Some myths never die. But in the interest of accuracy in history, we must try once more.

For decades, the false story has been told and retold that President John F. Kennedy came to Texas in 1963  to unite a fractious Democratic Party in the state. Now comes a Washington Post article this week, prompted  by the death of Don Yarborough, a charismatic liberal Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for Governor three times in the 60s, which recycles that  revisionist history. Under a headline that reads “His Challenge to Party Brought Kennedy to Texas in ’63”, Post staffer Joe Holley recalls  that Don Yarborough came within 27,000 votes of defeating Connally in the Democratic Primary runoff. Which is true.  But then the article reports that Vice President Johnson “was concerned that Mr. Yarborough might defeat Connally in 1964 and that his liberal views would drive conservatives into the Republican fold, thus jeopardizing Kennedy’s re-election chances in 1964. Johnson convinced Kennedy that a presidential visit to Texas would help unite the famously fractious party.” 

Not true. President Kennedy wanted to come to Texas for one reason–political fundraising.  As a matter of fact, neither Johnson nor Connally were excited about the presidential visit at that time, but JFK had been pushing for it ever since his election. The original White House wish was for one big fundraising event. It was Connally who convinced the President to tour San Antonio, Houston,  Fort Worth and Dallas for non-political events, ending up in Austin for a fundraising dinner.

The truth about the tour is underscored by prominent Austin attorney Larry Temple, former Executive Assistant to Governor Connally and later Special Assistant to President Johnson, who has grown weary of the enduring myths. In a vent of frustration to close friends, he wrote: “Those of us  who were there and know the reason for the fateful Kennedy trip to Texas knew that it was solely to raise money…healing wounds in the Democratic Party wasn’t even a consideration. One of the myths was that he wanted to heal the rift between LBJ and Ralph Yarborough. Another myth was he wanted to heal the rift  between Connally and Yarborough. Another one was that Kennedy wanted to try to unite the conservative wing and the liberal wing of the party. I know from John Connally that Kennedy never mentoned any of those factors as a reason for his trip. I know from LBJ that Kennedy never mentioned any of those factors as a reason for his trip.”

–Julian Read

 

money.

Shortly after Walter Cronkite’s death back in mid-July, Discovery Channel’s Sunday night marathon epic “Cronkite Remembers” was a bountiful feast for history buffs–powerful enough to keep even early-to-bed viewers glued until midnight. The show’s  melding  of awesome newsreel footage of the legendary newsman’s career over five decades with his surprisingly candid commentary produced a gripping experience.

Now, this week’s  memorial service at Lincoln Center in NewYork stirs a stream of memories of the former U.T. dropout through longtime friend Neal Spelce, who has known him since 1960, when Neal was with CBS-TV in New York. Here is some of his reminiscense about Cronkite’s Austin footprints:

“He (Walter) left UT before getting a degree because he hungered to roll up his sleeves and begin his career as a reporter. His early departure from the Forty Acres did not diminish his close ties to UT. His narration of the ‘We’re Texas’ TV spots was probably the most visible of his contributions. But for years, he narrated the filmed biographies of those selected each year as Distingished Alumnus of the University of Texas.

“In 1997, I had the pleasure of escorting him to the campus on one of his visits here, He wanted to look at the presses where The Daily Texan was printed, He was greeted like a rock star by the young students, although very few, if any, saw him on the CBS Evening News before he retired.

“The late Lowell Ledbemann hosted a party for Walter and (wife) Betsy on their 60th wedding anniversary. And Liz Carpenter was another close friend of Walter’s.

“He was famous for sailing on the boat he kept at Cape Code.  He also  liked   Lake Travis– so much so that he asked me to check on a possible lake home he might buy at Lakeway. I sent him a half-dozen or so waterfront options, but he didn’t buy a home here. In fact, when he looked at the  info I sent him, he said ‘I can’t afford these. You must have my salary confused with Dan Rather’s!’  ”

Thanks for the warm memories, Neal.

–Julian Read

Lingering thought after the touching images and commentary of ceremonies chronicling the passing of Senator Ted Kennedy: that first wife Joan received short notice.  With  due respect to widow Vicki, who was the essence of elegance throughout a marathon schedule, it seemed almost that Joan did not exist. One fellow television viewer was prompted to ask whether she still is alive.

The scant attention to her was notable, considering that she was mother of his children who were prominent in the services (she saw two of them through bouts with cancer). She stood byKennedy steadfastly during  his stormy years, including the Mary Jo Kopechne tragedy in 1969. Although pregnant and confined to bed in the wake  of two previous miscarriages, she attended the young woman’s funeral. Three days later, she stood beside her husband in court when he pleaded guilty to having left the scene of an accident. She even remained with him during his failed 1980 presidential campaign following their separation in 1978. Despite her own acknowledged problems with alcholism, she would seem deserving of more recogntion.

One personal memory of her loyalty in those early days remains especially vivid.  My experience with her occured at the Democratic National Convention at Atlantic City back in 1964.  Since Lyndon B. Johnson was president, following the assasination of John F. Kennedy the previous year, the Texas delegation predictably was seated immediately in front of the convention hall podium. Seated just behind us was the Massachusetts delegation. But the physical proximity was not reflected in the attitudes of the two delegations, which were chilled by the natural bitterness of the Massachusetts delegates over the tragic loss of President Kennedy, and the frost of Texans who felt that Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy was undermining Johnson

So when brother-in-law Robert Kennedy rose to speak to the convention, most of the Texas delegates sat on their hands. And in response, a young, beautiful and very animated Joan Kennedy jumped into the aisle from just behind, and loudly commanded: “stand up,  you —–, stand up!  And we stood up.

This week’s news coverage of  Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s death and her legacy in founding the revered Special Olympics program included a saddening picture of her still-living  husband Sargeant Shriver, first director of the Peace Corps and first director of the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) and its Job Corps program.  The sight of a frail, weakening Shriver was in dramatic contrast to the robust and spirited Great Society warrior that I faced across a conference room table in the company  of  Texas Governor John Connally back in 1965. 

The issue was who was going to run the controversial Job  Corps Training Center in San Marcos–Connally and his people, or Shriver and his Texas deputy, OEO regional director William H. Crook, a  President Lyndon Johnson loyalist. Connally had been leery of the Job Corps program, a Johnson brainchild, created to–in his words, “train..young men in the skills…to contribute to the community…and become leaders of their fellow men.”  But typical of Connally’s approach to things, he shaped his own vision of how to make a success of it in Texas.  Other states typically turned over the program to an educational entity. Connally organized the state’s own non-profit, run by a board of prominent educators, and recruited the state’s top industrialists to  help shape  courses that would best equip students to qualify for currently available lucrative jobs (such as underwater welding and heavy construction equipment operation).  He even persuaded Texas Instruments to loan a senior level excutive full time to manage the enterprise. The divided federal-state authority had spawned growing tensions between Washington and Austin, of course, added to by suspicions that Washington was sending the toughest of its recruits from Chicago to Gary on purpose, leading to incidents in nearby San  Marcos and Austin communities. Hence the summit meeting in DC. 

Connally had strong words about what he viewed as bureaucratic arrogance and interference from OEO, but Shriver,  no shrinking violet himself, reminded that it was, after all, a federal program. Predictably, the Governor carried the day (it helps to have a close friend  in the White House). But as a practical matter, we agreed to co-exist. Now a rare government story that has a good ending, the Gary Job Corps program has been widely acknowleged to be one of the most successful in the nation. Today–45 years later, it is the largest of all 124 Job Corps centers in the U.S, and is home to more than 1650 male and female sudents.

–Julian Read

As posted earlier, one of the liveliest forums for Texas political lore is the loosely named “Wednesday Morning Breakfast Club” of “used-to-bes” who gather weekly at the Waterloo Ice House across from Seton Hospital on West 38th Street in Austin. Its  attendees include former Texas legislators Bill Abington and George  Nokes, former Congressman Jack Hightower, former LBJ aide and corporate counsel Jim Wilson, former LBJ Library honcho Harry Middleton, former Governor John Connally staffers Terrell Blodgett and John Mobley  and retired business exec Frank Cahill. Their collective memories hold a treasure chest of rich stories, some of which actually can be told.

At this week’s coffee/breakfast conflab, Nokes asked Middleton if it was true that President Lyndon B. Johnson once asked one of his aides whose ass he would have to kiss to have Lady Bird Johson appointed to the University of Texas Board of Regents.  Harry denied any knowledge of that occasion, but then offered a similar episode.

He remembered that Johnson called him from the Ranch one day to say that then- Texas Governor Preston Smith had called and wished to come see him. The President asked if Middleton knew what he wanted. Harry did not. But he does remember the President’s comments  following Governor Smith’s visit.

“I still  don’t know what he wanted,” Johnson reportedly said. “He brought his wife and her mother, they came too late for lunch, too early for me to offer drinks,  and he didn’t want to  ride around the ranch.  If he wanted me to kiss his ass, he should have said so… I’ve  been in that business for forty years.”

–Julian Read

Beloved Austinite Lowell Lebermann’s memorial service  Thursday afternoon on the UT campus  produced a lot of tears–but most of them were from laughter of the throng of admirers who packed the LBJ Library Auditorium. All of the speakers shared personal stories about some experience with the popular former City Councilman and University of Texas Regent.

 UT president Bill Powers, former Lebermann aide Cappy McGarr, former Lt. Governor and close friend Ben Barnes and former UT President Larry Faulkner all sprinkled humor amidst touching tributes to his brilliance, courage, leadership and generosity to the community.  Then, before delivering the benediction, Bishop John E, McCarthy recalled when he first met Lebermann, who was a Catholic.  “He was very gracious and told me he would help me,”  McCarthy said. “Then  he quickly added, ‘–but you need to know I’m not a fanatic’.”

Lebermann’s will insisted on a party after the service at Austin’s downtown power center, the Headliners Club. There, the city’s establishment toasted  their dear friend and swapped more tales that help lighten their loss.  But Lebermann would have been most touched by two other gestures of the day:  the UT Longhorn Band playing “The Eyes of Texas” to close the service, and the  UT Tower glowing orange in final tribute to him that night.

–Julian Read

In 1951, former Texas legislators George Nokes and Dolph Briscoe were invited to the White House to meet then President Harry S. Truman during a visit to Washington, DC.  The meeting occured shortly after the President had discharged General Douglas MacArthur, hero of the Allies’ World War II victory against Japan in the Pacific Theater. That happened much later, of course, on April 11, 1951, during the Korean War when MacArthur commanded a United Nations force and publicly disagreed with Truman’s Korean War policy. It was years after the general has garnered wide acclaim throughout the nation, including honors bestowed during a speech to the Texas Legislature.

Nokes, today retired and a member of the “Wednesday Morning Breakfast Club” of prominent  used-to-bes at the Waterloo Ice House on West 38th Street,  remembers the conversation got around to MacArthur, and the President wasted no niceties in describing what took place. “I travelled all the way to Wake Island to meet with that (expletive). I told him very specifically not to cross the Yalu River (for fear China would come into the war)” the President said. “And before I got  home, he disregarded my order. So I fired the son-of-a-bitch. I pointed out that the Constitution says I am the Commander-in-Chief.”

Nokes says that when he and Governor Briscoe left the White House, they were encountered by a Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporter who asked them the inevitable question: “what did you and the President talk about?” “Oh, we couldn’t possibly talk about a private conversation in the White House,”  Nokes answered. “Except,”  he added, “I did tell him I supported his foreign policy.”  “You just made more news than you meant to,” the reporter replied, acccording to Nokes.

Legendary Texas Associated Press chief photographer Harry Cabluck has seen tens of thousands of the famous and infamous through his lenses over a 55-year career, first with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and for the past 40 years with AP.

And last week during a photo shoot of me in connection with my alleged retirement, he stopped by a collector pair of paintings outside my office of former U.S. Presidents engaging in poker games. After lingering a moment over the two lifelike scenes–one of eight Democrats and another of eight Republicans, Harry noted matter-of-factly, that “I have covered ten of those Presidents.”

After prompting, he recalled photographing Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. He probably could write a small book about  his up-close and personal encounters with the range of Commanders-in-Chief.  But several highlights stand out: shooting President Ford in the Great Hall in China in the company of Deng Xiao Ping; and photographing President Carter on the Salmon River in Idaho during his Western Vacation, in what he describes as one of the most glorious settings in his  memory. Harry also recalls that President Johnson was finicky about how he was photographed. The story goes that artist Peter Herd once told the President  that he had a “friendly side.” Henceforth, Johnson encouraged photographs shot from that side. Harry couldn’t recall for sure which side it was. So just for fun, our firm president and my blog mentor Paul Walker did a bit of research, and he turned up a majority of pictures focused on the left side of the President’s face. So we will assume that LBJ worked his will…as he so often did.

–Julian Read

 

– of the====..–one of Democrats

The Austin American-Statesman and other media today reported that  I will retire as Chairman of Cohn & Wolfe Read-Poland effective July 31.  But the online version was a bit more accurate with the headline…”Public Relations Veteran to Retire…in a Way.”  I am very touched by the generosity of the Statesman article by Tim Eaton (and AP photo by dear friend Harry Cabluck) and the kind comments about it from so many friends and associates. I noted that this piece will save some Statesman reporter the task of doing an obit at some future date; they simply can put a different headline on it.

 I will indeed relinquish corporate duties on that date, but do not plan to shut down the brain. I will continue to counsel some Cohn & Wolfe clients and work with a few other select clients of my own.

I  intend to continue to post stories on this blog and work with contributors who have similar stories to tell. I also hope to get around to writing a book of my various career adventures as I have been urged to do by many friends.

Stay tuned. Every day is a new day!

–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