Ann Richards, 1933-2003. Rest in Peace.
God bless you, Ann Richards.
September 1, 1933- September 13, 2006
Former Texas Governor and tough lady Ann Richards passed away tonight of esophageal cancer. She was 73 years old. This woman devoted her life to public service. The quality which I most admired, besides her wit, was her honesty. She did not hide or package herself. She told it as it was. And beneath that tough exterior and big hair was a heart for Everyman.
In honor of this brave, strong woman, I would like to remind you of some of her words at the Democratic National Convention in 1988. The sad fact is that they are still remarkably true.
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Buenas noches, mis amigos.
I'm delighted to be here with you this evening, because after listening to George Bush all these years, I figured you needed to know what a real Texas accent sounds like.
Twelve years ago Barbara Jordan, another Texas woman, Barbara made the keynote address to this convention, and two women in a hundred and sixty years is about par for the course.
But if you give us a chance, we can perform. After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.
…You know, tonight I feel a little like I did when I played basketball in the 8th grade. I thought I looked real cute in my uniform. And then I heard a boy yell from the bleachers, "Make that basket, Birdlegs." And my greatest fear is that same guy is somewhere out there in the audience tonight, and he's going to cut me down to size, because where I grew up there really wasn’t much tolerance for self-importance, people who put on airs.
I was born during the Depression in a little community just outside Waco, and I grew up listening to Franklin Roosevelt on the radio. Well, it was back then that I came to understand the small truths and the hardships that bind neighbors together. Those were real people with real problems and they had real dreams about getting out of the Depression. I can remember summer nights when we’d put down what we called the Baptist pallet, and we listened to the grown-ups talk. I can still hear the sound of the dominoes clicking on the marble slab my daddy had found for a tabletop. I can still hear the laughter of the men telling jokes you weren’t supposed to hear -- talkin' about how big that old buck deer was, laughin' about mama puttin' Clorox in the well when the frog fell in.
They talked about war and Washington and what this country needed. They talked straight talk. And it came from people who were living their lives as best they could. And that’s what we’re gonna do tonight. We’re gonna tell how the cow ate the cabbage.
I got a letter last week from a young mother in Lorena, Texas, and I wanna read part of it to you. She writes,
“Our worries go from pay day to pay day, just like millions of others. And we have two fairly decent incomes, but I worry how I’m going to pay the rising car insurance and food. I pray my kids don’t have a growth spurt from August to December, so I don’t have to buy new jeans. We buy clothes at the budget stores and we have them fray and fade and stretch in the first wash. We ponder and try to figure out how we're gonna pay for college and braces and tennis shoes. We don’t take vacations and we don’t go out to eat. Please don’t think me ungrateful. We have jobs and a nice place to live, and we’re healthy. We're the people you see every day in the grocery stores, and we obey the laws. We pay our taxes. We fly our flags on holidays and we plod along trying to make it better for ourselves and our children and our parents. We aren’t vocal any more. I think maybe we’re too tired. I believe that people like us are forgotten in America.”
Well of course you believe you’re forgotten, because you have been.
This Republican Administration treats us as if we were pieces of a puzzle that can’t fit together. They've tried to put us into compartments and separate us from each other. Their political theory is “divide and conquer.” They’ve suggested time and time again that what is of interest to one group of Americans is not of interest to any one else. We’ve been isolated. We’ve been lumped into that sad phraseology called “special interests.” They’ve told farmers that they were selfish, that they would drive up food prices if they asked the government to intervene on behalf of the family farm, and we watched farms go on the auction block while we bought food from foreign countries. Well, that’s wrong!
Former teacher, commissioner, first female governor of Texas to be elected in her own right, recovering alcoholic, motorcycle mama, wit, gentle soul, mother, grandmother, incisive orator, tough cookie. She was always a survivor. Only cancer could finally defeat her.
Notable quotes from this American legend:
"Teaching was the hardest work I had ever done, and it remains the hardest work I have done to date."
"I have always had the feeling I could do anything and my dad told me I could. I was in college before I found out he might be wrong.”
“I believe in recovery, and I believe that as a role model I have the responsibility to let young people know that you can make a mistake and come back from it.”
"They blame the low income women for ruining the country because they are staying home with their children and not going out to work. They blame the middle income women for ruining the country because they go out to work and do not stay home to take care of their children."
Let me close with the words of another tough Texas gal, Molly Ivins who wrote these word upon the occasion of Mrs. Richards’ defeat to George W. Bush in 1995:
“Ave Atque Vale, Miz Ann. Hail and farewell, Governor Richards. Adios, Annie. Keep your wagon between the ditches. May your days be full of laughter. Good on ya.”
Good night, dear lady.
****Update: Here is Molly Ivins' tribute to Governor Richards. It is spot on. Go and read! You'll laugh... and wipe away a tear.