As I prepare to join a throng of other friends and admirers of Liz Carpenter at the LBJ Library in Austin tomorrow ( March 26)  for a final memorial salute to this journalisic and political icon, one of many personal memories especially comes alive.

On the morning of November 22, 1963, just hours before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in  Dallas, Liz and I stood together against a back wall of the then-Hotel Texas ballroom in downtown Fort Worth to witness his appearance at a non-political Chamber of Commerce breakfast.  She was there to represent Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson to the  media. I had the same role on behalf of Texas Governor John B. Connally,  host for Kennedy’s Texas tour.  The President  and other guests already were  in the room, but First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, the other star attraction, was nowhere to be seen.

“Do you think she will show ?” Liz asked me.  “Are you kidding?”, I replied, confident in the JFK team’s sense of drama.  ” She will make her own grand entrance.”   Sure enough, moments later, Jackie radiantly appeared through the door in  the pink dress and pillbax hat that were to become tragically engraved  in public memory  later in the day. Upon her arrival, the President offered the quip “It takes Jackie a bit longer than Lyndon and me to get ready, but then  she looks a lot better….”   The crowd roared.

Little did either of us dream during that lighthearted  interlude that it was only a matter of hours until  Liz would be called upon to write the heartbreaking statement that Johnson would make to the nation as he assumed the presidency following the tragedy.

Liz was a force of nature to all who met and knew her, an indomitable voice of authority and passion in the intertwined  worlds of journalism and politics.  It was impossible to ignore her, and simply easier to accede to her will. Her devotion and drive have for decades been a primary force in keeping the Johnson flame burning in the public mind– for the  President , for Lady Bird Johnson and for other members of the family.  She leaves a proud mark on Texas and U.S. political history.

–Julian Read

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Last Sunday morning, prominent Austinite Jane Louis was the impressive lead interview in a CNN news feature regarding letters she wrote as an 11-year-old youngster to First Lady Jackie Kennedy in the wake of the President’s assassination in 1963.  The program focused on the new book “Letters to Jackie,” a compilation of  250 of 800,000 such condolence messages received at the White House.  Jane wrote once a week for six months. Her youthful compassion was to foreshadow a lifetime calling.  An angel-on-earth Episcopal Seminary graduate, she has followed a mission of caring, counseling and comforting families in times of grief, including my own. Her special talent  for blending uplifting humor with sorrow at memorial services is legendary. In a happier realm, she also officiates very selected weddings.

 There is yet another strong Texas condolence link to that tragic time. Then-Governor John B. Connally, Jr. was critically wounded  when President Kennedy was killed and lay in Dallas Parkland Hospital at the time of the funeral. So John B. Connally, III represented the family at the service. In doing so, he  presented a handwritten note from his parents to Mrs. Kennedy.  And Nellie Connally has told the story of how she took  John’s hand in both of hers  and responded warmly to the gesture. “And right then, that young man fell in love with Jackie”, she said.  Mrs. Kennedy replied later with her own never-published personal note to Mrs. Connally.

–Julian Read

The man who introduced me to politics 58 years ago–former Texas State Representative and State Senator Don Kennard and longtime associate of mine, is in decline at a retirement center in Southwest Austin.  But tho memory is failing–and whose isn’t– he recently managed flashes of his brillance and wit as I interviewed him for an oral history memento.

He still could recall the name of his first election opponent in 1952 and the fact that our big issue was that he tore down our campaign signs. (My first of scores of such campaigns over the years). We reminisced about the Sunday afternoon he brought over a young redhead  hellbent on running for Congress in Fort Worth against a three-term encumbent backed by the local power structure. That young man was named  Jim Wright.

Kennard has left a proud mark on Texas legislative history.  During 20 years of service, he was a progressive voice for education,  a major force for parks and conservation and a voice of conscience for the average citizen. Most impressive to me is the legion of friends who admire and love him. Weeks seldom go by that someone doesn’t ask me: “How is (Senator) Kennard?”  He could be better these days. Anyone who wants to greet him is  invited to drop a note to  6820 Cypress Point North, No. 9, Austin, TX 78746, or call wife Mary Jo at (512) 394-7222. (They just celebrated their 36th wedding anniversary). Or contact  me  (julian.read@cohnwolfe,com) ,  542-2823.

Mary Jo reports that the Senator recently called a meeting to order at the center.  Once a lawmaker…

–Julian Read

The American Statesman’s irrepressible John Kelso rendered a great public service this week by enlightening  the uninitiated about the very special place that Cisco’s Bakery on East 6th Street holds in the cultural fabric of Austin.  

I can testify to John’s suggestion that there was a time when, if you wanted the East Austin vote, you went to see Rudy Cisneros, the legendary Godfather  of  Cisco’s, who held court daily at a round table plastered with business cards. I remember well that when I came to Austin in 1962 to work in John  B. Connally’s original campaign for Governor, Cisco’s did indeed serve as our Eastside  headquarters. And through the years it has remained a  colorful mecca for politicians, fellow travellers and members of the media. Hard right conservatives and bleeding liberals alike shed philosphies  there  to gulp down breakfast migas, refried beans and heart-stopping biscuits while sharing the latest dirt. Or ditto with fajitas at lunch.  And the atmosphere is made all the richer by the plentiful presence of neighborhood natives.

I am blessed with a special personal attachment to Cisco’s. When GCI Global of New York merged with Read-Poland Associates, the public relations firm that I headed for 50 years, my new partners Jeff Hunt and Bob Pearson presented me with my own table in the restaurant as part of the celebration.  It can be found dead ahead on the way to the backroom, just beneath photos of such political luminaries as President Lyndon B. Johnson,  Congressman Jake Pickle, Governor  Bill Clements and Governor Connally. 

As noted by John, Rudy’s son Clovis blessedly has maintained the unchanged tradition and decor of Cisco’s, including such signs as “We do not have a non-tipping section”. I hope to share more Rudy stories in the future. For now, one more tidbit: those yellow squeeze bottles on the tables aren’t mustard; they contain liquid butter–better to soak the biscuits and clog the arteries. 

—Julian Read

Footnote: After authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann discussed their best seller book Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin at the LBJ Library later in the week, Halperin  commented how much the two enjoy coming to Austin, then added that he planned to go to Cisco’s before he left town.

The recent passing of former Texas legislator and Congressman Charles Wilson brought a warm smile to those of us who knew him, stemming from  pleasant memories beyond his well-publicized Afghanistan exploits.

Blessed with a keen mind and no lack of self-confidence, Charlie was the epitome of a  handsome swashbuckling  Texan who enjoyed the good life–sometimes at his own peril.  As a young lawmaker, he was a bold voice  in the halls of the Texas State Capitol, first  as member of the House, then a state senator, and for 24 years a Democratic U.S. Representative from East Texas.

Reticent in expressing his views or taking action, he was not.  Back in the 80s, members of  Congress from the Northeast banded together in a Regional Caucus  to seek federal funding goodies (early day Earmarks).   Charlie countered by organizing the Southern Legislative Caucus as a tit for tat. His trusty aide Charlie Simpson and I had the adventure of working with him in that endeavor,  travelling around the South to spread the gospel and woo financial contributors.

 But many oldtime friends will tell you that Charlie’s greatest legacy was the unsurpassed standard he set for drop-dead attractiveness (and smarts) of  feminine staff members, known as Charlie’s Angels.  His Austin and DC offices still hold the record for volume of visitors who had no official business.

–Julian Read