2006 Person of the Year - Robert Mitchell "Bob" WarrenMay 05, 2020 ● By Frisco STYLE
He is not only a local living legend, former mayor turned writer and humorist, Robert Mitchell “Bob” Warren is also a native son of Frisco. Another rarity you can add to the list that defines this man of many talents.
Family, friends and colleagues describe Mr. Warren as witty, charming and a born leader. In his strong, steady voice, Mr. Warren recalls miles and miles of farmland and cotton fields in Frisco when he was young with only dirt roads to take you where you needed to go.
“Cotton was king back then and I should remember because I picked enough of it,” Mr. Warren said. “I was paid fifty cents for 100 pounds and by the time I was in high school I knew I wanted a better way to make a living, so I decided to go to college and get a degree.”
In today’s faster pace, Mr. Warren said he’s proud of Frisco’s accomplishments and economic boom. Bob Warren is the man for whom city leaders named Warren Parkway and the Warren Sports Complex. A clock on Main Street is dedicated to Mr. Warren for his longtime service to the community and he even has a hamburger named after him at Scotty P’s in Frisco. It’s called the “Warren Burger.”
Mr. Warren played a key role in Frisco’s future serving 13-years on the Frisco City Council, the last six-and-a-half years as mayor before stepping down in 1996.
“It was a real honor and I will never forget the day of the dedication of Warren Parkway,” Mr. Warren said. With a chuckle he adds, “As long as there aren’t any potholes on Warren Parkway, I’ll be happy, otherwise I’ll have to go down to city hall.”
Mr. Warren and his wife Ann Bell Bolin Warren, live half a block from the house in Frisco where he was born.
“The only doctor living in Frisco, Dr. W. L. Saye, delivered me at home,” Mr. Warren said.
When Mr. Warren was four years old, his father built a house on the land they live on today. The home was only blocks from downtown Frisco where Mr. Warren’s father, Roy Warren, and his uncle had a barbershop on Main Street for forty-six years. His mother, Esther was a homemaker.
“I used to ride my tricycle the few blocks down to my dad’s shop,” Mr. Warren said. “My dad didn’t own a car so he walked to and from work every day.”
Bob and Ann returned to their hometown of Frisco in 1981 after he retired from Exxon Corporation. By then their five children were grown and shaping their own lives and families.
“When I retired and we moved back to Frisco to the house I grew up in, we moved it to the back of the lot and built the house we live in today,” Mr. Warren explained. “My old house is now my woodworking shop.”
At the back of the Warren house, decorated with whimsical crafts and mementos of their lives and travels together, is Mr. Warren’s office. Stepping inside transports the visitor to times and places of Mr. Warren’s fascinating journey. They are exhibited in the family photographs, mementos from his college alma mater, Texas A&M, and numerous plaques and awards that reward a man who dedicated so much to help shape Frisco’s future. His most recent honor was the 2005 Living Legend tribute given by the Collin County Community College District.
“Being named a ‘Living Legend’ was an unexpected and very humbling experience,” Mr. Warren said. “I was deeply honored.”
Bob Warren was born in 1921 and graduated with honors from Frisco High School in 1938. At that time, the town boasted a population of about 650 people.
“There were eighteen of us in the graduating class,” he said. “I was given a fifty-dollar scholarship to any state school. I decided to go to Texas A&M where tuition was twenty-five dollars a semester, so I had two semesters paid for.”
Back home from Texas A&M for the summer of his senior year, Mr. Warren met his wife Ann. The two met at the First Baptist Church that was located where the Abbey Restaurant stands today.
“They had a revival at the Baptist Church and one night I took a date to the services and when we walked in, I noticed this girl playing the piano,” Mr. Warren said. “When I caught my date looking the other way I smiled at the pianist and the next night I came back by myself and waited until the services were over, introduced myself and asked her for a date.”
Bob and Ann dated steadily and in 1942 were married a week before Mr. Warren graduated from A&M.
“A girl will agree to anything when you are perched on top of a Ferris wheel and you start rocking the chair,” Mr. Warren said laughing about when he and Ann were on their first date in McKinney at the annual festival. Mr. Warren said Ann wasn’t as smitten as he was but he was able to change her mind.
World War II was underway when Mr. Warren graduated from A&M with a business degree. He decided to enter the Army Air Corps and trained as an aviation cadet, learning to fly. Once he graduated and was commissioned as a second lieutenant, he was sent to Europe.
“I was a pilot in the Troop Carrier Command,” Mr. Warren said. “Our primary job was to take paratroopers and gliders loaded with airborne infantrymen and drop them into enemy territory. We were involved in D-Day, the Normandy invasion, the Battle of the Bulge and so many others. But there is one in Holland I will never forget called “Operation Market Garden.”
Mr. Warren continues his story, clearly remembering that day.
“As we approached the coast of Holland I saw our lead plane get hit by ground fire,” Mr. Warren recounts. “The plane and its glider crash landed, and both were immediately surrounded by enemy troops. One of our crewmembers put up a fight and was killed but the others were taken prisoner. They survived several German prison camps and were released at the end of the war and even visited our squadron on their way back to the states.”
Mr. Warren ponders for a moment, his thoughts going back in time. He recalled a recent squadron reunion in Washington, DC.
“A bunch of guys were discussing a mission called ‘Crossing the Rhine,’ the only invasion in which each of our planes towed two loaded gliders into enemy territory,” Mr. Warren said. “As we reminisced one of the guys, Bill Kline, mentioned that his plane was shot down on that mission. He went on to describe how he and most of the crew managed to bail out before the plane crashed. After listening to his story I told him, ‘I was flying the plane behind you and witnessed the whole thing.’ Mr. Kline jumped up and said, ‘For sixty years I have been looking for someone who saw us go down and could tell me what he saw.’”
Mr. Warren said they excitedly rehashed the incident and Mr. Kline told the group the fascinating story of what happened to him after he hit the ground and was captured.
“That conversation was one of the highlights of our reunion,” Mr. Warren declared.
Bob Warren also knows the sacrifice of the soldiers fighting today in Iraq and Afghanistan. His daughter was seven-months old the first time he saw her. He said although he sorely missed his family, the war was an experience he will never forget.
“I learned leadership and I learned to take orders, and without question, I learned that God needs to be the pilot of the plane,” Mr. Warren said.
When the European war was over, Mr. Warren came home on leave with orders to transfer to the Pacific where the war continued. During his leave, Bob and Ann were celebrating their second honeymoon in Dallas when word came that the Japanese had surrendered.
“There was a big party on the streets of Dallas when we heard that.”
After leaving the Army, Mr. Warren said he was fortunate to find a job as fast as he did. In 1945, he started working for Humble Oil and Refining Company, now known as ExxonMobil Corporation. The Warren journey continued as they lived all across Texas from Tyler to Midland to Houston before making their way back to Frisco.
“For my first job, they sent me to a district office near Beaumont,” Mr. Warren said. “Ann and I bought a house in the oil camp there for $475 cash. Gas and water were free and electricity was two cents a kilowatt–pretty cheap living.”
The Warren’s had three more children and moved eight times during his Exxon career. After thirty-six years Mr. Warren decided it was time to retire so the family made their way back to Frisco.
“That was in 1981 and a lot of things had changed since we left,” Mr. Warren said. “There was one signal light in town at Main Street and Preston. The little town had grown to 3,500 people yet we were pleasantly surprised to find a lot of our friends still here.”
By now the Warren’s five children were having children of their own. Bob and Ann have seventeen grandchildren, eighteen great grandchildren, and one great, great grandchild. As each grandchild graduated from high school, Bob and Ann would give them a monetary present for a graduation gift. But one grandson, Shane Marlin, a history buff like his grandfather, wanted his gift to be a trip to Europe to see where his grandfather had been during the war. Mr. Warren said the journey was an experience he will never forget as he, Shane and his son-in-law, Tommy Marlin, traveled overseas.
“It was like going back in time,” Mr. Warren said. “We did the tour of Normandy and traveled in the footsteps of General George Patton. We went to Paris, Luxemburg and Bastogne and it is a trip that will hold memories forever.”
Settling back in Frisco, the Warren’s caught up with old friends, went to parties, church, Sunday school, and traveled around the world. Bob continued his woodworking, specifically creating birdhouses that resemble a church as well as carving birds that pop in and out of the birdhouse windows. Mr. Warren’s exquisite birdhouses are displayed throughout the house along with mementos of his college, Texas A&M. A guest bathroom is specifically decorated with Aggie paraphernalia that includes homemade jokes like the Aggie switch blade made of a clothes pin, an Aggie flowerpot full of flour and Aggie dominos with the holes drilled all the way through, a gift from one of his sons.
Ann continued her community work, arts and craft activities, and keeping up with the grandchildren. Bob played golf and they were living the good life of a retired couple.
But that didn’t last long. Friends persuaded Mr. Warren to run for City Council. He was elected and served three two-year terms. Before he knew it, he was mayor of Frisco, re-elected and served nearly seven years as mayor.
“We had a lot of things going on, nothing like it is today but we were laying the groundwork for today and the development you see,” Mr. Warren said. “It didn’t start out so easy, in fact there was a time when we were just hoping for some economic development.”
It would be Mr. Warren’s signature as mayor on a contract that would change Frisco’s destiny.
A Blueprint for Frisco
Serving on the Frisco City Council and then as mayor of Frisco was an exciting time in Mr. Warren’s life. He knew when he stepped down as mayor that he had been a part of the many milestones of Frisco’s past and present. Today’s exploding economy with the retail, building construction and the success of Frisco’s sports venues, it would be hard to imagine that starting the process wasn’t so easy.
Mr. Warren became a city councilman in 1983 and he remembers the frustration in the beginning as Frisco watched its neighbor to the south, Plano, build and flourish. Mr. Warren said they couldn’t get anyone to look north past State Highway 121. Frisco’s economy stood still.
“We had the thought that we would hire Junior Carpenter and his bulldozer, and have him come out on this side of Highway 121 and start moving dirt around and we would take pictures to get people wondering what was going on over here,” Mr. Warren said. “We wanted to do anything to get some attention our way. We knew we had to do something to build up our economy.”
Working with a small city staff, Mr. Warren and other city leaders looked for ways to enhance the city. The smartest thing the city council did was hiring a city manager in 1987.
“I’m most proud of getting George Purefoy on board as our first and only city manager of Frisco,” Mr. Warren said. “It was a key position for us to move forward and we were fortunate to get George.”
The brainstorming and planning for Frisco’s future continued.
“We held a meeting at the brand new Stonebriar Country Club and invited several hundred people, the movers and shakers, and that’s when JC Penney CEO Bill Howell unveiled plans of their corporate office across the road from us on Legacy Drive,” Mr. Warren said.
Although the JC Penney development was in Plano, things started to happen in Frisco. In 1991 city leaders established the Frisco Economic Development Corporation aimed at bringing business to Frisco. As mayor, Mr. Warren served on the original FEDC board.
“When the legislature passed legislation that would allow cities to have elections and dedicate a one-half cent additional sales tax towards economic development, we were one of the first cities to do that once the voters approved it,” Mr. Warren said. “A little later another half-cent was approved for community development.”
He added, “I had time to devote to being mayor since I was retired and George and I did a lot of lobbying in Austin on behalf of Frisco.”
Mr. Warren knew the economic boom wouldn’t come to Frisco unless it had a way to travel there so it was critical to get roadways and highways developed, a situation still facing city leaders today.
“We began meeting with the Toll Road Authority and they finally agreed to extend the North Dallas Tollway to Highway 121 and then into Frisco,” Mr. Warren said. “The way we were able to accomplish that was through a partnership with Collin County, the city, the FEDC and the Toll Road Authority.”
Mr. Warren adds, “I remember at the groundbreaking ceremony there came a horrible storm with lightening, and we all ran for cover under a tent. That was the fastest ceremony I was ever a part of.”
Frisco’s vision was beginning to develop.
“I remember Sam Roach, the FEDC president, and I were interviewing one of many candidates to be director and from where I was sitting in my office I looked up at the photograph hanging on the wall that had the skyline of Dallas with Frisco in the foreground,” Mr. Warren said. “I know it was a crazy question, but I asked this fellow, ‘See that picture there of Frisco looking at Dallas –do you think you can reverse that so that Dallas will be looking at Frisco?’ He said no and we didn’t hire him. But I’ll tell you what – Dallas is definitely looking at Frisco now.”
The challenges continued but a break came when a Chicago company that specialized in building shopping malls approached the city. It would change Frisco forever.
The company, Homart, was interested in building a shopping center either in Frisco or Plano. The company already had construction underway in Lewisville building the Vista Ridge Mall. Mr. Warren and other city officials would travel to Chicago and meet with the developers, trying to convince them Frisco was the place to be.
“It went back and forth between Plano and Frisco like a ping pong ball,” Mr. Warren said. “Even the Dallas Morning News came out one time and said the mall was going to be in Plano. We were busy behind the scenes trying to figure out incentives to bring it to our side.”
In the meantime, Homart was purchased by another mall developer, General Growth, and the company’s CEO traveled to the area to look at the two sites under consideration. Mr. Warren said the CEO met with them and said he had asked his wife which site she thought was best, and she liked Frisco so the CEO picked Frisco.
“I told the city secretary, Nan Parker, to send her the biggest flower arrangement she could find, and we did,” Mr. Warren said.
As mayor, Mr. Warren signed the agreement in 1996 with the Stonebriar Centre developer, two months before he stepped down from office.
“Everything was first class,” Mr. Warren said. “Stonebriar Centre was the economic engine that moved us forward.”
Construction began on the mall that spans 1.7 million square feet and is anchored by Nordstrom, Macy’s, Sears, JC Penney and Foley’s. Stonebriar features a national hockey league-sized ice rink and a 24-screen AMC Theatre. It would forever change the landscape of Frisco when it opened in 2000, kicking off an economic explosion that continues today.
“Back then we had such a small city staff. We didn’t even have an engineer but had a contract with an engineering company. Things changed once the construction for the mall began,” Mr. Warren said. “We could see the flood of people headed our way and we wanted to see Frisco develop in a planned manner so we knew we needed proper planning and zoning in place so we wouldn’t be overwhelmed. Many times we used Richardson and Plano as examples, studying the zoning decisions made by those two rapid growth cities.”
He recalled that during his time as mayor he wrote a weekly column called, “Mayor’s Moments,” for the Frisco Enterprise.
“They were mostly articles about what was happening in Frisco,” Mr. Warren said. “I knew the city was becoming a hot spot because as the years passed the columns I wrote had to be longer and longer to contain all of the happenings.”
The FEDC, Mr. Warren believes, has played a critical role in Frisco’s economic development. After stepping down as mayor in 1996, he was retained on the FEDC board as an at-large representative until the year 2000.
“Another important project was bringing the Preston Ridge Collin County Community College campus to Frisco,” Mr. Warren said. “We fought tooth and nail to get that to Frisco.”
It has not always been smooth sailing for the city. Mr. Warren said the controversial Frisco Jetport was a chronic topic at council meetings, neighborhood organizations and at the city’s Planning and Zoning meetings for more than twelve-years.
A private company had come to town, purchased land and built a Jetport on the west side of Frisco, to attract private plane traffic. The company then went bankrupt.
“Many were concerned about the noise and others felt the airport stymied growth for the western part of the city,” Mr. Warren said. “The opportunity presented itself for the FEDC to buy the airport. I remember signing the papers on that deal because Sam Roach, the president of the FEDC was out of town. I think there is still hope that part of it will one day develop into a high-tech business community.”
After retiring as mayor Mr. Warren formed his own company, Bob Warren & Co., to do consulting, project facilitation and writing.
Mr. Warren’s dedication and devotion to Frisco has not gone unnoticed. In 1995 he traveled to Washington D.C. where he was one of the recipients of the Wal-Mart sponsored “Hometown Leadership” award, one of many awards and accolades Mr. Warren would receive for all his contributions.
“I had good help, very good council members. There are so many forward-thinking citizens in Frisco when it came to supporting bond issues or the sales tax and all of that helped us accomplish many things,” Mr. Warren said. “People bought into having excellent schools, city government, police and fireman. A lot happened on my watch and I have so much to be proud of, but I couldn’t have done it without the people.”
In 1989 Mr. Warren was selected as the Frisco Chamber of Commerce’s Citizen of the Year and in 1998 was made a lifetime member of the chamber.
“In 1999, Mayor Warren, Sam Roach, Larry Eagan, Dr. Erwin Pink, John Weinberg and Sonny Morgan were the leaders and believers in the Chamber, helping the Chamber get close to a million dollars in our “Forward Frisco” capital campaign to buy and renovate the 7,000 square foot building the chamber currently calls home,” said Audie Adkins, president of the Frisco Chamber of Commerce. “This was an awesome project to help the Chamber grow. Mayor Bob is a gentleman in the truest sense of the word and a veteran statesman. Bob and Ann Warren are mentors and role models for me and my husband, Larry.”
Last year Mr. Warren was honored as a Collin County Living Legend by the Collin County Community College.
“It was one of the greatest experiences of my life to be a part of directing the path of Frisco,” Mr. Warren said.
A New Journey
Mr. Warren’s contributions can be seen all over Frisco, but his most important role may be the one he is doing today in preserving Frisco’s history. A big history buff, Mr. Warren was instrumental in forming the Heritage Association of Frisco, a non-profit organization.
Mr. Warren is also passionate about his career as a writer. Along with writing weekly editorials while he was mayor, in 1996 Mr. Warren began writing articles for Frisco STYLE Magazine, stories that centered mostly on Frisco’s early days. Mr. Warren wrote a book Frisco – Now and Then, published in 2004 for the Heritage Association. It is a collection of Mr. Warren’s magazine articles and writings comparing Frisco of the past with today’s modern life in a tongue and cheek, humorous style.
“I’ve had parents tell me they enjoyed reading the story about having an allowance and how I first earned my money tap dancing at my dad’s barber shop,” Mr. Warren said. “A local banker enjoyed my shuffling enough that he would reward me with a nickel, not bad for a few minutes work.”
In the May 2006 issue of Frisco STYLE Magazine, Mr. Warren wrote about Ann, his wife of 64 years and her early days as a sharecropper’s daughter.
“I enjoy writing and my work in the Heritage Association is important because it means sharing Frisco’s rich heritage,” Mr. Warren said. “I have a lot of things in the back of my head I want to write about.”
Frisco City Manager George Purefoy believes Frisco is a better city due to the many talents and contributions of Mr. Warren.
“Mayor Warren always had the best interest of Frisco at heart,” Mr. Purefoy said recently. “When he and I would go to meetings and I saw how some of the other mayors reacted to certain situations, I counted my blessings for having a mayor with the utmost integrity and the overriding principle of always doing what was fair and right. He always respected the city staff and handled every difficult situation with wisdom and grace.”
Thank you, Bob, for all the contributions you have made to Frisco STYLE and the city of Frisco. You are a deserving honoree. We look forward to next year’s nominations for 2007 Person of the Year.
DeAnn Daley Holcomb is a freelance writer living in Plano.