At the end of the near interminable bowl season, it is interesting to note that the Auburn-Oregon BCS National Championship game of January 10 had more miscues than the Rose Bowl epic on New Year’s Day. TCU and Wisconsin slugged it out for 60 minutes without a single turnover by either team, a rare feat that has been totally overlooked by the nation’s media. In contrast, Auburn and Oregon both gave up the ball twice through  interceptions or fumbles. Likewise, the BCS game led slightly in penalities, recording 11 for 84 yards , compared to 10 for 61 yards in the Rose Bowl game. TCU gave up a stingy 20 yards from only four penalties.

 The warm glow of Texas Christian University’s historic Rose Bowl victory still stirs the emotions of that school’s legion of grads, including yours truly. Among other superlatives  from the weekend spectacle was the remarkable  fact that TCU–with only 8000- plus students, bought more than 27,000 tickets. The pent-up passion of  Frog fans to have their day was reflected in a quote by former Sports llustrated byliner and longtime friend  Dan Jenkins that appeared in a pre-game LA Times face off with Fox host Greta Van Susteren on who would win  the game.  Said Jenkins: “…It would be nice to see the Frogs win, but I’ve already received a great gift:  That TCU in my lifetime would make it into the Rose Bowl—-the one famous stadium it has never played in—is a truly rewarding thing for this college football fan.”  He is a 1953 graduate of Texas Christian.

In a post game conversation, Dan  confessed that he had a strong itch to report the game for some  news outlet, though he is long retired from his brilliant career as sportswriter and novelist (think Semi Tough among a string of sports classics).   I urged him to write it anyway as if in SI–for himself if no one else.  It was a story that won’t come along again anytime  soon. I would love to read how he would have recorded it for future generations.

–Julian Read

For the benefit of those who have been kind enough to miss these periodic postings and have asked why they have been MIA, we are pleased to report that texasofftherecord is alive and well after surviving an extended identity crisis.  The lesson to learn: do not lose your password!  We can vouch for the impregnable WordPress security measures in case you do so. Many thanks to its tech gurus who helped colleague Temple Barron and me to navigate the challenges of regaining visibility.  The full story is too involved to recite.  And does anyone remembers life when you did  not need to maintain a directory of personal passwords?

 Hopefully, followers will forgive some subsequent postings that are well behind the calendar but considered worthy of note nonetheless.

–Julian Read

Texas lost another giant of its history over the weekend with the passing of  Dolph Briscoe, governor of the state from 1973  through 1979, and a prominent South Texas business leader and philanthropist for decades.  Governor Briscoe was the personification of the legendary Texas rancher of  book and movie lore, whose family land holdings once sprawled over  600,000 acres, making it the largest privately-owned property in
the state.

His death recalls a personal turning point in my own life in which he played a key role. In December of 1961, Briscoe hosted  a meeting of then- Democratic political movers and shakers at his famed Catarina Ranch to discuss the 1962 Governor’s race.  Described in his own book, as told to editor Don Carlton, (director  the Center for American History at the Univesity of Texas), Briscoe had supported then-Governor Price Daniel in the past. But Daniel, who already had served three terms, had hesitated to announce his plans for another term, leading conservative Democrats to coalesce around John B. Connally, who was serving as Secretary of the Navy as an appointee of President John F. Kennedy.  As Briscoe notes, the Catarina, with its deep South Texas seclusion that includes a private air strip,  was the perfect place to map political plans. As expected, the meeting confirmed united support for Connally among prominent political leaders from across fhe state.

A few days later, in Fort Worth, I received a call from Scott Sayers, a member of the Texas Legislature. telling me that John Connally had asked that I have coffee with him at the Hotel Texas, a popular political gathering place . Then a Fort Worth resident and counsel to legendary oil man Sid Richardson and his nephew Perry Bass, Connally was aware of my budding experience as a young public relations and political counselor, including sucessful election campaigns for State Represntative Don Kennard and CongressmanJim Wright. Over coffee, Connally shared his experience as Navy Secretary, where he watched research grants going to California, New York and other states, but not to Texas.  That convinced him that the state’s future depended on vastly increased emphasis on higher education.  He then outlined his vision to make that objective the foundation of his campaign for Governor.”I don’t know what all I need (in this campaign)” he said after talking further about his concerns for Texas, “but I think you o.  And I would like for you to sign on with me”.  Thus began a relationship that spanned more than four decades, involving years of confidential counsel through good times and bad, the handling of millions of dollars in campaign funds ( cash was legal back then), and all without any formal contract.

After his role in helping launch Connally’s campaign, Briscoe was chagrinned that Governor Daniel finally declared as a candidate for a fourth term.  but to no avail. Connally led primary voting  over the Governor and four other candidates, and served three terms as governor before retiring voluntarily in 1969.

Governor Briscoe’s gentlemanly presence. generous philathrophyand sense of history will be keenly missed and fondly remembered. We  can be grateful to Don Carlton for overcoming the Governor’s modesty to help preserve his legacy for future generations. 

–Julian Read

Family, friends and former colleagues paid a final tribute in Austin today to Bo Byers, a Texas journalistic icon for more than fifty years. Bo had passed his 90th birthday last fall, and speakers stressed how much he crammed into those years. He even went back to UT to earn a graduate degree  in his seventies, and was a choir leader until recently at Central Presbyterian Church, where he had been a loyal member since he was eight years old. Although he worked for a number of Texas newspapers over his distinguised career, Bo was best identified as the Capitol Bureau  Chief of the Houston Chronicle for many years. He was noted for his tough but fair questions that produced keen political coverage.  It was in that context that I met him in the early 1960s when I was handling communications for then-candidate for Texas Governor John B. Connally. It was he who first chronicled my behind-the-scenes role for the Governor. And over our 50-year friendship, one historic occassion still stands out.

It occured at the Hotel Texas  in Fort Worth  late on November 21, 1963, the night before the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  The President and First Lady had retired upstairs after the first day of their Texas visit,  So Governor Connally, their host for the visit, was holding court in the hotel coffee show. Bo, who was part of the pres Corps traveling with the President, joined us for some political banter, during wich he revealed that the Chronicle would be publishing a new poll the following Sunday showing the respective strengths of leading public figures. He went on to share that Governor Connally was shown to be more popular than the President, a not-surprsing  fnding in view of headwinds Kennedy was facing his third year in office, but one no less pleasing to Connally.  Less than 15 hours after that giddy interlude and its exciting  anticipation of tomorrow, we all were immersed in the unthinkable nightmare that awaited us just 35 miles to the east in downtown Dallas.

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

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

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, a longtime personal friend, was in Austin this week for a meeting of the Republican Governors Association, which he chairs.  While in town, he was honored at a reception at the Barton Hills  home of Cindy Barnes where he mingled with fellow Rs, along with independent admirers.

A  visit with him rekindled memories of the 1980 presidental campaign, when he was the southern coordinator for candidate former Texas Governor John B. Connally. We recalled together the dark morning after Connally lost the South Carolina Republican primary, his last stand against soon-to-be-victor Ronald Reagan. I was on the plane with Connally from Columbia back to Houston when  Connally wearily said, “Well, we need to call Haley”. That was because the next week brought primaries that included Mississipi and Georgia, two states he was directing, and the Governor did not want to ask him and his allies to continue a lost cause. So he made the call and reluctantly pulled the plug. Always the pro, Haley understood. But even this week, he recalled that his Georgia coordinator was particularly upset, because they were confidant that Connally would have won that state.

A high respected Republican leader who once led the Republican National Committee, Governor Barbour gained high marks with his handling of the aftermath of Katrina in Mississippi. In his current role, he will collect chits from candidates across the country as he helps raise funds for their campaigns. To a question during the reception regarding his own presidental  aspirations,  he appropriately responded that he is focused on the 2010 elections, and his goal of gaining more R governors. But any of those new governor who win will  remember his help if he decides to make the run.  And don’t bet that he will not.