In our annual Best of the West special, we present inspiring individuals and organizations who remind us of the better angels of our nature and our shared American goodness. Below, meet Houston’s Mattress Mack.
In his first inaugural address, at a particularly fraught time in American history, President Abraham Lincoln gave us the glorious, famous expression “the better angels of our nature.” It was 1861. The country was hopelessly divided. The Civil War loomed. But Lincoln appealed to his “dissatisfied fellow countrymen,” invoked our common foundation as Americans, and made a pitch for peace. “We are not enemies, but friends,” Lincoln said. “We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
Editor’s Note: Stay tuned for the entire 2022 class of C&I Heroes who exemplify those better angels and the best of our American character.
Houston’s “Mattress Mack” opens his furniture stores to Houstonians in need.
When natural disaster strikes Houston, like last year’s “Snowmageddon” that knocked out the power grid and put much of the entire state of Texas in the dark, without heat and without water; or Hurricane Harvey, which flooded much of the city in 2017, Jim “Mattress Mack” McInvale comes to the rescue. He opens up the doors of his Gallery Furniture stores and invites anyone in need to come and sleep on his fancy showroom beds and sofas. He feeds them hot meals, has bottled water delivered, and even brings in face painters to entertain the children. But to hear “Mack” tell it, there’s nothing out of the ordinary about what he does.
“We have a big saying on the wall from the famous statistician W.E. Deming that says, ‘We all have a responsibility for the well-being of our community.’ We take that very seriously here,” McInvale says. When the pandemic struck and he realized that the neighborhood near one of his stores was especially challenged by poverty, high dropout rates, and low wages, Mack turned 30,000 square feet of his showroom into a free public high school and trade school. There’s a preschool, too, where Catholic nuns teach a Montessori Bible class.
Along with furniture sale notices and blurbs about sports (he’s also an enthusiastic sports bettor), the self-described business enthusiast posts Bible verses on his Twitter account. As for the good that has made him a local hero, he insists he’s just doing what he was taught, by the Good Book and good parents.
“If we could change one person, we could change generations to come. My parents instilled all of this. My father was always a giver; he gave when he didn’t have much, and it’s something I’ve always done,” McInvale says. “I’m not a hero. I’m just a furniture huckster who was taught by his wonderful parents to help people. Hopefully that’s what I’ll do until I die.”
From our May/June 2022 issue
Photography: Anne M. Eberhardt Keogh