 the last year he was at Heights they dedicated the yearbook to him.  Heights now officially became Hamilton as Reagan High School opened in 1926 and he opened that school.  To symbolize the transfer from Heights High School, green and white, the students and faculty marched from Heights to Reagan; this symbol of moving on but keeping their spirit, now maroon and white, fundamental, as he advocates for the students graduating rituals for the next few years embody the Heights traditions within their new district.  


Mr. S.P. Waltrip died in 1932, age 53, the Heights community mourned his passing; the student body dedicated the yearbook to him. They write: “The senior class of 1932 take from their hearts this dedication, to the great and noble character who, while living controlled the destinies of many, and, after departing in body, hovered near us, guided and directed us in spirit. The dynamic personality of whom we speak is our former beloved principal, Mr. S. P. Waltrip. This man, a spotless character and Christian gentleman, set for all of us an example that is worthy of emulation. The very thought of his spiritual presence hovers over us like the pillar of fire of Moses, and leads us in the direction of higher ideals. In memory of his high example we place ourselves as pawns upon the board of life to be moved about as the divine inspiration that he has left, directs us.”           


Where did they get such a feeling? Below you will find the writings of Mr. S. P. Waltrip. As you read them, the character that filled the students of then, embody us now and they are the blocks that Waltrip High School is founded on. 


Some Observations of the Senior Class of 1919 by S.P. Waltrip (while at Heights High)           

 “At the beginning of the school year, September 1918, there were 52 members of the senior class. Two of the members married during the year and two members of the class moved away from Houston. One of the young ladies who married remained in school, however, in order that she might graduate with her class. This is a commendable as it is unusual. From this it is seen that the class has lost only three of its members during the entire year. Their loss, however, is offset by the fact that two new members have entered the class during the year and will make a total of 51 to graduate. This is, no doubt, a usual record. It can be truthfully said that not one member of the class has really been lost.            


The consolidation of the Heights School System with that of Houston brought about a number of changes, affecting credits required for graduation. This change militated against the interest of a great number of the class. There is not, however, a single instance in which the handicap was not met and successfully overcome.            


A large majority of the class have spent their entire school experience together. This is especially true of the High School experience. This condition, together with the further fact that all preceding classes of the Heights High School have held their own commencement exercises in the Heights, caused the present class to desire that their separate and distinct identity be preserved. For this reason, they asked the superintendent and school board to allow them to hold their graduating exercises in the same manner as they have always been held in the Heights, except that it be under the authority and direction of the superintendent and school board of the city of Houston. This request was promptly granted. Therefore it may be naturally assumed that in this act, the present class has established a precedent that will be followed by the succeeding classes of the Heights High.           


A graduating class of 51 from a four-year High School, whose total enrollment is approximately 400, gives an exceedingly high percentage. This is a credit to the entire school, but especially so to the Senior Class of 1919.            


One of the chief tests of the efficiency of any High School is the number of graduates which it sends to college or university. An exceedingly high percent of the present class expects to attend college or university, beginning next year. This not only speaks well for the members of the class but it also maintains the reputation of the Heights High and furnishes additional evidence of the high ideals as well as scholastic attainments of the school.           


The great test of any school is the ideals which it inculcates in the minds of the student body, as is reflected by the life they live afterwards. This class is sent forth as the finished product of this year’s service to the community, to the state and to the nation. They are sent out to grapple with the daily difficulties of life’s great battle after the school has done its best to furnish them with the best shield and surest weaponundefinedhigh idealsundefinedcultivated minds and healthy, vigorous bodies. We send them forth with absolute confidence that they will bear the responsibilities with honor to themselves and with credit to the school.  


 To the Graduating Class, 1921 by S.P. Waltrip, principal


“You, the members of the graduating class of Heights Senior High School, have reached one of the important milestones in life. You have completed your experience as active participants in the most democratic institution in the world, the public high school. Your experience here should be to you an influence to do that which is right; inspiring you to nobler mode of living, to a glorified view of duty and of opportunity and to a wider scope of manifestation of that which is highest in MAN.           


Your commencement is a commencement indeed. It not only marks the ending of your high school career, but it also fixes the beginning of another era in which you will reap the benefits of your work and association here. The value of your high school education is absolutely individual. That value will be known and determined only by the degree to which it influences and improves your future activities. In high school you have learned many technical facts and principles which should serve as a foundation for future development. But greater than this is the ability to recognize duties and responsibilities and the development of sufficient fortitude, courage and intelligence to fulfill them in the greatest measure. To reason accurately and persistently is well, but this is only a means to an end. The ability to do without the inclination to do is not necessarily worthwhile. Mental development, unless fortified by physical, moral and spiritual development, may come to naught. Ordinarily the high school is thought of as a place where mental training is the sole aim. Such is far from the real fact. Here the social, moral and spiritual development is equal or perhaps in greater measure and more important than that of the purely intellectual. Acquisition of the power to judge fairly, to decide justly, to think accurately and to express clearly is more difficult and vastly more important than abstract knowledge. In the scale of true education character should come first, knowledge last. We send you forth in pride and confidence. Confident that you have here learned the dignity of labor, respect for authority and for the rights of others, true patriotism, loyalty to the right and justice, consecration to duty and reverence to God. Proud in the fact that we have been somewhat instrumental in helping you to attain these things.”  


To the Graduates of 1922 by S.P. Waltrip, principal


“Now that the close of your high school career has come, I am wondering what you have gained from your experiences here. How many of you have a clear conception as to the ultimate purpose of the high school?  Your diploma is evidence only that you have completed a specified amount of high school work. It is not necessarily a measure of the amount of information acquired. Neither is it an estimate of knowledge gained. It is a misconception to think of the high school time as a period in which the mind is to be stored with facts and figures. If you have gained while here the ability to find your way to truth through the wilderness of uncertainty and misinformation, then you have profited greatly. A large percentage of the bare facts and figures which you have learned here will soon pass out of your mind. But the mental ability developed by this means should remain and be to you a constant growing strength.            


The development of the mental faculty is valuable in a large degree to the extent that it reacts upon the spiritual and moral side. Unless there has been established, cultivated, and strengthened within you a strong moral fiber, then you have lost one of the greatest benefits of high school experiences. On the one hand the young men and young women of today have greater temptations and larger responsibilities than those any other generation has ever known. The whole world, in its every phase, is undergoing some sort of change. The old established land-marks and barriers have become to some extent obsolete.  It is largely your responsibility to find the way through the difficulties.            


Do not idly loiter along the hallway of life, waiting for some door of opportunity automatically to open to you. Do not be a creature of mere circumstance. Select your door, open it, and walk in with a firm determination and an abiding confidence. An ordinary amount of ability, together with an abundance of industry, will insure your success. Should you have both of these qualities in large measures; your accomplishments will be only the greater.”  


To the Graduating Class of 1923 by S.P. Waltrip, principal of Heights Senior High         



Figuratively speaking, civilization may be compared to a tripod, or three-legged stool. If either of these legs be destroyed, the structure falls and becomes a useless thing. The three supports upon which civilization depends are the home, the church and the school.  Upon these the economic, social, moral and spiritual life of the world depends. A failure or repudiation of any of the three basic principles would result in a total annihilation of a great part of all good accomplished since time began. None of the three is a fixed or completed organization. Each has developed only by the greatest effort. The perpetuation of each depends largely upon the other two. None can continue through the exercise of the old rule of ‘self preservation.’            


In this age of the ‘lounge lizard,’ the ‘jelly bean,’ the ‘flapper,’ and the ‘marathon dancers’ the old time home life is almost gone. Parental authority is obsolete; yet, at the same time, parental responsibility has multiplied.           


The church is tottering from within by bickering of multitudinous cults and schisms. It is being rocked to its very foundation by the assaults of shrewd, powerful and merciless enemies.            


The public free school is a purely American institution. It was here in this land of ours that it first came to existence. The public free school, the cradle of Democracy, the University of the Common People, the most democratic institution on earth, stands, perhaps, as the chief bulwark of civilization. Only by supreme concentration and by divine guidance and blessing has it been able to withstand the perpetual assaults of its enemies.            


However, civilization most assuredly is not approaching dissolution. The home, the church, and the school are passing a period of adjustment. This is only a transition of time through which we are passing; no one knows how long the time will be. Yet, without doubt, each will be better and stronger after the adjustment is complete. To live in this time, and to be one who helps in re-establishing these foundations is a privilege greater than any other generation has ever known.  


To the Graduation Class of 1924 by S.P. Waltrip, principal     


As the time for graduation approaches each year, I begin planning what to say to the graduation class that may be both pleasing and helpful. Certainly this is no time when anything should be said that might cause any one of you the least unhappiness. But if nothing except empty, pleasing platitudes be said, then the waste of this space in your annual would be wholly unjustified. Nevertheless, it is not amiss to say that graduation is a time of mingled pleasure and regret. We rejoice with you in your happiness of a just reward. We are sorry that our work together has come to an end. We join you in the confident hope that the future will be full of pleasure for you. Our faith in you inspires full trust that you will fully meet the duties and responsibilities which fall to your lot in life.            


Will you consider seriously just a few thoughts and suggestions which may help you in the future now unfolding to you?           


What use are you to make of your new-found liberties? The right use of new-found freedom is one of the most searching and trying tests of character. The results of your high school experiences are not measured alone by units and diplomas but by strength of character. Neither you nor your high school can escape the inevitable law of consequences. Your manner of meeting your responsibilities in life will reflect on your high school as well as upon your home life. Neither can escape. Rest assured that this new-found liberty will not fail to leave its mark and influence upon you. “It will searchingly test, unerringly reveal, and profoundly modify your character and destiny.” Do not forget that self indulgence destroys strength of character. The habit of excuse-making undermines the will and weakens the ability to do.            


Develop early the ability to utilize spare time. Regard time as one of your most valuable possessions. Seek to invest it so that it will bring you large dividends. The extent to which one makes good use of leisure time has much more influence upon character than does one’s daily vocation. In a large measure character is either built or wrecked during the leisure hours.            


It is well to learn how to play; but ever bear in mind that play and recreation cannot be substituted for the fulfillment of one’s obligations. There is no substitute for honest labor. Cheerfully and confidently welcome the opportunity to do that which you know to be your duty and take pleasure in its fulfillment. Above all, do not permit yourself to ‘kill time,’ for by so doing you will murder your best friend.            Againundefinedthe real test of your high school experiences is not one of units, instead it is one of the ideals and strengths of character as reflected in your life.”     



 Throughout his principal’s life, Mr. Waltrip had this poem under the glass of his desk. These words help to sum up his belief in self:     


 Somebody said that it couldn't be done,

But he with a chuckle replied
That "maybe it couldn't," but he would be one
Who wouldn't say so till he'd tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried, he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn't be done, and he did it.
But he took off his coat, and he took off his hat,
And the first thing we knew, he'd begun it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn't be done, and he did it.
There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
So just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quit it,
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
That "cannot be done," and you'll do it."
                                                                     By: Edgar Albert Guest - 1919


Mr. Waltrip’s feelings, thoughts, values, are incorporated into the founding pillars of Waltrip High School.  As you read the history of Waltrip to grasp how those values are incorporated, woven into the fabric of a school that has produced 19,611 graduates as of today working all over the world, in all professions, vocations and businesses, caring for families and communities.  We serve the community, our neighbors, church, organizations; our citizenship was well founded. We lead families, companies, societies, organizations, cities and state; our leadership is well intact.  We courageously served our nation in many times of need, we serve our communities as police and firemen, and we serve our veterans; our courage and honor are proudly displayed. And as our faith is individual we collectively bond together in memory and building memories raising our loyalty to the school that gave us a foundation for our lives.  And that foundation built steadfastly upon the shoulders of a great educator, Mr. Stephen Pool Waltrip. Let us not forget his words, “spread your knowledge so others may learn.”  In that spirit, each of us are a branch of the tree of life teaching the next generation to serve, lead and build their character so they too may perpetuate a great community for all to enjoy.


Mr. Gordon Cotton grasped the ideals of Mr. Waltrip and through his words you can see how the two men are so alike…Thank you, Mr. Waltrip for your character…. The principals throughout the years have crafted the ideals of truth, honor and integrity… and today as the school is undergoing a significant renovation, there is no better time to build upon the foundation that set it’s mark 50 years ago from a man who created, cultivated and inspired each to become their best, Mr. S. P. Waltrip.


"As we entered Waltrip High School, we found …ourselves on the threshold of developing a school and a community… The school has become the nerve center of an active community. Today, once again, we find ourselves on a threshold. We must make sure that Waltrip continues to develop in importance. We must maintain and build upon the fine reputation which Waltrip enjoys. The challenge which we have met and must continue to meet is that of developing, “Our Waltrip High.” (Student Body 1961) 

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