a little something extra

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

RIP and Thanks to Ann

Ann Richards, the former Governer of Texas, died last week of esophageal cancer. I didn't have time to blog about her then, but I have 30 minutes to spare and think I'll do it now.

In the summer of 1988, when the Democratic National Convention was happening in Atlanta, I was enrolled at Emory but was not in Atlanta at that moment. Instead, I was in Washington DC, working (volunteering) at the American Legion Auxiliary's Girls Nation program. I had participated in Delaware Girls State when I was in high school, and went on to the Girls Nation program. A couple of years later they asked me to come back and work, so I spent a couple of weeks there, and during that time caught Gov. Richards' keynote speech on television.

Ann's famous quote from that speech, of course, was, "Poor George [Sr.]. He can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth."

Well, Ann had me right then and there. This was the first national election in which I was eligible to vote, and I had some strong opinions about whom I would vote for and why. But like many young voters, I voiced my opinions stridently, loudly and often. Ann taught me something about the use of humor as a persuasive device, and Lord knows she was a master at that.

I recommend reading the whole speech, by the way. The "foot in his mouth" thing is funny, but there are many more serious points in that speech that are worth refreshing ourselves on 20 years later.

A few years later, I moved to Texas myself. I hadn't seen that coming. But when I got there, Ann was governor. For the first few years, while I was buried up to my eyeballs in the demands of grad school, I had only the haziest awareness of what was going on in the city of Austin, let alone the state. But any time something did penetrate, I was reminded of what an impressive woman Ann Richards was. She came into the Governor's Mansion with some HUGE messes to deal with. And one by one, by persuading the unwilling, skilfully shaming the unwise or dishonest, and standing for what she believed the people of Texas had called her to do, she cleaned them up.

By the time I graduated in 1994, Ann had only a few months left in office. That year, she lost her reelection campaign to You Know Who.

So the next time I saw Ann, it wasn't in public life. She attended the funeral of my friend Juan Javier, who had been a very young rising star in Texas politics. I happened to arrive at the church just as Ann finished climbing the steps. She stood there in her perfect suit, white hair coiffed and handkerchief ready, and took a moment by herself before she went inside. I slowed down my progress up the sidewalk, and waited till she'd gone through the doors before I started up the steps. I didn't want to disturb whatever she might have been thinking.

Only last week as I read the L.A. Times obituary of Ann Richards, did I find out about the tremendous commitment she had to Alcoholics Anonymous. The more people I know who work that program, the more regard I have for its effectiveness, and especially for the way it creates a deliberate community that can catch and support individual people who may slip on their way up a very steep and rocky road.

So now I want to say two things: Ann, I salute you for everything you accomplished in your life. And I would give a lot to be a fly on the wall for the first conversation Ann Richards and Barbara Jordan have in Heaven.


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