Thursday, September 14, 2006

Ann Richards

My claim to fame is a completely unverifiable meeting with Ann Richards, when she was the State Treasurer of Texas. That's the closest I can come to dating the meeting, too. It was in a private home in Austin, someone my wife knew through her business contacts, and completely serendipitous. The homeowner sold clothes privately to a small number of people (still trying to figure out how Cheryl and I got there!), and the one day we went there, Ann Richards was there. So I had to stand discreetly in another room while Ann Richards changed clothes. But I remember she was as warm and witty and friendly in that home with just three other people, as she was in public. The one other time I saw her in person was on stage at the Paramount Theater, years later, in a show by Esther's Follies. Esther's is a local Austin comedy troupe that does topical humor and parody musical numbers; Ann took the stage to deliver a monologue from a podium that, to this day, I think she wrote herself.

It's a very high compliment to say it was one of the funniest things in the show, and one of the most memorable. Reports today are going to emphasize her 1988 Democratic National Convention speech. But she should be remembered for this:

Richards ... swayed lawmakers to start a statewide child immigration program. Risking the support of gun-rights advocates, she refused to support efforts to let residents apply for licenses to carry concealed weapons, though Bush later signed such licensing into law.
Richards also focused on putting minority Texans on state boards and commissions.

Of her nearly 3,000 appointments, some 46 percent were female, 15 percent were black, 20 percent were Hispanic and 2 percent were Asian American. Her predecessor, GOP Gov. Bill Clements, gave more than 80 percent of his appointments to Anglos and men.

"We have changed Texas," Richards said. "The boards and commissions that we have appointed reflect the people of this state, for the first time in history, in all its rich diversity."
On leaving office, her family said in a news release issued Wednesday, she was most proud of two actions that they said "probably cost her re-election." Those were her veto of a measure that would have allowed the destruction of the environment over the sensitive Edwards Aquifer and her veto of a proposal to have a voter referendum on concealed handguns.
I have to note that her appointments record was originally in the NYT article posted last night; but it's gone now. I'm not sure what that means, but it certainly reflects the tenor (pardon the pun) of the times.

And perhaps only the people in Austin can truly appreciate Gov. Miz Ann's efforts to protect the Edwards Aquifer, but even those of us who don't live there anymore think well of it. My favorite Ann Richards stories, though, came from her:

The church was the center of all religious and social happenings in Lakeview. There was a Baptist church in town and a Church of Christ, but we were Methodists.

It was nothing romantic-no stained glass, no artifacts, no relics. Not even Sheetrock. Just whitewashed boards all around and a bare elevated pulpit. There was a low railing up in front, and when you joined the church, or when you were called to Jesus you would walk up the center aisle to that wood railing.

This was a very poor church. The most valuable item that church owned was a Shirley Temple cup. It was smoky blue glass-ware and had Shirley Temple's face and her signature in white across the front of it. That's what they used to baptize you with. Later on, a man with some woodworking skills joined the church and he made a pedestal and a wooden bowl for that purpose, much more uptown-looking, but for the longest time you were introduced to the Lord by Shirley Temple.


There were lots of events that went on at the church. They may have had Home Demonstration meetings there too. There was always an Easter egg hunt. One year it was held in the lot to the side of the church and all the congregation's children were there.

The prize egg that year, not just any colored egg but the one that if you found it would make you the year's real winner, was made out of crystallized sugar. They showed it around before they hid it and you could look in a little hole at one end and see all kinds of little colors and patterns inside. I wanted it real bad. The elders hid the eggs while we all shuffied and shifted in our Easter fmery, and then they let the kids loose.

Where could that egg be? I wasn't much interested in any of the others, I wanted that crystalline sugar egg.

I saw it! Partly hidden halfway up a window ledge, it was perched for the taking. No one else saw it but me! I didn't think of slowly ambling over and picking it off. I made a run for it.

I was running across the church yard when one of the mothers looked at me, looked at my destination. . . and spotted the egg. She called her daughter's name and pointed. The little girl started shouting. She was screaming. "There it is! There it is! I see the Easter egg. I've got it! It's mine!"

Everybody turned around. First they heard her screaming, then they saw me running.

She got the egg.

I clawed and cried and pitched such an almighty fit that my Mama had to take me home. The unfairness of it! I saw it first. Mothers aren't even supposed to be there; it's not their Easter egg hunt, it's ours. That girl never even touched it. She would never have seen it if I hadn't seen it first. She knew that. Her mother knew that. But neither of them said a word. They just took my crystallized sugar egg. I was shouting and struggling and gulping for air all the way home. I believe that was the first time I was really made to see that life is not necessarily fair, that honor does not always triumph, not even in church, and that I shouldn't expect it to.
Ann Richards, Straight from the Heart, quoted in Texas Stories, John and Kirsten Miller, ed. (San Francisco: Chronicle Books 1995), p. 147-151

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