Editor’s note: Former Congressman Pete Geren, president and CEO of the Sid W. Richardson Foundation and current president of the Fort Worth’s Exchange Club, introduced Tom Schieffer, who, along with his brother Bob, received the Exchange Club’s Golden Deeds honor during a dinner on May 15. The following is a lightly edited version of Geren’s introduction.
Tonight, we honor two favorite sons of Fort Worth, two brothers who are quick to tell you that their sister Sharon [Schieffer Mayes], a lifetime educator, has chalked up more Golden Deeds than the two of them combined.
My job tonight is to introduce one of those brothers, Tom Schieffer, Golden Deeds recipient for 2018.
And, Tom would accept no recognition without acknowledging the role of his life partner Susanne.
Where do you start in charting the Golden Deeds of Tom Schieffer? The public record would take you first to his election to the state legislature in 1972 at the age of 25 – but that would leave out a lot.
Tom’s interest in politics and public service was foreshadowed early with his presence on the front row of Fort Worth citizens who greeted President Kennedy on the damp and drizzly morning of Nov. 22, 1963, outside the Texas Hotel.
Tom’s handshake with President Kennedy was captured by a press photographer. Tom’s excitement and joyful countenance captured in that picture reflected the spirit of President Kennedy’s morning in Fort Worth. The horror that followed buried the account and memory of that morning for all but a few.
That photo of Tom and the president is displayed on the wall of our community’s Kennedy Memorial that stands where the president stood that early morning so long ago.
Fast forward to 1965 when Tom was the president of the student body at Arlington Heights High School, and was chosen to serve as the countywide youth director for the long-shot campaign to build a junior college in Tarrant County. Louise (Appleman) and Kenneth (Barr), we know how that story ends.
As a college student at the University of Texas, Tom worked in Gov. John Connally’s mailroom.
In the days before mechanical “auto-pens,” Tom was a human auto-pen and he mastered the distinctive Connally signature. Tom and Bob once were viewing a resolution celebrating the opening of the State Fair of Texas.
Tom directed Bob’s attention to the over-sized Connally signature at the bottom and said to Bob, “I am really proud of that one.”
Elected to the Texas Legislature at 25, Tom served for three terms and chaired the powerful Calendars Committee for two terms, remarkable for someone his age.
He was talked about as a future Speaker until a federal court-ordered redistricting dismembered his legislative district and returned Tom to private life. He then began a successful law practice in Fort Worth with Garrett Morris.
In North Texas, Tom is best known as the former president of the Texas Rangers Baseball Team, president from 1991-1999. He created a winning culture of high standards on and off the field that put the Rangers in the play-offs. He invested time and resources in the ball players’ families to make the baseball life work for wives and children.
Most significantly for Fort Worth, Tom negotiated the agreement with Arlington that kept the Rangers on this side of the Trinity River.
Tom, more than any other person, was responsible for the planning, design and construction of the Ballpark at Arlington. He will tell you he was just one of 5,500 people who made that happen, but those 5,500 will point to him as their leader.
In recognition of his work with the Rangers, Tom was inducted into the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame. Self-described in his acceptance speech as a man, “With no arm, no speed and no power,” Tom received one of baseball’s highest honors.
When reminiscing about the Ballpark, he does not talk about bricks and mortar or architectural awards.
He talks about a place where memories are made that will last a lifetime, including World Series’ memories. A place for parents and children, and grandparents and grandchildren to bond, and maybe remember a first date from years ago. A place, “where the grass is always green and hope is always alive.”
In his Hall of Fame speech, he reminded us that even the best batter will fail more often than he succeeds. He closed with,
“You can never really own a baseball team. All you can do is be a good steward of the game and the history it embodies.” And a good steward he was.
In 2001 President Bush appointed Tom to one of the key posts in American diplomacy, United States ambassador to Australia. It is important always, but became critical in the aftermath of 9/11, with Australia a key and faithful ally in the Global War on Terror.
Tom was in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 10, 2001, for a meeting with President Bush and the Prime Minister of Australia. After the attack the next day, he and the Prime Minister met together at the Australian Embassy.
They later traveled together to Australia on Air Force 2 and began a relationship that proved invaluable to our country over the next four years.
On Sept. 17, Ambassador Schieffer addressed the Australian Parliament, with a speech that was broadcast live all across Australia.
Speaking of the American/Australian alliance in the war that had been thrust upon us, he said,
“We are often called the ‘leaders of the Free World.’ We will lead. We know that the attack on America was an attack on all freedom-loving people everywhere. We know that in every conflict of the last century when freedom called, Australia answered.”
With tears flowing from his and every eye in Canberra’s Great Hall, he closed with: “Australians and Americans march again as brothers and sisters in the cause of freedom.”
Tom stewarded the war-time alliance between our countries over four fraught years and participated with President Bush and Prime Minister Howard in five war planning summits.
After his service in Australia, at the recommendation of Secretary of State Colin Powell, the president appointed Tom to be the ambassador to Japan – a post of the highest strategic significance and again, a stewardship of the relationship with one our key allies in the Global War on Terror.
Tom was tested early with North Korea’s 2005 launch of its first ICBM, and six short-range missiles that landed in the Sea of Japan. Fear that bordered on panic gripped the Japanese people. The date of the launches was July 4, with the date chosen by the North Koreans no coincidence.
Following a 3 a.m. phone call and an early morning meeting with the prime minister, Tom appeared on national and international television to tell the Japanese people, the world and North Korea, that the “United States stands with Japan today, as the United States stood with Japan yesterday, as the United States will stand with Japan tomorrow. Any potential adversary should know that an attack upon Japan will be met with the full force and effect of an immediate American military response.”
The North Koreans were put on notice and the Japanese people knew that they could rely on America.
Over his four years in Japan, Tom participated in six war summits with President Bush and Japanese prime ministers.
Tom received our nation’s highest civilian awards for his war-time service in Australia and Japan.
In 2009, Tom and Susanne returned to Fort Worth.
He remains hard at work in service to our nation and to our state. He works for the State Department to train new ambassadors for their duties. And he is working with Exchange Club member John Kleinheinz and others to make “High-Speed Rail” in Texas a reality.
Still chalking up Golden Deeds.
I will close with an excerpt from a speech Tom gave recently to a combined American and Australian audience.
“We should remember liberty will never be finally won. Civility and understanding will never be finally observed. Tolerance for all will never be finally accepted. To make those ideals realized in any society at any time, good men and good women must … do whatever they can …”
Please join me in congratulating Tom for his many Golden Deeds and for always doing “whatever [he] can.”