Remembering Philip Jonsson (1924-2020)

The Dallas Symphony Orchestra mourns the passing of its long-time friend and leader, Philip Jonsson. Jonsson passed away on April 22 at his home in Little Rock at the age of 95. He is survived by his wife Diane, and his daughters Chris, Suzanne and Petie (her husband, Bryan), his son Steve (his wife, Kathleen), and his sister, Margaret Rogers. Philip is also survived by his grandchildren Margaret, Henry, Andy, Dawson, Jay, Will and Oliver, by three great grandchildren, and by seven nieces and nephews.

Born in Englewood, New Jersey in 1924, Jonsson’s family moved to Dallas, Texas when he was 10. He went on to earn a degree in Physics and Business at MIT. He was a proud veteran of World War II. Jonsson started out in the oil business in West Texas in the 1950s, founding Great Plains Land Company. He subsequently served as an investor and director of Citizens Bank and radio station KRLD in Dallas, which introduced him to a long career in broadcasting. He founded Signal Media in 1984 with 3 radio stations currently operating in Little Rock.

Philip Jonsson was recruited to the DSO Board of Governors by Margaret McDermott. Jonsson took on the charge of building up the Board to include prominent business leaders and pillars of the Dallas financial community. He succeeded in bringing in the top bank presidents and influential Dallas leaders to rebuild credibility and confidence in the organization following a time of crisis. To further this resurrection, Jonsson and his team recruited Lloyd Haldeman to serve as the DSO’s President. Haldeman’s inspiring leadership further propelled the DSO out of rough times and into its modern era.

Jonsson served as the Chairman of the Board of Governors from 1976-1979. During that tenure, he chaired the search committee to recruit Mexican conductor Eduardo Mata as the next DSO Music Director. That appointment put the DSO on the path to national and international recognition, resulting in numerous recordings and global touring. In 1976, upon receipt of money from the Ford Foundation, Jonsson, along with the board leadership, instructed the DSO’s attorneys to set up an endowment. The Dallas Symphony Foundation was born.

At this time, the DSO was still performing at the Music Hall at Fair Park, but discussions were beginning about the construction of a dedicated symphony hall. Jonsson served as the chair of the Board’s Facilities Committee, the group originally responsible for investigating the possibility of a new hall. After Morton Meyerson assumed the chairmanship of the development of the new building, Jonsson served as co-chair of the site selection committee, assuring that the DSO’s new home would be downtown among other cultural entities. 

In recent years, Jonsson served as a member of the Dallas Symphony’s Council of Past Chairs and was an Emeritus Director of the Dallas Symphony Foundation. Philip Jonsson’s leadership of the DSO in some of its most iconic times changed the direction of the organization and shored it up for the future. The DSO is grateful for his service, his friendship and his leadership. He will be terribly missed.