Fleeing the oppressive heat and drought of Texas for a few days, Heather and I spent last night at gorgeous Temple Farm, in Dutchess County, New York, with our dear friends Nigel and Julia Widdowson, proprietors of the Red Devon Market Bar and Restaurant (where, incidentally, I had one of the best burgers of my life for dinner last night). Julia is the daughter of the late Ed Harte, the longtime publisher of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times and an old family friend, who passed away on May 18. Though he was born in Missouri and lived much of his later life in New York, I will always think of him as an exemplary Texan.
Ed was a delightful man: sharp as a whip, altruistic, and funny as hell. (I will always remember his delighted cackle when something amused him.) He and his brother built the family company (Harte-Hanks Communications) into a Texas media giant in the 1960s and 1970s, but his interests ranged far beyond the business world: he was an early and ardent conservationist, and for many years he wrote a column for the Caller-Times on Mexican politics.
After I posted a link to his obituary on my Facebook page with the comment, “We lost a good one yesterday,” a couple of people asked who else I would put on my all-time list of Texas greats. Since we haven’t run one of these lists for a while, I thought this might be an appropriate time to revive that great (?) tradition. And what better time to commemorate some of the coolest Texans than the beginning of what promises to be a long, hot, dry summer?
A few observations: I tried to strike a balance between living and dead Texans, and male and female. I really wanted to include my late mother-in-law, Jessica Hobby Catto, but ultimately decided that doing so would leave me open to charges of subjectivism, even though I truly believe she belongs on there. Finally, my list is overwhelmingly Caucasian, for which I can only plead ignorance, not prejudice, and perhaps the lingering effects of societal racism.
The late Doug Sahm sang that “You just can’t live in Texas if you don’t have a lot of soul,” and each of these folks, in his or her own way, was blessed with an extra helping of soul. Every one of them epitomizes grace, thoughtfulness, and quiet (well, maybe characterizing Molly Ivins and Ann Richards as “quiet” is a bit of a stretch) intelligence. These are not, I fear, qualities commonly associated with Texans, at least by non-Texans, who tend to see all Texans as loud-mouthed, ignorant, and crass vulgarians. (Such Texans are still thick on the ground, of course, as anyone who follows the political scene can attest.) Here, then, are ten Texans whose lives and actions prove that civilized life is indeed possible in the Lone Star State.
John Graves: Author and rancher, gentle godfather of Texas environmentalism.
Ed Harte: Newspaper publisher, ardent conservationist, and civic-minded philanthropist.
Molly Ivins: Hilariously sharp-tongued liberal gadfly and journalist.
Lady Bird Johnson: Poised and gracious First Lady, and an early and extremely influential environmentalist.
Barbara Jordan: Mesmerizing and unforgettable speaker, pioneering legislator and civil rights leader.
Tom Mason: Longtime head of the Lower Colorado River Authority, a conscientious man of rare integrity and a true and dedicated public servant.
Bill Moyers: A veteran of the LBJ administration, later a thoughtful presence on radio and television.
Willie Nelson: Legendary singer and pothead.
Naomi Shihab Nye: Talented and thoughtful poet, dedicated to advancing the causes of literature and education, devoted to the cause of peace.
Ann Richards: Irresistibly salty governor and feminist icon.
Not a bad list, if I say so myself, but I’m sure I’ve overlooked some obvious choices. Any other nominations?
What we’re reading
Heather: Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre (almost done!)
Martin: Gary Snyder, A Place in Space: Ethics, Aesthetics, and Watersheds