Stories about Jim Wright abound as those who knew him have eulogized a great man with a heart like Secretariat and an indomitable spirit.
As the heat simmers at the conclusion of our city’s contentious election for two seats on the Tarrant Regional Water District’s board of directors, everyone involved in the election directly or indirectly could learn a lot from the former speaker of the House who died May 6 at age 92.
Most importantly, they could be reminded that politics is a rough and tumble sport. Reputations are challenged, nastiness can prevail on all sides, egos can be bruised, and, in the heat of battle, tempers flare.
They could learn that election to office does not convey a free pass to get re-elected and re-elected again and again. Public servants work for the people and once elected they have to work hard to maintain the public’s trust.
And when you get roughed up in politics, which you will, you get up, dust yourself off, let go of grudges, and move on to the task at hand: better serving the public.
My Jim Wright story is brief but encapsulates the core of the man, a fine and genuinely warm, caring human being, a man capable of great self-deprecation.
I was publisher of the Star-Telegram in the late 1980s when we covered the investigation of Wright’s financial dealings by the House Ethics Committee, an investigation that eventually led to Wright’s resignation from Congress in 1989. In retrospect, the allegations against Wright – primarily focused on sales of a book he wrote and his financial relationship with Fort Worth businessman George Mallick – seem almost trivial when compared with the ethical and criminal violations that routinely land public officials in jail nowadays.
At the time, of course, the charges added up to a major scandal swirling around the man who represented Fort Worth in Congress for 34 years. The Star-Telegram’s news coverage, driven by our award-winning Washington bureau, was thorough and relentless – although I should point out that the newspaper’s editorial page never called for Wright’s censure, resignation or expulsion from Congress.
The media firestorm raged for months. Living alone at the time, I awakened early one Saturday and as I walked down the stairs to start my morning coffee I noticed a car parked in front of my house. I opened the front door to get a better look, only to see Speaker Jim Wright, still one of the most powerful men in the world, stepping out of the car and walking toward me. We knew one another. I invited him in.
“No thanks,” he said. “Sorry to bother you on a Saturday morning but I wanted you to know that I believe your news coverage of me these days is excessive and unfair, and that some of your facts are wrong.”
He thanked me, walked back to his car and drove away.
There was no vitriol. No malice. No threats.
After the speaker resigned and returned home, I saw him many times. Once, at the Paris Coffee Shop, he asked if I would sit down and join him for lunch.
He was always a gentleman, a friend and a respected community icon who conducted himself with dignity and professionalism.
When I heard about the popularity of a political science class he taught at TCU, I phoned him and asked him to write a weekly column for the Star-Telegram. I was hesitant about asking because I feared he might tell me that he’d rather write for anyone than for the Star-Telegram and me.
Instead, he simply replied: “When do I start?”
And so, for many years, the Star-Telegram and its readers were treated to a level of knowledge and insight on politics, government and international relations that few persons in the world could provide. Jim Wright gave them a unique window to the world.
He battled in politics. He battled cancer. He was a fighter to the end, a fighter with a huge heart and an uncompromising sense of fairness and compassion. A man of forgiveness.
A friend recently sent me a wonderfully inspiring quote attributed to the great U.S. president and soldier, Theodore Roosevelt: “Courage is not having the strength to go on; it is going on when you don’t have the strength.”
Jim Wright. A courageous, good man.
Richard Connor is chairman of the Business Press’ parent company, DRC Media. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org