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

All of us who knew him or have been touched by the good cheer and good deeds of Lowell Lebermann are saddened by his unexpected passing yesterday.  Today’s Austin American-Statesman chronicled highlights of his lifetime achievements and public service. It also noted briefly an early, unsuccessful political campaign for State Representative in 1964.

That brought back a smile from personal memories of how Howard Rose and Larry Temple of Governor John B. Connally’s office and a young Speaker of the House Ben Barnes got me involved in that campaign.  They were all impressed with Lowell as a bright young student at UT with political ambitions, so our firm did the advertising and publicity for his race, with quiet support from Austin politicos. But alas, the voters of Norrtheast Texas  failed to grasp the level of talent offered.

Nonplussed  by the loss, Lowell went on to become a successful businessman and became widely admired for his distinguished record of public service as a member of the Austin City Council and the University of Texas Board of Regents, as well as his generosity toward community endeavors. And anytime our conversations would get around to that rare early-day setback, I will always remember fondly his infectous laugh while declaring “that was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Footnote: My late wife Anice Barber Read, who founded and directed the Texas Main Street Program for the Texas Historical Commission, was responsible for preservation and restoration of the historic Christiansen-Lebermann Photography Studio west of the Capitol in Austin. And Lowell and his late mother Sue Lebermann were honored guests on occasion of its debut as the Texas Main Street Center, now named after Anice Read.

–Julian Read

The Wall Street Journal gave front page prominence a few days ago to a major article about the mushrooming volume and cost of taxpayer-paid junkets by members of Congress and their fellow travelers.  It reports that spending on overseas travel has nearly tripled since 2001, and that the 2008 tab of $13 million represents  a 50 percent jump since  Democrats took control of Congress two years ago. This follows a flap back then when some critics claimed that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi had asked for a 200-seat government aircraft to ferry her entourage between California and Washington, while she responded that she only wanted one that could fly that distance non-stop–regardless its size.

All of which brings to mind a comparative, if trivial, smiler of a story told here in Texas years forty years ago. Back in those days, when President Lyndon B. Johnson was in office, along with Austin Congressman Jake Pickle, old Braniff  Airways ran a daily “Jake Pickle Special” non-stop flight  between Washington, D.C. and Austin, and on to San Antonio.

 A  frequent flyer on that plane was longtime Bexar County Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez, the popular voice of hundreds of thousands of Mexican Americans. Rep. Gonzalez always sat in Seat 1A in the first class section. The story goes that a reporter, taking note of that non-egalitarian practice, one day asked the Congressman how he, as  champion of the little man, could justify the cost of sitting in first class. And without hesitation and with a straight face, Gonzalez is said to have replied: “I want to make sure there are plenty of seats back there for my people.”  The Congressman went to his grave as a hallowed figure with the Convention Center on the Hemisfair grounds named in his honor. And today,  son Representative Charles Gonzalez proudly carries on his legacy of public service as a member of Congress. But we haven’t ask whether  he flies first class.

–Julian Read