Thursday, September 14, 2006
A Tall Tree Falls in Texas
Though she was a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a teacher and a famous politician, to me, former Texas governor Anne Richards was simply a fabulous comedienne. With that shock of white hair and her unflappable ways, Ann was the kind of gal that made me feel good about being female. (Unlike Anne Coulter, who I fantasize about beating upon, all too often - she should be banished from the gender.)
Anne passed away yesterday at the age of 73, leaving a shining legacy of public service and salty one-liners. Her famous fear of a boring epitaph, "She kept a clean house," is no longer a concern as I note today nearly a thousand news articles from around the world singing her praises.
It was her famous quote regarding George H.W. Bush at the 1988 Democratic National Convention that launched her onto the national stage: "Poor George, he was born with a silver foot in his mouth." To his credit, he later sent her a silver charm shaped like a foot. Point being, it was hard not to love Ann, even when you fell into her crosshairs.
Last year while in Austin, I read a funny story about when Ann, as governor, was called on to address SXSW attendees namely, rock critics. She didn't know what to make of them. (Putting this link in now, I see that the SXSW folks have already posted the story I was about to tell - front and center.)
The day I become a serious AR fan was the day I happened to catch a radio interview with her. Some local San Francisco DJs had called her on a whim, apparently, and were shocked that they got her on the phone. They conducted a faux-serious interview, asking for her "views" on Texas chili, women's rights (in the home) and, of course, hairstyles.
She matched their playfulness, joke for joke, often at her own expense. Launching into a full description of her own famous 'do, she said it was, "like pure white spun sugar, like what you'd get at the county fair, carefully shellacked onto my skull. It's a corona, really, is what it is." Her delivery was masterfully deadpanned - I recall laughing uproariously in the car.
It would be nice to have more humor in politics, god knows we need it. I'm still mad that Bob Dole wasn't allowed to let his funny monkey out while on the campaign trail. I didn't find out about his legendary wit until after he'd lost and that's a shame. (Still wouldn't have voted for him but I sure would've hated him a whole lot less.)
On the dangerous mix of woman and humor, Ann pinned it down: "There's something a little scary about funny women. Well, they're threatening. There was a survey done one time where they asked women what they were most afraid of from men and their response was they were most afraid of being hit or beaten or hurt. They asked men what they were most afraid of from women, and they said being laughed at."
In an effort to keep up with the good 'ole boys in the early days of Texas politicking, Ann discovered (thanks to a family intervention) that she was an alcoholic. This hardly posed a bump in her soaring career. She dealt with the matter straight out, quit the hooch and moved on from there. As TIME wrote today: "But when the fog of booze cleared, Richards discovered that her wit was not fueled by whiskey. The twinkle in her eyes was there to stay."
As for her political life, of which much has been written, Ann was most proud of two actions that probably cost her re-election: She vetoed legislation that would have allowed people to carry concealed handguns and "cop-killer bullets." Also, she vetoed a bill that would have allowed the destruction of the environment over the Edwards Aquifer.
Ann's humor carried her well across the aisle and, barbs aside, she was noted for her bi-partisan friendships. Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, recalled Ann as "one of the funniest human beings God ever placed on Earth." He also has a great story about working with her in the early days.
"Not too long after we were both elected (he as Texas Commissioner of Agriculture, she as governor), she had a hot line put in my office," said Sharp, who served two terms. "I couldn't get it to work, so went over and asked what was the deal. She said, 'It ain't your hot line, it's my hot line. It only works one way -- mine.'"
Rest in peace, Ann, if you can stand the quiet.