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Thursday, April 15, 2021

In Market: Golden Deeds II – Tom Schieffer

Last week, I interviewed Bob Schieffer who, along with his brother Tom, received this year’s Golden Deeds Award from Fort Worth’s Exchange Club.

As Bob said in his interview, he was the “hedgehog of the family,” meaning he stuck with one job and one profession his whole career. His brother – and to some extent his educator sister, Sharon Mayes – both had wide and varied careers.

Here’s a short primer on Tom. Born in 1947 and a little more than 10 years younger than Bob, Tom Schieffer served as U.S. Ambassador to Australia from 2001 to 2005 and as U.S. Ambassador to Japan from 2005 to 2009. Locally, he is known as being president of the Texas Rangers for many years and for his work getting the ballpark built. Prior to that he was a state representative and attorney. That leaves out a lot, as you’ll see below.

Here are some excerpts from the speech he made before the Exchange Club.

Golden Deeds award

Anyone who was born in Fort Worth as I was – Harris Hospital Class of ’47 – understands the honor of being chosen for the Golden Deeds Award by the Exchange Club. The award’s first winner in 1924 was our city’s still most famous patron, Amon Carter. For almost a hundred years since, the awardees have epitomized the leadership of Fort Worth’s most important educational, economic, political and cultural institutions. To think of joining them in the book of Golden Deeds is quite humbling. To do so in the company of my brother – a person I have idolized my entire life – makes it special beyond words.

Anyone who stands where my brother and I do tonight has many to thank for their help. At the top of our list is our sister Sharon. She was a teacher, a vice-principal, a principal and a school administrator. The way I like to think of her is as a teacher, a teacher who went to a child’s home when they didn’t show up for school. What she often found there was a mattress without sheets, a stomach half full and a heart fully broken. To those children Sharon was the voice that said you can do it. You have a place in this world. You are special to me. You will be special to others. There are far more Golden Deeds in Sharon’s book than in mine and Bob’s combined.

His wife, Suzanne

My wife Susanne is due special thanks. An introvert by nature, her quiet strength, sound judgment and unending love guided me through many a difficult moment … There was one moment when Susanne’s wise counsel was particularly impactful on both our lives. I had joined the partnership led by George Bush and Rusty Rose that bought the Texas Rangers in 1989. A little over a year later I came home for dinner one night and said to Susanne, “You will never guess what George and Rusty asked me to do today.” She said, “What?” “To be in charge of building the new ballpark.” “What did you tell them?” “I told them I couldn’t do it because I didn’t have the time.” She said, “You might only get to build one ballpark in your life. Maybe you ought to figure out how to make the time to do it.” I thought about it. Then called my friend Roger Neely who had already been doing some work for me to see if he could do more. He said he could. The next morning, I called my friends back and said I had changed my mind, I would like to build that ballpark.

Many is the time since, that I have wondered what my life would have been like if I hadn’t gotten such good advice from Susanne. I believe I would have had a good life but, I don’t think it would have been the life I’ve had.

A key mentor and the beginnings of TCC

Nights like this should be more than bouts of self-congratulation. The Golden Deeds Award in my judgment was meant to encourage others to do something for the community that would leave it a better place than they found. Throughout my life I have been blessed to find people who took a special interest in me. It has made all the difference. I would like to share with you an experience I had with Garrett Morris – a man who had a profound impact on my life. To me he epitomized the spirit of the Golden Deeds Award better than anyone I can think of.

It was the summer of 1965 and Tarrant County leaders like Jenkins Garrett, Ed Hudson, Larry Meeker, Ardis Bell and Charles Brinkley were following up on a Town Hall meeting that advocated the establishment of a Junior College in our county. John Connally had been elected governor in 1962 running on a platform of increasing educational opportunity for all Texans beyond the high school level. His administration was encouraging the creation of something relatively new – urban junior colleges. Garrett Morris was Gov. Connally’s man in Fort Worth and Tarrant County. He had run the governor’s two previous campaigns here. He was an attorney and prominent business man – and of course a volunteer. Those were the days before paid political consultants would roll into town to ply their trade on local voters. Mr. Morris had been recruited to the campaign to help with the nuts and bolts of passing a bond election that would be needed to build the college and electing a board that would govern the new institution. Lee Goodman, the president of the Downtown Fort Worth Business Association, had been tasked with putting together the formal campaign organization. He and Bob, who was then the courthouse reporter for the Star-Telegram, were friends. When Goodman said they were trying to figure out how to get more young people involved, Bob said he ought to call me since I had been elected President of the Arlington Heights student body for the coming school year. He did and I became the Youth Director for the campaign. I was 17. It was great fun. Everybody treated me like an adult. I came in early and stayed late every day. After I had been there a couple of weeks, Goodman invited me to participate in the weekly strategy session with the adult leadership of the campaign. That was the first time I met Mr. Morris, though I knew from Bob that he was the governor’s man in town.

The news at my first meeting was not good. A poll had been taken and it showed the proposition losing badly. While leaders from business, labor, the Hispanic and African-American communities had embraced the idea, the general public had not. The reasons were pretty simple. With TCU, Texas Wesleyan and the University of Texas at Arlington already in the county, the opposition didn’t see the need for another educational institution and they sure didn’t like the idea of creating another taxing authority to support it. Goodman called on Mr. Morris first for his reaction. He said it was too early to tell. The voters didn’t know what a junior college could do for them or the community. Once they did they would support it and pay the cost for the facilities. His calm demeanor and no nonsense reputation for knowing politics raised the level of optimism in the room but there were clearly some serious doubts about the prospects for success in the coming election. Each participant was then asked to report on what they would be doing in the coming week. When it got to me, I reported that over a hundred students had volunteered to be at the Worth Hotel on Wednesday at 3 to stuff envelopes for a 20,000 piece mailer to targeted voters. Several people smiled but I knew they didn’t believe me. Mr. Morris didn’t smile or say anything. He just dropped by unannounced that next Wednesday to see for himself if they would show. What he saw was well over 200 volunteers – I had learned early on the value of under promising and over delivering. They were stuffing those mailers that we took to the post office the next morning. The Star-Telegram had editorially endorsed the creation of a junior college but more importantly they had assigned a reporter – Tommy DeFrank, who later became a national journalist at Newsweek – to write a story every day about the junior college election. They also assigned a photographer, Jerry Cabluck, to go with him for pictures. The volunteer kids were designated to be the story for the day. DeFrank wrote a great article and Cabluck took a fabulous picture with all the kids working. The Star-Telegram splashed it across the front page the next morning. The thing that made it such a good picture was the fact that both white and black high school students were in it. This was at a time when high schools in Fort Worth were still segregated. It sent a particularly strong message to African-American voters that the new junior college would be integrated from day one. Many of those young African-Americans had arrived on church buses with the encouragement of their pastors who Mr. Morris had referred me to for follow-up. He knew they were supporting the junior college proposition. It was quite an event that Garrett Morris never forgot. From that day forward there was never a moment when Garrett Morris didn’t have time to see me or help me in any way he could. We talked about everything. He got me a job in Gov. Connally’s office when I was going to the University of Texas. When I announced I was running for the Legislature at the ripe old age of 23 he was in my corner. Offering this and that tip on how to put together a campaign and sending me out to meet people who could help. I remember one in particular, Lynn Gregory, who would later be elected County Commissioner for multiple terms in Northeast Tarrant County. He said, “Tom, I don’t know you but if you’re good enough for Garrett, you’re good enough for me.” And here is the astonishing thing to me – in the six years I served in the Legislature, Mr. Morris never once asked me to do anything for him. The years after that were just the same. He was always there to help but never asked for anything in return. He just saw in me a young person who loved politics as much as he did and wanted to help if he could … And by the way, he was right about the junior college election, too. When the votes came in we won by a 2-1 margin. The study that had been used to predict its impact said a little more than 1,400 students would attend Tarrant County Junior College in its first year. When it actually opened, Gov. Connally cut the ribbon and more than 4,200 students registered for classes. Today, more than 100,000 people of all ages will take classes at Tarrant County College in a single year. Was there a need? Let’s put it this way – what would we do today if we didn’t have TCC in our community? As big a part as he played in the victory, Garrett Morris wasn’t the only person responsible for winning that junior college election. He just did his part like the dozens of other community-minded leaders who pitched in to achieve something that benefited others more than themselves. They put aside rivalries, pettiness and yes, bigotry to reach their goal. That first Board, which ran as a slate, contained Jenkins Garrett, a prominent attorney, Ed Hudson, Sr. who was in the oil business, Delbert Adams, the President of the Central Labor Council, John Finn, an executive with Bell Helicopter, Dr. Ardis Bell, a Mid-Cities physician, Dr. May Owen, one of the most esteemed members of the Tarrant County Medical Society who also happened to be a woman and the Rev. Leonard L. Haynes who became the first African-American elected to a countywide office. These were people who saw a public need before the public saw it. They stepped forward to do something about it because they thought it was their duty as good citizens.

Some advice

In these challenging times, we would do well to follow their example and remember that some things never change even in an ever changing society. Telling the truth fosters trust. Telling lies destroys faith. Wisdom is acquired from both failure and success. Ignorance never benefited anyone. When the public discourse becomes more profane than profound nothing will be accomplished. Tolerance is strength not weakness. Understanding promotes peace not discord. Denigrating one another drives us further apart not closer together. The commandment was not to hate one another, it was to love one another. Tonight, I would like to think that if Mr. Morris was still alive he would be proud of Bob and me for receiving the 2019 Golden Deeds Award. I know he would have been disappointed in us if we had never tried to make the world a better place or never helped a young person who was trying to do the same.

Robert Francis is editor of the Fort Worth Business Press.

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Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

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