An association for alumni and supporters of The Daily Texan, student newspaper at the University of Texas at Austin

My Texan

The Daily Texan: a training ground for excellence in journalism

and a creator of vivid memories that last a lifetime

 Dave McNeely

Dave McNeely

Dave McNeely

The Daily Texan produced my career. In 1963, Editor Sam Kinch assigned me to cover the Texas Legislature. With breaks for a Congressional Fellowship and Nieman Fellowship and some time covering Dallas politics for the Dallas Morning News, I’ve been doing it ever since.

When I became editor later in 1963, I continued the observation of the political processes at the legislature and in the state capitol, with the UT regents, with the UT student government, and so on.

Because I became editor (1963-64) simultaneously with getting my undergraduate degree, I had to stick around UT for grad school. I was conditionally admitted by the government department, and got my master’s after a couple years.

My oldest daughter Michelle was born on May 30 — two days before I became editor. She spent a number of days and evenings catching a few winks in a file drawer in my office, overseen with the help of some of the wonderful Texan folk.

When I was seeking a job in 1965, I frankly think the Texan editorship was a bigger credential on my bio than the master’s degree.

Had it not been for the Texan and all the people I met there and the skills I learned and developed by doing, and lifetime friends I made, it wouldn’t have happened — and I wouldn’t have logged the experience and knowledge necessary to co-write a biography of the late lieutenant governor: “Bob Bullock: God Bless Texas.” (UT press, 2008).

It’s been a fun half-century.

 John Reetz

John Reetz

1971 Copy Desk

My career would likely have been very different, if not for the training ground and proving ground of The Daily Texan.

There, I learned to work as a team, but to build confidence in the one-on-one difficult and challenging situations journalists find with their sources in the course of their work.

The Texan taught me that to ask the tough questions did not mean you were being rude or antagonistic, but simply asking tough questions – and that can and should be done in a respectful manner. And those questions should be answered.

The Texan taught me that journalism is not always thrilling and exciting, but the people you are interviewing on what seems to be the most boring story of your year may consider it the most exciting event of their year. Respect all.

The Texan was a head-start in many ways: learning the importance of integrity in what you do, the essential necessity of accuracy, your responsibility to your readers.

My two terms as managing editor in 1971 also gave me a head start on the challenges and opportunities of management.

The Texan taught me to never settle for less, and never take the easy way out, though it’s tempting. Never do something halfway just to get it done.

And The Texan taught me that friendships – professional and personal – do endure, and that life – journalistically and otherwise – is built on those early relationships.

 David Powell

David Powell

David Powell

Like many others, I consider the Daily Texan a vital coming-of-age experience. The Texan was the first step on the path that led to my professional life in journalism and now the law. The skills training was invaluable. The Texan also gave me an introduction to the kind of decision-makers I encountered later in my career — Bob Bullock, Frank Erwin, Sissy Farenthold, Tom Johnson, Roy Butler, even Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson. I met these people, learned how to talk to them and, most importantly, not to be in awe of them.

Aside from my personal growth, the experience I gained as Texan editor led directly to my admission to the Columbia Journalism School and then my journalism career at The Associated Press and the St. Petersburg Times. That experience is still important to me today as a practicing lawyer: I still sit at a keyboard and bang out a written work product on deadline, and I’m still not awed by the politicians and business leaders that I meet.

At the Texan I learned that what we do in journalism — or any profession, really –- matters and may not be popular. As Editor, when I wrote about the Austin City Council election of 1973, the first local election after the 18-year vote became legally effective, some conservative law students with the Young Americans for Freedom sued us in state district court. They sought a court order to prevent us from editorializing about the election on grounds that we were using public funds for political purposes. Attorney General John Hill personally defended us. The judge denied the request, so we continued to editorialize aggressively about the campaign. The student vote that year made a big difference in changing Austin.

Today I look back with great appreciation for what the Texan and the University prepared me for later in life. I can’t imagine my life without that preparation.

 Karen Elliott House

The UT College of Communication had two outstanding teachers–Griff Singer and The Daily Texan. I owe my 36-year career at The Dallas Morning News and The Wall Street Journal to both of them.  Griff helped me get a job at The DMN right out of UT in September 1970.

The Daily Texan gave me the confidence to succeed at The WSJ. It is one thing to do a story some editor assigns. It is quite another to come up repeatedly with your own assignments, to have the confidence that you can indulge your curiosities and make others share them.

At The Journal, editors didn’t assign us stories. We had a beat, and we were expected to produce informative, interesting stories for intelligent individuals. That freedom could have been frightening had I not already learned at The Texan to have confidence that what interested me would interest others if I did a good job gathering information and writing the story.
For instance, at The Texan, I did a story on Darrell Royal’s 100th victory as a football coach — something no other UT coach had ever done, though Mack Brown now has — and ran an orange 100 superimposed on that front-page story.

As a student on campus from 1966-70, a time of anti-war protests, The Texan at my request paid my way to Washington, D.C., to cover the big anti-war protest at the Washington Monument.

I traveled to James Street’s hometown to profile the quarterback of the 1969-70 National Championship team.

On campus, I covered a range of things from student government to the faculty senate, from Waller Creek protests against Frank Erwin [who wanted to chop down the oaks] to war protests.

Three years of work on The Daily Texan earned me an internship at The Houston Chronicle, where I got to cover the astronauts’ families as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon.

As exciting as watching that moon walk was, seeing Walter Cronkite, my fellow UT student, as I staked out the home of Ms. Aldrin was even more memorable. Alas, Walter was allowed into her home to interview. I just stood watch in hope she would come out and talk.

The credential of The Texan almost surely was worth more than a UT journalism degree. When folks wanted to look at your “clips,” I had tons of them and on a broad range of topics.
This ability to shift confidently from one topic to another and to see stories all around one was invaluable at the WSJ, where I began as a regulatory reporter but fairly quickly hit upon my life’s love: international political reporting.

The confidence gained probing stories on a campus of 35,000 students stood me in good sted when I landed in Saudi Arabia or North Korea or China. It helped to have the experience of staring down Frank Erwin when I found myself interviewing Saddam Hussein in 1990 or Vladimir Putin in 2002 or Deng Xaioping in 1979.

I am eternally grateful to The Texan for the journalistic experience and for the exposure to a world I knew nothing about when I arrived. My first horror was a Daily Texan party where people, to my shock, having grown up in a dry town in a teetotaling household, were drinking beer in excessive quantities.

I managed to learn to take that in stride, though never to drink beer, and the friendships were invaluable. Wall Street Journal Americas, the Journal’s Spanish-language edition in about a dozen Latin and South American newspapers, occurred in part because Alejandro Junco, owner of newspapers in Monterrey and Mexico City, was a fellow UT graduate who wanted Journal content for his papers.

The Daily Texan took a small town girl from the Panhandle of Texas who grew up leading a sheltered life without telephone or television and opened the world to me. From Matador, where I worked on the town weekly, to Manhattan, where I wound up as publisher of The Wall Street Journal and all the myriad places in between, I owe my thanks to The Daily Texan.

Becky and Jerry Conn

My wife, Becky Reynolds Conn, and I, both journalism majors, worked on The Daily Texan in the late 50s.
In fact, we met in the Texan office, which has been a delight to us through the years, especially since we live in Austin and pass by that building (now the Geography Department) quite often. She was a Campus Life Editor and I did a bunch of different things — columnist, editorial page editor, news editor, etc.

I had stopped by the Texan office after a wrestling class in Gregory Gym on my way back to the Sigma Chi house. Lounging on a couch in my sweat shirt, I heard a girl come in talking about a threatened ban on costume parties. (The Phi Gams had gotten into big trouble because a Roman Toga Party with grain alcohol punch had ended up with lots of loosened togas.) Becky, who was secretary of the student’s association and on a key party committee, was explaining that if costume parties weren’t banned, then alcohol might be outlawed. And certainly nobody wanted that! I leaped into the verbal tussle with this cute girl I’d never met — and, wham-o, she knocked me out!

 Middy Randerson, part one

Sorelle Wedding

April 10, 1970 — From left, Texan staffers all, Don McKinney, Paul SoRelle, Ruth Doyle and Middy Randerson listen to the wedding vows read by Travis County Judge John H. Watson.

We came from different towns and cities, different dorms or apartments, different styles of life — but we all had The Texan in common and became a true family during our years as staffers.

April 10, 1970, noon, Travis County Courthouse. Ruth and Paul SoRelle had met and fallen in love in the Texan newsroom. Juniors at the time, they knew they wanted to marry and had planned to wait until the beginning of their senior year in August. But Ruth, an assistant managing editor, had just lost the election for Texan editor. She was feeling a bit blue. Paul, already working at the American-Statesman as well as continuing his studies at The University and serving as a Texan assistant managing editor, suggested getting married immediately might help cheer her up. A true elopement. No parents or blood relatives involved.

It was to be a tiny affair, Ruth asked me, a senior and Amusements editor at the time, to be her maid of honor and Paul chose Don McKinney, an Amusements staffer and all-around wonderful guy (anybody know where he is today?) to be his best man. We show up at the courthouse and Travis County Judge John H. Watson prepares to start the ceremony. Before he could begin, doors to the courtroom began to open and quietly, one after another, just about the entire Texan staff entered to join the celebration. You can’t keep a secret in a newsroom. Someone had put the wedding details on the assignments blackboard. It said: “Ruth and Paul and engaged.” And witty group that we were – and are – someone had written below that, “engaged in what?” As an aside, I was working on an anthropology minor my senior year and had to write a paper on ways different societies esoterically communicated among their members. There was a running gag on the Texan chalkboard using any reference or pun possible about Ben Day boxes. I copied them all during the semester and then submitted an essay about the strange, tribal communication. Got an A. Easiest essay I ever wrote!

The SoRelles were swiftly married and we all decamped west to Lakeway where my parents had a house that I had offered to Ruth and Paul for their honeymoon. A delightful party ensued. I trust we left the couple alone before too long so they could get the marriage started properly.

Ruth remembers awakening the next day to the sound of military maneuvers taking place in the area. “I thought, and hoped, the revolution had come,” she says. Basically, this was still the late ’60s, remember. Today, this marriage-on-the-fly remains intact. And so do the friendships forged to the smell of hot lead so very long ago.

 Ruth Doyle SoRelle

It’s been a long time since I was at the Daily Texan, but it was a pivotal moment in my career and my life.

One of my first assignments at The Daily Texan (I think as part of the news writing class) was to talk to visitors from a university in Czechoslovakia. They were there for a conference, and their nation seemed to be opening up. However, the Soviets marched into Prague while they were still in Austin. Fearing for their families back home, they would not talk to me. Maybe that’s when I realized that I lacked the killer instinct.

I still remember my first night on the copy desk at the Texan (probably January 1969)? I think they paid me $6 a night. I had spent the summer before working on my hometown newspaper, the Port Arthur News, and I had probably finished the first copyediting course at UT. Bob Hilburn was there, and Rick Scott was in the slot. They started throwing copy around, and this guy walked in in a suit! A suit, of all things. It was Paul (SoRelle, whom she wound up marrying), and he’d just gotten off work at the Long News Service. He sat down and started editing copy. He and Rick traded stories about the stupidity of cattle and sheep, as I remember.

It was a long night, and I went down to the makeup room later, using the stairs because that elevator scared me. I knew something about makeup because I had had to oversee the makeup of the television magazine in Port Arthur and because my high school had a vocational print shop attached.

I got off at 2 a.m. and had to be let in especially late at the Carothers dorm. They still had curfews then.

I loved it – the give and take, the laughter, the dark humor. At one point, I became the day city editor, sending people out on assignment.

The next fall, I was made a senior reporter. I got to cover the Vietnam Moratorium march, the Waller Creek trees incident and the Chuck Wagon melee. I learned to write color, and I found I loved to do that.

The Vietnam moratorium march was a long one that went on and on. I think I was assigned to gather color on that one. There was a lot of it. The voices resounded around the city: “One, two, three, four, we don’t want your fuckin’ war.” The songs: “All we are saying is give peace a chance.”

We had such high hopes that we could change the world, and for a while, it seemed we had.

Paul sent me out to the Waller Creek Trees protest. I remember going up to Frank Erwin and telling him there was an injunction on the way to stop him. He just told the bulldozers to go faster. The protesters were up in the trees, and I was in a mini-skirt. I remember, after the trees were down, the protesters picked them up and marched on the Tower.

Rick Fish, then with the Austin American-Statesman was with me. He boosted me up over walls and blockades of trees. When I got back to the office, I told Paul how helpful Rick had been. I remember Paul said, “I’ll bet he was.”

Erwin tried to shut down the Chuck Wagon at the Student Center, saying it was a hotbed of drugs and prostitution. I believed the drugs. Prostitution – probably not. I was inside the Chuck Wagon interviewing students who were occupying it when the DPS came in one door and we all ran out the other. They had a big flatbed truck they were going to haul us away in, but I think they went back mostly empty. I remember that it was strange going toe-to-toe with the DPS in their moon helmets and riot gear, but I don’t remember being afraid. Too young and stupid, I guess.

We were at the Texan the night they gave students their draft numbers. Paul’s was 93. I remember how my heart fell. It seems someone born on Christmas Eve should have had better luck.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, Paul and I fell in love, and we fell hard. It was a heady time. We eloped April 10, 1970, although it seems that most of The Texan staff came to the event. We’ve stayed in love all that time. Next April, it will be 44 years. We have two grown children and two aging cats.

I could have graduated early, but I had a scholarship and Paul said we needed the money to live on, so I stayed in school and took all the courses I had thought I could not fit into my schedule.

What did The Daily Texan teach me? No one goes into daily journalism for delayed gratification. I learned to dig in and get the best daily story I could. I learned how to develop sources and work them – hard.

I realized soon after graduation that I needed to specialize, unless I wanted to spend my life doing cops and courts. To this day, there’s something about those hard benches in a courtroom that makes me want to escape.

I learned to challenge authority, and I learned never to accept fully the explanations of those in authority – or those in opposition to it. The truth usually rests somewhere in the middle.

I learned never to walk out of an interview with questions unanswered. If I didn’t understand the story then, how could I tell it to my readers?

I was the medical writer at The Houston Chronicle for 20 years. It was a tough beat, and it got tougher as the Texas Medical Center got bigger, AIDS threatened to overtake us and the costs of health care spiraled out of control. What I learned at The Daily Texan was to dig in, evaluate the story in terms of the people for whom I was writing and never let an editor dictate my values.

What I wrote frequently invaded the secret spaces of people’s lives, and I knew that. I taught journalism at UH on adjunct basis once, and a student asked me how I knew when I had gone as far as I should. It was simple, I told her. I have to be able to look at myself in the mirror the next day. When I felt I needed more education, I went back to school for a master’s in public health.

Yet I remember what is probably the most important thing in journalism: You are only an expert in telling the story. When you begin to consider yourself an expert in the field about which you are writing, it is time to leave.

The hardest lesson I learned came after journalism school, and I think it is one that we fail to teach young reporters. To be a reporter is to be on the outside looking in. Once you go through that door and become part of the story yourself, you are lost.

 Middy Randerson, part two

Apollo 13 Press Pass

Daily Texan Apollo 13 Press Pass

On April 13, 1970, the Apollo 13 lunar landing mission, launched April 11, began to go seriously awry. The three-man crew (James A. Lovell, Jr., John L. Swigert, Jr. and Fred W. Haise, Jr.) moved from the faltering command module into the small lunar landing module meant to hold only two astronauts. The situation is perilous, and the possibility of the three astronauts returning safely to earth is seriously in question.

It has been several (!) years since then, and I can’t remember many of the particulars, but Cliff Avery, Quin Matthews and I all were in The Daily Texan
office late on the night of April 13 when word of the potential disaster came over the wire.

I was Amusements Editor then and may have been the senior staffer on hand
(otherwise why was I assigned instead of a news staffer?). But, for whatever
reason, Cliff, Quin and I ran to our rooms, hurriedly packed a few essentials, piled into my 1967 Mustang and headed from Austin through the dark to Clear Lake City and NASA.

Following are verbatim scribbled notes I wrote when we arrived in Clear Lake City:

“April 14, 1970 — Arrived at NASA and finally found the press area at about 5:30 a.m. News reporters arriving from all over the world. Lines of overworked information officers are amazingly courteous. Get in long line holding tight to our Daily Texan press badges. Finally reach head of line where press officer apologizes for giving us Kennedy Space Center press badges instead of Mission Control – they’ve already run out of Mission Control badges! Sat through 7:30 press conference. Nothing much new to report.

“We go to official press hotel to try to get rooms. They say to come back later. Have breakfast there in hotel cafe. They cash my personal check at restaurant to pay for breakfast for the three of us — very impressive since no cafe in Austin would cash a personal check for me. Return to information center. [Vice President] Spiro Agnew is supposed to be here at 1:15 p.m.

“Friendly press officer J. Bell, a UT alum, finds us in auditorium and says to ask him for anything we need…We watch color TV constantly monitoring Mission Control Center plus the mission time-elapsed clock. We sit idly in auditorium waiting for controllers from last shift to come for press conference. Many worn-looking newsmen sit sound asleep in their chairs around us. We stare at the blank stage. Man with strange looking camera shoots pictures of all of us slumped and bored in auditorium chairs.

“8:45 a.m., still waiting for press conference to start. I go out to press officer and ask if we can have a table with telephone to file stories. We do not have typewriter with us. She assigns us to Table #23 which we share with a man from The Hartford Courant. My wretched camera’s light meter is broken. Why did it have to do this now? The KPRC-TV Houston cameramen are asleep on the auditorium floor.

“Apparently there are more problems developing onboard the spacecraft, and that is why the briefing is so late. It is so strange to think of this vast complex and the millions of people across the world all focusing on that bit of troubled hardware, so far away in space, with three men inside.”

My notes stop there! I don’t remember anything we ever wrote about the experience for publication or if we ever filed a story. I DO know that we all had exams to take back in Austin and had to get back to campus before splashdown.

However, for the rest of my life, I have treasured the memory of that nighttime journey, that piece of cardboard announcing to the world that I was a legitimate journalist and the camaraderie we three neophyte newshounds shared on this epic adventure.

 John Watkins

The Texan was the center of my life at UT. I would have been lost without it. In fact, there was a time when I was lost without it — my freshman year.

Working on the paper was the second-best job I’ve ever had, trailing only my year as a law clerk for Judge Homer Thornberry of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. (He was a wonderful man, a mentor and friend — much like Griff Singer.) Although I did not go into journalism, I credit what success I had in law school to learning how to write on deadline with Art Rinn calling from downstairs and asking when my damn story was coming.

I also had the opportunity to cover memorable events, including the “Big Shootout” between Texas and Arkansas for the national championship and the march on Washington against the Vietnam War — which occurred three weeks apart in late 1969. Richard Nixon was on hand for both of them, though he made a public appearance only at the former.

But most important were the friendships, some of which turned out to be life-long.

The main event of the Moratorium – the march and the gathering at the Washington Monument – took place on Saturday, Nov. 15, 1969. There were also some events the day before and the day after. Carolyn Hinckley and I rode a bus with the Austin protesters to get to D.C., arriving sometime on Friday. The trip seemed to last forever, and the on-board toilet quit functioning at one point, adding to the experience. I think we switched buses at Nashville.

We arrived in D.C. in time to meet Karen Elliott, the managing editor that semester, who had flown up so she could bring back film. Then we covered a protest at the Justice Department, led by Dr. Benjamin Spock, against the trial of the Chicago 8. (There were originally eight defendants; when charges against one were dropped, the group became known as the Chicago 7.)

We did a story on this protest, which was met by federal troops and D.C. riot police. I don’t recall who actually wrote it, though I contributed a photo. Our hotel – I’m pretty sure it was the Willard – really was a dump; I remember people sleeping in the halls. But I did share a room with two lovely blondes, though neither would probably admit it today. (Actually, Carolyn and I joked about this not long ago.)

On Saturday, the weather was clear and cold – around 30 degrees, according to the story Carolyn and I wrote. I can’t add anything to what I mentioned yesterday, except that a week over so later, the Texan’s “Panorama” supplement was devoted to the Moratorium. Karen, Carolyn, and I contributed stories. I no longer have the issue, but I remember writing about other protests that preceded the Moratorium.

Three images stick in my mind: watching protesters being tear-gassed at the Justice Department; looking out over the huge crowd from the side of the stage set up on the Mall; and working with Carolyn on our story in the press tent, next to a haggard-looking guy who turned out to be from the New York Times. Heady stuff.

Now for the extra edition – I don’t know how I could have forgotten it, especially since I chose the front page of that paper for the plaque I received for serving as managing editor.

The decision to print the extra edition – a rarity in Texan history, as I recall – was based on the looming threat of violence. First, the City of Austin denied the protest organizers a parade permit – a patently unconstitutional action, based as it was on a city ordinance that gave unbridled discretion to officials to discriminate on the basis of the permit-seeker’s viewpoint. (No doubt the American Legion would have gotten a permit.)

Then the organizers announced that the protesters would march on the sidewalks, which, of course, are open to the public. The city, as memory serves, responded by saying that police, lining the route, would arrest anyone who strayed into the street. All this did not bode well for public order.

The crisis was averted when three lawyers obtained a last-minute temporary restraining order from U.S. District Judge Jack Roberts enjoining the city’s action. As a result, the parade went on as originally planned, on the streets, and all was peaceful.

The three lawyers were David Richards, a noted civil rights lawyer who was then married to future governor Ann; Charles Alan Wright, the most distinguished member of the UT law faculty (who later taught me constitutional law); and George Schatzki, another UT law professor (who later taught me civil procedure and went on to become dean of two other law schools). The plaintiffs, who are listed in the sidebar (see attachment), included an ad hoc organization and several law students, a couple of whom I knew.

I contributed a sidebar with reactions from city officials. Also, I had covered Governor Preston Smith’s press conference early in the day and was at the Capitol, along with lots of police, city and state, who were prepared for trouble that never came. I took a couple of photos that wound up in the paper. One was of a group of smiling Girl Scouts who happened to be visiting that day, while helmeted police with rifles stood guard in the background. Quite a contrast.

Photo – I’ve attached a scan of the top portion of the front page, enough to show Cliff Avery’s lead story and the accompanying photo — which shows Cliff at the bottom left. For a long time I thought the photograph had caught him chanting an anti-war slogan (so much for objectivity), but he assured me he was just yawning after a long night of partying.

 Andy Yemma

(Editor’s note: Andy Yemma was editor in 1970-71, right in the middle of a period of contentious relations with the Board of Regents in general and its chairman, Frank Erwin, in particular. One big story that was a huge scoop for The Texan in 1971 was the revelation that work on Bauer House, the chancellor’s official residence and therefore state property, was afflicted by huge cost overruns, and that contracts were awarded without public bidding, as state law required.)

I remember the story came to us through some dogged research by some law students, Ted Siff in particular. There were a group of them on the Law Review that formed I think the first PIRG (public interest research group) that later on became somewhat of a force in progressive Texas politics (does such a thing exist today?) Anyhow, the Bauer House was their first research project. I think they got onto it from someone within the UT system administration who was aware of the boondoggle and was convinced it was being covered up by Frank Erwin.
After we published the first story or two the legislature got interested. Sen. Babe Schwartz of Galveston convened a special subcommittee and it was at its first hearing on the matter that Erwin admitted there were huge cost overruns, but they were being covered by an anonymous donor to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars. A likely story.

Of course, being dogged journos, the DT staff started calling around to see if we could come up with any clues to the identify of the donor, convinced there was none. Erwin then accused the DT of scaring off the anonymous donor and other potential donors and that the UT system had to return the money (so it was our fault that the Bauer House cost so much?)

He then forbade the DT from giving free copies of the paper to legislators. So we started a fund-raising drive to cover the cost and circumvent his order. I recall a great celebration in the DT office one afternoon when Lloyd Edmonds came down with a check for $1,000 or some such amount (huge to us) from a real anonymous donor to cover the cost of mailing DTs to the legislators.

The other thing I remember well was finally being granted an interview on the Bauer House matter by Deputy Chancellor Don Walker, a rather intimidating fellow, who basically refused to answer any questions. I wrote an editorial off of that entitled “The Public’s Right to NO!” It won us the “Freedoms Award” from the Associated Collegiate Press/ National Council of College Publication Advisers. I still have that framed in my home office right under that great editorial cartoon which I think was where the title “Auer House” was employed.

It was a thrilling exercise in investigative journalism.

 John Pope

When I was a Daily Texan reporter, I made the heady discovery that what I wrote could have an impact. This happened because I paid attention to Kathleen Blow, a woman who lived in my apartment building who also happened to be the university’s chief reference librarian.

Once she learned that I worked for The Texan, she started talking about the condition of the university’s libraries. They were underfunded, security was lax, and the conditions in some of the 30 or so libraries around campus were primitive.

So I wrote a three-part series in the fall of 1971. And I started hearing from people all over campus who couldn’t want to tell me how deplorable their libraries were.

For instance, the Classics library was so dark that people had to use miners’ lights to find books. That rated a story – and a picture.

The wife of one of my master’s thesis advisers was a graduate student in art history. To raise money for their library – and to shame the administration – art-history graduate students held a bake sale on one of the main approaches to the university. Another story and picture resulted.

This went on for a while and it was great fun to be riding a wave.

All this came to a head when indignant libraries converged on a Board of Regents meeting, where they stated their case and got an on-the-spot allocation of $350,000 (the equivalent of about $1.9 million today).

I felt awfully good about that, not only because the libraries got the money they needed but also because I saw that my reporting could make a difference.

Being a Texan reporter was the best preparation I could have had for a career that has lasted 41 years. In addition to events on campus, I got to write about city, county and state government and about the force of nature known as Lyndon B. Johnson.

None of us cared that we were working insane hours for a relative pittance. It was exhilarating to know that we were taking on grown-up responsibilities in a grown-up world and writing stories that people would read.

Every other year, when the Legislature convened, J366 was offered. There were classes, but the heart of that class was the lab work – covering the Legislature. When I took that course, the Sharpstown stock-fraud case had broken, and an insurgent group of House members, who came to be known as the Dirty 30, were opposing the political establishment.

It was great to watch the infighting, and I was proud that The Texan was able to devote so much space and personnel to that story.

Part of my legislative beat involved redistricting. Naturally, the lawmakers who didn’t like the way their districts told me plenty, and then sued.

Their case went all the way to the state Supreme Court, and I was there for the oral arguments. When everyone had left, I stayed behind to talk to Rep. Frances “Sissy” Farenthold, the so-called den mother of the Dirty 30.

We were the only two people in the chamber. The justices couldn’t have been gone more than a few minutes when they came back, took their seats and declared the redistricting map unconstitutional, speaking to Farenthold and me. That was a great moment.

When I was a junior, Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson moved out of the White House and returned to Texas. She was made a regent, and he showed up on campus frequently. One never knew where he might pop up, surrounded by Secret Service agents.

In the fall of 1971, I was assigned to cover a barbecue that Mrs. Johnson gave every year at the LBJ State Park, across the Pedernales River from the LBJ Ranch, to honor highway beautification work. I was enjoying some cabrito – baby goat – when the former president of these United States walked toward me. I put my plate down to shake hands. I’m 6’6”, and he was wearing cowboy boots, so we stood eye to eye. He had the most piercing pair of eyes I’ve ever seen. (Howard K. Smith said so, too, and Johnson sent him a photo showing only his squinting eyes.)

Later on, Johnson had one of his aides bring his copy of his then-unpublished memoir, “The Vantage Point,” from the ranch house to the table where we newsies were lunching. He came over and started discussing his presidency and what he tried to do with his Great Society programs. I was, inwardly, stunned that we were getting this tutorial, but I strove to keep a poker face.

A few weeks later, when about 8,000 people showed up at the LBJ Library for the book party, he singled me out of this swirling mass of humanity, probably because I was taller than everyone else, and started talking to me about the Great Society’s consumer legislation because I was standing next to the library panel on that subject.

I talked with his staff about the possibility of getting him to come talk to us about whatever was on his mind, but his health wasn’t up to it. He had a heart attack in the spring of 1972 and died the next January.

I wrote about the heart attack, too. Shortly thereafter, another Texan reporter, Steve Hogner, and I wrote about cracks in the foundation of the LBJ Library, which had been dedicated less than a year earlier.

A day or so after that story appeared, I walked into the crowded Texan office. As if on cue, everyone stopped talking and pointed in unison to an envelope bearing Johnson’s frank in the chalk tray of the office blackboard.

We were all wondering whether I would be getting reamed out about the library story. But no. It was just a friendly letter thanking him for my call about the heart attack.

I know reporters aren’t supposed to get chummy with sources, but I wish we could have spent time with him. Who knows what stories might have resulted?

My favorite Daily Texan memory is my last one.

In the spring of 1972, The Texan was actively covering the statewide campaign, in which Gov. Preston Smith was running for a third term, Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes was trying to unseat him, Dolph Briscoe was mounting a well-financed challenge and state Rep. Frances “Sissy” Farenthold, a leader of the insurgent House group known as the “Dirty 30,” had a grass-roots campaign that was catching fire.

The May primary came just after The Texan had shut down for the semester, but we decided to put out an extra the morning after the primary. On election night, Dotty Griffith and I were at the Travis County Court House getting returns before heading back to The Texan office to join other staffers in writing and editing copy on a tight deadline.

The decision to put out an extra turned out to be a prescient because Farenthold made the runoff behind Briscoe, knocking Smith and Barnes out of contention. It was a great story, and The Texan had it.

After the writing and editing, which went on until the wee hours, we were all bone-weary. Nevertheless, we decided to go to the printing press, then on the Little Campus on East 19th Street (now East Martin Luther King), to watch the presses roll.

Back then, The Texan was a hot-type operation, including photos. When we were inspecting the first copies to come off the press, we noticed that the space where U.S. Senate candidate Barefoot Sanders’ mug shot should have been was empty because the picture fallen out.

We all looked at each other and muttered, “Do you know what this means?” The answer: “Yes.”

In unison, we yelled, “Stop the presses!”

Someone ran to a lever and pulled it. The presses ground to a halt. Sanders’ mug was found. Printing resumed.

What a great, if melodramatic, way to close out a four-year Daily Texan career.

 

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