The assasination of President John F. Kennedy and near-death wounding of Texas Governor John B. Connally occured in Dallas more than 45 years ago (November 22, 1963).  And over the years that dark day has spawned countless sidelight stories. Yet another surfaced recently in Dallas, as I shared cocktails with Governor Connally’s youngest son, Mark, at the Crescent Club, in the complex that houses his office as head of  Texas operations for London-based Barclays Wealth Americas. Ironically, we met only blocks from the scene of that tragedy.

Mark told the story of how he, along with brother John B. Connally III, and sister Sharon Ammann, had assembled at the family’s beloved Picosa Ranch southeast of San Antonio in 1995, following its purchase from widow Nellie Connally for their home and a special events venue by Greg and Bekki Kowalksi of the prominent Catering by Rosemary family (RK Group).  Their task was to go through a  mountain of family collectibles. Mark recalls that they came upon a box that looked like any other that would hold a western Texas hat. Opening it nonchalantly, Mark assumed it was one of his dad’s–until he caught a glimse of the hatband inside. There, to his astonishment, were the intials “JFK”.

After recovering from the shock that brought back memories of the nightmare the family had lived through decades before, they remembered the plans for that  hat.   President Kennedy’s visit to Texas was to culminate with a gigantic statewide dinner in Austin only hours following the Dallas visit. And Governor and Mrs. Connally had planned to present handsome Stetsons to both  the President and to First Lady Jackie Kennedy. Like so many other preparations for what was to be a joyous evening, the hats became a forgotten relics amid the national heartbreak and had rested undisturbed at the ranch for more than three decades.

The Kowalskis acquired the Connally ranch with affection and respect, pledging to the family that they would honor its heritage. True to their word, they engaged noted curator Conover Hunt, and created a small, tasteful museum that houses a collection of memorabilia from that era. And there today, guests who attend very rare and exclusive occasions at the ranch can view John Connally’s undelivered gift for JFK. And perhaps wonder what the world would be like if that day had been completed as planned.

–Julian Read

Heartwarming footnote: Kowalski last year introduced a hunting operation on the ranch, and is proud to have it managed by John and Nellie Connally’s grandchildren, Bubba and Charlie Ammann. See http://www.picosa.

The passing of writer extraordinaire Bud Shrake over the weekend and the flood of warm and funny tributes to his literary legacy made all the more bittersweet the memory of an exceptional gathering of old friends in a cherished Dallas bar last fall.

As one of the early alumni of the renowned Fort Worth Press sports staff, I had pushed for a reunion (while we are still standing ) for all of us who had worked together with legendary sportswriter Blackie Sherrod when he was sports editor there in the late forties and early fifties. Former colleague and fellow PR practitioner  Jerre Todd took on the task of rounding up everyone. And sure enough, on September 25th  last year, Shrake and  Texas Monthly star Gary Cartwright fielded  a limo to drive up from Austin, picked up famed author Dan Jenkins at his new digs in a luxurious downtown Fort Worth senior living highrise, and met Todd, Blackie and me at The Loon, a central Dallas landmark. There, we shared Chili Rice, from the Shanghai Jimmy original recipe, one of Blackie’s favorites, drank and retold tales of times gone by over several unhurrried hours of laughter and tears.  It was a memorable, heartwarming afternoon. We knew that Bud had a problem, but we never expected what was to come so soon. 

Beyond his rich literary life, Bud became a familiar figure in Austin political and social circles as the longtime companion of the late Governor Ann Richards. Tomorrow, he will rejoin her at the peaceful Texas State Cemetery.  And there will be one fewer of us Fort Worth Press boys still standing.

–Julian Read

To savor the full flavor of Bud’s bigger-than-life advcntures, inhale his decidedly un-obit-like obituary in today’s Austin American Statesman. And I’d like to know who wrote it. Great piece–he would be pleased…