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FLASHBACK: Texas politicians are colorful, for sure - Odessa American: Celinda Hawkins

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FLASHBACK: Texas politicians are colorful, for sure

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Posted: Sunday, April 27, 2014 5:45 am

I was digging through some old photos the other day and came across one that once upon a time made my mom and dad proud.

I remember the photo well — it was then Gov. George W. Bush flanked by me and my good friend, the late, great Harriette Graves, whom I worked with at the Brownwood Bulletin back in the day.

Over the years, I’ve met many politicians, and most times, I found them to be very personable individuals, with an incredible capacity to remember the folks in the town where they visit.  While G.W. wasn’t so much known for his scholarly acumen, he did have a heck of a memory and even remembered me by name the next time I covered an event. And he was a really nice guy.

That day back in 1998, we got word that the Bush would be making a visit to Woodland Heights Elementary in Brownwood to promote his reading program — hopefully, he learned a thing or two that day.

But the important person in that photo, for me, was Harriette, and I’m so glad I found it.

Harriett was thrilled to be there that day. After almost four decades with the Brownwood paper, she still got goo-goo eyed when politicians came to town. Known far and wide for her “Harry Caray” type rhinestone encrusted glasses, Harriette was a serious George W. Bush groupie and had stumped for his father a few years earlier.

That day, when we lined up in the hallway of the school in a receiving line George W. walked up and said “Hello, Harriette, so good to see you!”

“You remembered me?” she asked incredulously.

He smiled and said “how could I forget those glasses.”

A few years later, right before he announced his candidacy for president, I took Harriett to the dedication of the newly renovated Regency Bridge in Regency. Known as the Swingin’ Bridge, the Regency is one of the state’s few suspension bridges and spans a portion of the Colorado River. You may have seen it on the introduction to “Texas Country Reporter.”

This time, G.W. came with a huge entourage and lots of Secret Service, so we knew something was up. But as usual, Harriette wanted to be at the front of the greeting line. This time, G.W. leaned down and kissed her cheek.

“Hello Harriette,” he said. “I can’t ever forget those glasses.”

“I’m never going to wash my face again,” she quipped.

It wasn’t long after that, that G.W. announced he was running for president. Harriette couldn’t have been happier.

My first experience meeting a politician came 20 years ago last month, when in March of 1994, I had the occasion to meet the silver-tongued Gov. Ann Richards when she came to town to officially christen UTPB as a four-year university. She signed the bill into law in May 1991 according to UTPB archives, but I remember the event at the Odessa Country Club came several years later in March 1994.

Anyway, she showed up in a regular Ford Crown Victoria, nothing fancy. She was wearing a beautiful pink wool suit, and smiled and shook hands with the organizers and knew them all by name. I was a very nervous green reporter still working for the Mesa Journal (the UTPB newspaper), but she was so down to earth and made me feel at ease.

During the event, another hostess walked up and told her the students from Satin Strings of Permian would be performing and they had been invited to perform in Europe but needed to raise some funds.

Richards called her chief of staff over and instructed him to cut a check, right then and there for several thousand dollars. A few minutes later she got up and proved her memory power — recalling every nuance of what she had been told about the young performers and the contest that she had made sure they would attend.

It was an amazing day, and after all was said and done, the headline at the Mesa Journal and the Odessa American read simply, “Thanks, Ann!”

That year, G.W. and Ann were embroiled in a brutal gubernatorial election that was one for the record books.  It was a nail-biter, but of course, G.W. won with 53 percent of the vote to Ann’s 45 percent.  And in 2000, G.W. was elected president and would serve two terms.

My, it’s funny how things shake out.

Odessa, TX

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