Bob Bullock’s Texas State Cemetery Makeover

April 10, 2009

Texans who admire Austin’s beautiful State Cemetery may be surprised to learn that it was not always so.  Certainly not before the forceful and persistent late Lt. Governor Bob Bullock turned his legendary will on an embarassing historic eyesore almost 15 years ago.

It was May 15, 1994, that Bullock joined a throng of friends and admirers gathered at the Cemetery to say goodbye to  beloved colleague  Harry Whitworth,  a former  state legislator and later dean of  the Austin lobby.  He was upset over the death of a once fellow member in the Texas House of  Representatives, but he was more disturbed by the condition of the Cemetery.   I still remember vividly that Bullock came up to me, grabbed both of my lapels as he was wont to do, and exclaimed: “Julian, this place is a disgrace. And we are going to do something about it.”

Anyone who knew Bullock and is familiar with his unrivalled knowledge of state resources and his forceful style will not be surprised at this account of what followed, recalled by longtime State Cemetery Director Harry  Bradley.

Bradley’s Version of the State Cemetery Rennaisance

“Bullock assembled a group of Texas state agencies: General Services Administration,  Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas Historical Commission,  State Highway Department (TxDOT), the prison system (TDCJ). along with contractors and architects. The Cemetery is a National Historic Site with a state highway running throught it (SH 165, the shortest state highway in Texas). This allowed the state to receive funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation under the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA), which funds the renovation of historic sites next to a highway.  The federal money funded 80 percent of  the project.

“Once the money was in place and the plans approved, the work began in early 1995, and Bullock had his dream project underway. Since the project was completed, tens of thousands of visitors have enjoyed tours and lectures at the Cemetery and it has become a historical treasure for Texas.”

This is, of course, a sanitized account of what happened and is lacking some of the colorful language that motivated the partipating parties to get the job done.  A sidelight of the story:  Soon after Bullock decided to renovate the Cemetery, he called Bradley, a longtime campaign worker, into his office and told him of his grandiose plans.  “You’re the superintendent and you make it happen.”.  Bradley kept nodding and saying  yessir. Finally, Bullock said “that’s it…go to work…do you have any questions?”  Bradley replied . “hell, I didn’t know we had a state cemetery.”  Bullock would be proud to know  Bradley is still there, carefully patrolling and nurturing those sacred grounds in his loving stewardship of the Texas treasure.

—Julian Read

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