When Dee Margo arrived in El Paso in 1977, he knew he was home at last. His paternal grandfather, Elias Margo, was from the borderlands, too. Elias was the seventh of ten children born on a ranch in Rio Grande City. After studying at UT Medical Branch, Galveston and becoming an orthopedic surgeon, Elias moved to Oklahoma City during the oil boom where there were broken bones to be set. Dee was born in Oklahoma City but did not stay long. His father, Donald Rupert, changed jobs often and moved the family every few years.
Football was Dee’s ticket to belonging and while playing on a championship team in Alabama at Huntsville High, he received a full scholarship to Vanderbilt University. There he met Adair Wakefield, a third generation El Pasoan. They married three years later. After a year living in Nashville, Dee selling insurance while Adair taught school, they moved to El Paso, where Dee became the fifth employee of John D. Williams Insurance Company, founded by Adair’s maternal grandfather and run by her father. Dee and Adair have lived in El Paso ever since and have two granddaughters, Lilliana and Emma – 5th generation El Pasoans. “El Paso gave me roots,” Dee says. “It’s home for Adair and me, and there’s nowhere else we’d rather be.”
Adair’s great-grandfather, the Reverend J.F. Williams – whose youngest son started the insurance business – baptized Tom Lea in 1915 in the First Baptist Church, where Tom’s mother played the piano. Knowing the family ties to Tom Lea, and Tom Lea’s ties to El Paso, prodded Dee to turn to the artist when BDM International – a Department of Defense contractor and one of JDW’s largest clients – was approaching its 25th anniversary in McLean, Virginia in 1987. Since BDM had been founded by three Fordham physicists, who consulted at White Sands Missile Range, Dee wanted to give them a Tom Lea painting to remind them of their El Paso roots. Eighteen months later when he was invited to Lea’s studio to see what he’d done. There on the easel was Invocation, measuring 43 x 55 inches and depicting a tiny prospector with his pack mule looking up at the massive ruggedness of Mount Franklin. “I keep thinking that that prospector sees a glimmer of gold,” Tom Lea said.
Dee and Adair Margo remain committed to the Tom Lea Institute, which Adair founded in 2009. She says, “There’s no better way to share the region that we love than through the art of Tom Lea.”