Ann Richards died yesterday of esophageal cancer. She was seventy-three.
Living in Texas during the seventies and eighties meant getting to hear and watch Ann Richards. She was, to me, the epitome of a Texas woman, brash and beautiful at the same time. I’m proud to say we share the same alma mater — Baylor University — though Baylor, who keeps hoping to land the George W. Bush Presidential Library (one trailer, two books), has never been quick to claim her, even though she ranks among the best they have helped produce.
She was a person who knew herself, flaws and all, and had no problem admitting hers and calling others to own up to theirs, which made her an unusual and refreshing addition to both the Texas and national political scene. She served one term as governor of Texas — the last Democrat to hold that position, losing her bid for reelection to none other than Dubya himself. When she was asked if she would have done anything different had she known she would only serve one term, she said, “Oh, I probably would have raised more hell.”
Her life story is an inspirational one. When she spoke, she had a way of drawing on her life experience to connect with others, rather than making it all about her. She was bright, sometimes bawdy, witty, and honest. No wonder she was happy to leave politics. Many of her words are worth remembering. One of my favorites comes from her Keynote Address at the 1988 Democratic Convention, where she described George Bush 1 by saying,”Poor George, he can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.”
The most poignant quote I found today was also from that speech.
I’m really glad that our young people missed the Depression, and missed the great big war. But I do regret that they missed the leaders I knew. Leaders who told us when things were tough, and that we would have to sacrifice, and these difficulties might last awhile. They didn’t tell us things were hard for us because we were different, or isolated, or special interests. They brought us together and they gave us a sense of national purpose.
I read those words and thought, here we are eighteen years later and the problem is still the same. We don’t have leaders as large as the problems we face. We are hard pressed to find folks who live, act, and speak by the courage of their convictions rather than the latest poll numbers or the directions of their handlers. My point is not to wax nostalgic, but to voice concern. We have done a lot of things well in America, but creating a society that fosters and develops capable people to lead it is not one of them.
Yesterday, our list of enchanting leaders was decreased by one.
So long, Ann — and thanks.