Whether by nature or nurture, these folks are impressive.
Whether by nature or nurture, these folks are impressive.
Once they’d grown, Roy and Mary Spence’s children did something strange: They listened to their parents’ advice. “I’ve always told them it’s not what you want to do, it’s what you love to do,” says Roy, who co-founded fabled Austin ad agency GSD&M, and now serves as its chairman and CEO. “You can make a life and living doing what you love to do. And they just took us up on it.”
The spirit of entrepreneurship that led Roy to found GSD&M the same year he graduated from UT is alive and well in his children: daughter Ashley opened Wanderlust LIVE Yoga downtown in 2012, after finding inspiration at the Wanderlust Festival, which brings together yoga and music in locales with breathtaking backdrops. Classes at Wanderlust are occasionally held on the rooftop or set to live music, and Ashley says “almost 100 percent” of what she’s doing now is inspired by her family, from her dad’s business sense to her mom’s long-time yoga practice.
Courtney Spence, meanwhile, founded a nonprofit while just a sophomore at Duke University, based in part on her love of film. Fourteen years later, Courtney is at the helm of Students of the World, which has told the stories of more than 50 nonprofit organizations in more than 30 countries through film, photography, and journalism. Courtney says her interest in storytelling comes directly from her childhood with her father, who has also published three books. “Watching the Super Bowl, it would be more muting the game and watching the commercials, cheering and booing for spots,” she remembers.
The Spence’s son, Shay, is in culinary school in New York City and hopes to eventually open a restaurant, perhaps back in Austin. And Mary started a haunted house nearly 20 years ago that has grown into such a production that next year she is looking to move into a commercial space downtown. “I think every parent eventually wants to be happy not for themselves anymore, but by watching their children and their friends build their own dreams,” Roy says.
Adam and Marty Butler have run an advertising business together for more than 10 years. But if you ask them, they’ll tell you they’ve been negotiating over resources since 1974—the year Marty was born, and Adam started sharing a crib with him. Just 14 months apart, the Butler brothers now seem as close as twins. They share the same bright brown eyes, the same sense of humor, the same ability to charm and disarm anyone in the room.
By ages eight and ten, they were helping their father run his prominent Austin painting company. “We didn’t go to business school,” Marty says. “We learned how to do business from him.” Not that they realized it back then. Their father would task them with painting the top of a cabinet, even though no one was going to see it. Now, looking back, the lessons are clear. “We learned about how to treat people, what to expect from clients, how to draw boundaries,” Marty says. “It’s all come to roost in our business, which is really cool.”
One of the business boundaries Marty and Adam have drawn is rather unusual: Though they didn’t start this way, the Butler Bros. company today only works with brands in whose mission they actually believe. Period. That means no selling big tobacco or sugar-laden sodas, but it has also meant getting out on the offensive: One recent PSA campaign for the Legacy Foundation exposed cigarette butts as toxic waste.
Some of this change came about after the brothers lost their mother to pulmonary fibrosis. Then they both started having kids. For Adam, the philosophy is simple: “We will not sell anything that hurts someone else’s family. That’s our thing. Why would we treat someone else’s family worse than we treat our own?”
Caroline Wright is an accomplished painter and performance artist; her father Lawrence Wright is a Pulitzer-prize winning author and New Yorker staff writer. But on the chilly Sunday morning TRIBEZA met them, father and daughter ended up making music together in a sun-strewn living room, close to one another, reading the same piece of music and making their way through the piece together. Their other careers, at least for a few moments, faded away behind the sounds of piano, ukele, and Caroline’s high, honeyed voice. Lawrence took up piano at 38-and-a-half, with the goal of playing “Great Balls of Fire” on his 40th birthday. (He made it, and then some: Lawrence now plays keys with and fronts the Austin-based blues collective WhoDo.) Caroline took up ukulele a few years ago, playing her great-grandfather’s Gibson.
This performance is a tribute to exactly the kind of family the Wrights are: People more interested in making things than consuming them, more interested in hobbies and passions than habits. Caroline is an adept ukulele player, an avid cyclist, a former yoga teacher, a cellist, and speaks easily and happily with her mother Roberta about gardening. She’s put on art performances at Ballet Austin and the Blanton Museum and Art and has a studio space on East Cesar Chavez.
Lawrence, meanwhile, has published seven books, including The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2006. His most recent book, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief, out in January of this year, is based on a New Yorker profile he wrote of writer-director Paul Haggis. But Lawrence isn’t only a celebrated nonfiction writer. He’s also a playwright and a screenwriter (He co-wrote The Siege.) In 1992 he cofounded Capital Area Statues (CAST), which raises money to celebrate Austin’s culture and history through the building of sculptures. And though he’s long since learned enough to get him by, Lawrence still takes keyboard lessons from two-time Grammy winner Floyd Domino. “I’m going to take lessons until either Floyd or I die,” Lawrence says with a laugh. And then he and Caroline begin making more music together.
The Pipkin family, their many talents aside, is not very good at taking a serious photograph: Turk Pipkin won’t stop cracking jokes. His wife Christy seems full (nearly to bursting) with the kind of joie de vivre that makes her smile a permanent fixture on her face. And Lilly and Katie Rose, like all sisters, tend to make one another titter. They try hard to stare calmly into the camera, and Katie Rose says, “Come on, we’re creatives.” They laugh again.
Turk and Christy Pipkin, together for 30 years, are a well-suited pair: He’s a writer and actor, and she worked for years as a producer. After years of work in TV and film, however, Christy and Turk, whose full resume reads something more like screenwriter, television writer, journalist, novelist, director, and actor, wanted to change their focus. Christy explains that her girls were growing up, growing curious about the world, and “asking questions that needed better answers.” At a party, then-12-year-old Katie Rose spent the better part of the evening peppering Nobel Prize-winning physicist and UT Professor Steven Weinberg with questions. Turk and Christy followed suit: They interviewed nine Nobel Laureates about the world’s biggest problems and from those interviews created the documentary film Nobelity. They then founded a nonprofit called The Nobelity Project, which works to advocate for children’s education and uses the power of film to create positive change. And yet after building the first high school in a rural area of Kenya, and travelling internationally, they still call Austin home. Both Katie Rose, a visual artist who just wrapped up a residency at the Joshua Highlands Residency in California, and Lilly, who is a Plan II honors student at UT and a symphony percussionist, also live in town, which means on any given evening, you just might be able to find the Pipkins—talking over one another, laughing, together.
by Joanna Steblay
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