Jocelyn Levi Straus – a respected political fundraiser, tireless advocate for the arts and savior of the historic Majestic and Charline McCombs Empire theaters – died on Saturday. She was 91 years old.
Known to many as “Joci,” Straus established the Foundation for Cultural Arts in 1988 to restore and preserve the iconic theaters in time for the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra to open its season there a year later.
She then set up a scholarship fund through the foundation, a non-profit organization called Las Casas, which awarded over $1 million to performing arts students.
Straus channeled his many passions into bettering his community, said his son Joe Straus III, “from his transformative impact on the cultural and educational fabric of San Antonio to his sincere belief in volunteerism and civic engagement.”
But her highest priority, the former Texas House speaker said, was her family, “who witnessed her strength, her grace and her devotion to those closest to her.”
Born in 1931 in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, Straus moved with her family to San Antonio when she was 3, according to an obituary. His father Malcolm Levi, a silk maker who dreamed of becoming a rancher, bought land on Old Blanco Road which is now Timberwood Park.
Straus attended St. Mary’s Hall and Mills College in California before marrying longtime family friend Joe R. Straus Jr. in 1952. They had two daughters, Jocelyn Selig and Susan Straus, and a son , Joe, who entered politics and served as House. Speaker from 2009 to 2019.
A Republican Party fundraiser, Straus got her start in politics as chairwoman of the Nixon Girls, a group of women who supported Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign, and as party precinct chairwoman.
After serving as finance chair for John Tower’s successful run for the U.S. Senate in 1961, Straus worked as finance or fundraising chair for more than 30 state and federal political campaigns.
Straus also served as co-chair of the Texas campaign and then finance committee leader for George H.W. Bush’s three presidential campaigns, beginning in 1987. She later served on George W. Bush’s national finance committee when he left. was presented for the presidency in 2000. .
Her last campaign role was in 2005, when she worked on her son’s first campaign for the Texas House.
Straus has also been involved locally on issues of health care, education and support for businesswomen. As the first chair of the board of trustees of the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at San Antonio, Straus helped recruit and build the school’s donor base and increased research spending. to $124 million during his 17 years in the role.
Straus served on the board of directors of the local United Way and led its annual campaign in 2004. She then created and chaired the founding of the Women’s Leadership Council, now known as Women United, which today has over of 3,000 members in Bexar County and many more across the country.
save the majestic
Straus started raising money for the arts when she was a 6-year-old girl living in Monte Vista, where she said she would sit by the ligustrum hedges in her house and ask people who got off the bus to buy his stick figure drawings.
About art, she said, “It opens up your horizons and makes you more accepting of different things.”
Perhaps her greatest local impact came when she actually saved the 1929 Majestic Theater from the wrecking ball after the city of San Antonio purchased the state and national monument in 1988.
Lawyer Frank Ruttenberg remembers showing Straus around the dilapidated theater in an effort to recruit her to the cause. “She was one of those people who was very thoughtful and she’s quiet most of the time,” he said, taking his reserve to mean it wasn’t going well.
“At the end she said, ‘These theaters are absolutely beautiful,'” Ruttenberg said. “[She said] we really need to bring the performing arts back to San Antonio and we really need to save those theaters, and we need to do it for the city.
From then on, Straus stuck to it and was the “driving force” behind raising money to restore theaters, Ruttenberg said. Through a public-private partnership, it raised $4.5 million for the first phase of the restoration and an additional $14 million for the two subsequent phases and for restoration work at the Charline McCombs Empire Theater, which was completed in 1998.
In a 2013 interview, Straus recalled inviting local leaders and philanthropists to join her for lunch on the Majestic stage, a fundraising tactic that proved successful.
As a result of this effort, the city named the downtown San Antonio neighborhood where the two theaters are located the Joci Straus Performing Arts Center.
In 2008, Straus asked Las Casas to create an annual scholarship competition that has since awarded $1.2 million to performing arts students to pursue higher education. The top winners receive an award known as the Joci, named in honor of Straus for his contributions to the program.
Las Casas executive director Doren Fein said Straus will be remembered most for her kindness and as a role model. “She got things done but was always so kind and kind and grateful, and that really had a huge impact on me,” Fein said.
Straus’ commitment to theater and the arts led to a presidential nomination to serve on the National Endowment for the Arts and as a member of the Texas Cultural Trust Council. She is the founder of the Texas Medal of Arts awards, which began in 2001.
Straus is survived by her husband of 70 years; his children and their spouses, Peter Selig and Julie Straus; and a sister-in-law, Debbie Straus. She is also survived by four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
A memorial service is scheduled for Friday, October 14 at 2:30 p.m. at Temple Beth-El, 211 Belknap Pl. It will be streamed live here. The funeral service is private.