Two prominent Texas philanthropists, Bernard Rapoport and Isabel Brown Wilson, recently passed away. Both of these unique individuals contributed enormously to the intellectual and cultural life of our society. Their generosity to their alma maters, their communities, and their passions will have an enduring impact.
B Rapoport, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, was born in San Antonio in 1917. At The University of Texas, he studied economics under three legendary professors: Robert Montgomery, Clarence Ayres, and Edward Everett Hale. In 1951, he founded the American Income Life Insurance Company, a Waco-based company that he ultimately sold for more than half a billion dollars. B directed his generous giving to The University of Texas at Austin, the city of Waco, Democratic Party candidates nationwide, and Israel. He chaired the University's Board of Regents in the early 1990s.
Isabel Brown Wilson, the youngest daughter of Brown & Root principal George R. Brown and Alice Pratt Brown, grew up in one of Houston's fashionable neighborhoods. She studied art history at Smith College, cultivating a lifelong love of the visual arts. Together with a sister and a cousin, she made one of the largest donations in the college's history, $10 million of which underwrote an extensive renovation of the school's art museum. Her support and leadership of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston helped to make that museum the premier institution that it is today. For six years beginning in 2001, she chaired its board, a position her mother had held in the 1970s. She also served on the President's Committee for the Arts and Humanities and as president of the Philosophical Society of Texas, where she was greatly admired by the organization's two hundred members.
Isabel was a trustee of The Brown Foundation, Inc., Houston, a leader in funding education, the arts, and community service initiatives. The foundation's early and generous support of Humanities Texas's restoration of the Byrne-Reed House was critical to the capital campaign's success. We deeply appreciated Isabel's encouragement and interest throughout the project.
We are pleased to present the tributes Lyndon L. Olson Jr., former U.S. ambassador to Sweden; William Cunningham, former chancellor of The University of Texas System; and Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center for American History at The University of Texas at Austin, gave at the memorial service for Bernard Rapoport at the Masonic Grand Lodge and Temple in Waco on April 11, as well as the remembrance of Humanities Texas board member Sharon Allison.
In remembrance of Isabel, we are reproducing her marvelous description of the Brown family's vacation home near Middleburg, Virginia. The passage is an excerpt from an oral history interview that she recorded with me for the LBJ Library on February 19, 1988.
Bernard Rapoport was an American treasure! I had the honor of being his friend and fellow Wacoan for forty-two years. Bernard was the son of poor Russian immigrants who provided him with the values that guided his life. He was passionate about family, education, politics, and providing for those less fortunate. B's philanthropy and vision will always be apparent in Waco, at The University of Texas, and in Israel. Bernard Rapoport left this world appreciably better than he found it.
I first became acquainted with B Rapoport in 1972, but I didn't really get to know B well until nearly two decades later. At that time, I was writing a biography of Texas oilman J. R. Parten, who was a good friend of B and his wife, Audre.
I asked B and Audre if they would let me interview them about their relationship with Parten and they graciously agreed. The interview was conducted at B's office at American Income in Waco. Near the end of the interview, B suddenly interrupted one of my questions by declaring with his characteristic vigor that he wanted me to write a book with him.
I was startled but also honored by this unexpected offer. I protested, however, that I had to finish my current book before I could possibly even consider taking on another project. B nodded vigorously and said he understood completely. No problem!
Two days later, my phone rang and B was on the other end of the line. I should point out that B was a member of the Board of Regents, but not yet chairman, at this point.
"Listen!" B declared with attention grabbing passion. "Bill Cunningham says that you are the smartest person on the UT Austin campus." Bill Cunningham was the UT System chancellor at the time.
I responded, "Now B, with all due respect; you, Bill Cunningham, and I all know that simply isn't true."
"Well, now listen here," B scolded, "NEVER, EVER, sell yourself short like that, because it COULD be true and you just don't know it. Anyway, if you really aren't the smartest person on campus right now, you WILL be if you agree to do this book with me."
When I tried to respond, I suddenly realized that B had already hung up the telephone. He was no longer there. That's when I learned that this man did not like goodbyes.
I continued to fend B off, but not for long. He invited my wife, Suzanne, and me to come to a dinner in Dallas he was giving for a political candidate.
We were staying in the same hotel and after dinner my wife and I accompanied B and Audre into the elevator to go up to our rooms. With a big smile on his face, B looked at Suzanne and proclaimed: "You are a beautiful woman! Listen, if you ever want to fool around, give me a call." As B and Audre walked off the elevator, Audre looked at me and said, "Are you sure you want to work with this mad man?"
Well, I must say, I was hooked. I called B the next day, and we made plans for the project.
A couple of days later, I was talking to Molly Ivins, who was donating her papers to the Briscoe Center. I mentioned that I was going to write a book with her good friend B. There was a long pause, and then Molly finally said, "Oh sweet love . . . you do know that B Rapoport has the attention span of a gnat on speed."
Well, B did promise to focus exclusively on our work when we had our meetings in his old office at American Income. He asked his assistant, Ouida, to hold his calls. This pleased me much until he added, "Ouida, that doesn't include any telephone calls from members of Congress or the Texas State Legislature, from the White House, or from UT System, especially from Bill Cunningham."
It turned out that most of the Democratic members of the U. S. Senate called him on regular basis, and I doubt that a day passed without Cunningham calling B about something.
B's conversations with his callers were always on the conference speaker on his phone. When these calls came through I would get up to give B some privacy, but he always waved for me to sit down and stay put. On one occasion, B took a call from Senator Ted Kennedy. B punched the speaker button on his phone and said "Teddy, you'll never guess who is in my office right now!" Naturally, knowing B very well, the senator had to plea that it could be just about anyone. "Well, it's Dr. Don Carleton, a very famous historian who is working with me on a book!" Without missing a beat, the ever-diplomatic Kennedy generously pretended that he had actually heard of this very famous historian Dr. Carleton. "Yes, of course," Kennedy replied, "I've read one of your books." I was equally diplomatic and did not ask which one.
Thankfully, B did give me enough of his attention for us to complete our book, Being Rapoport. It was one of the great honors of my life to work with him, and it left me with nothing but deep admiration, respect, and affection for B. I learned that B Rapoport was the real thing: a man who truly and deeply cared about the human condition and the world that we live in. And he had a profound—you could even say a fierce—belief in the power of education to solve almost every problem that we face in this society.
When we were writing his book, I asked B, who was nearly eighty, how he felt about aging. "The more I think about it," he told me, "the more I realize that people who worry about age are just silly. There are two kinds of problems: those you can do something about and those you can't. Obviously, age is something you can't do anything about, so why worry? Of course, as you get older you don't run as fast as you once did, but hopefully you have a little more wisdom, and that wisdom can make up for a lot."
And then B turned to the subject of death, at first joking that I shouldn't worry about him dropping dead before we had finished the book because UT Southwestern Medical School had agreed to keep him alive forever.
And then he grew serious, and said, "Don, I don't worry about death, and I'm not concerned about my personal immortality. When thinking about immortality, I am always reminded of something Rabbi Heschel once said. When asked what he thought his mission on earth was, the Rabbi quickly responded, 'To do God's work on earth.' Then when asked about the hereafter, the Rabbi responded, 'I am so busy doing God's work on earth that I will let God worry about that.' "
B said that he couldn't agree more with the Rabbi. "I just want to do whatever I can," B said, "in the time left to me on this earth, to help make a difference in matters that concern me, such as bringing hope to children by giving them an opportunity to be educated. I'll let God worry about the hereafter."
Then B pulled out of his desk drawer one of his famous note cards containing his favorite quotes, and he read a quote from the noted author William Shirer: "The wise person understands that the natural life span is enough time to enjoy the full range of pleasures to be found in this world. When death comes, that person leaves this world satisfied, freeing a place to be taken by the newly born."
And then B looked up at me, and with a smile, he said: "For the wise man one human life is sufficient. And the stupid man will not know what to do with eternity."
B Rapoport was a wise man and he was a good man.
Those of us who were fortunate to have enjoyed his friendship and love, as well as those countless numbers of people who benefited from his and Audre's humane and selfless generosity will miss B Rapoport dearly.
Rest in Peace my dear friend, Rest in Peace.
Audre, Ronnie, Patricia, Abby, and Emily, we love you, and we loved B.
We all loved B. Everyone in this room, and many people who could not be here, loved B and he loved us.
B had a unique capacity for love. People were important to him. He never met a person he did not want to help.
On January 19, 1994, I received a call from B. He was very excited. By now I realized he was always very excited.
He said, "Bill, we need to help Hillary pass the President's health care initiative." This was a test for me. Could I, should I, speak "truth to power?" I passed the test. I told B that Hillary's initiative would not be in the best interest of the UT System's medical schools.
B was a quick study. After I explained the problems, he said, "Bill, we will need to modify the bill so that it helps support the mission of our great medical schools."
He went on to say that we needed to have lunch with Senator Kennedy and meet with Senator Rockefeller. I said fine, truly not knowing what would happen next.
On January 25, less than one week after our telephone conversation, I found myself in Washington.
B, Dr. Charles Mullins, executive vice chancellor for health affairs; Mike Millsap, vice chancellor for governmental relations; and I met with Dick Napp, senior vice president of governmental relations for the Association of American Medical Colleges, at 8:30 in the morning.
We then met individually with Representatives Fields, Stenholm, and Bryant. We finished that day at 4:00 p.m. when B, Charlie Mullins and I gave a brief testimony to the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Academic Health Centers.
Not a bad day, but we were not finished.
As we walked out of the Rayburn Building, B said to me, "Do you have any tickets for the State of the Union address?"
I said, "No Bernard, I do not." I did not call him Bernard very often. I had learned from Audre that when she really wanted his attention, she always called him Bernard.
I said I may be able to get us some tickets for a UT baseball game in Austin, but I do not have any tickets for the State of the Union address.
He said, let's go see the Speaker of the House, Tom Foley. I bet he can get us tickets.
At 5:00 p.m. we were marching full speed to the Speaker's office. B knew where it was. He had obviously been there before.
Upon arrival, B announced to the receptionist that she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. I am not sure that statement was true, but I knew she was at least in his top seven because I heard him say that six other times during the day.
The wide-eyed receptionist quickly left and came back and said Speaker Foley would like to see us. Clearly an example of representative government.
We visited with Speaker Foley for almost one hour in his private office upon which time President Clinton dropped in to see the Speaker and give him a formal copy of his State of the Union speech.
I realized at this moment that we were operating on a much bigger stage than I had ever seen.
President Clinton and B were old friends. They were very close. After about thirty minutes of warm, casual conversation, President Clinton turned to B and said I really want you to be an ambassador for our country. I joined in and quickly said Mr. President, B has a more important job. He is chairman of the Board of Regents.
As the President was leaving, he said, "Why don't you all come over and have breakfast at the White House." I blurted out, "Works for me."
We did attend the State of the Union address. It turned out that Speaker Foley did have extra tickets.
We arrived at the White House at 7:45 a.m. and to my great surprise, they let us in. Mark McClarty, the President's Chief of Staff, and George Stephanopoulos, a White House aide, welcomed us and took us to the White House mess for breakfast.
Then the call came in. President Clinton would like us to stop by the Oval Office before we left. We went up the back stairs and into the Oval Office.
After a warm thirty-minute meeting with the President, we left the Oval Office and walked by the Cabinet room.
The Cabinet members were waiting to meet with the President. When they saw B they all came out to greet him. We were now holding up the most powerful man in the Western world while B was talking with his old and dear friends.
At that point, I did tell B we had to leave.
The rest of the day was a bit anticlimactic. However, just so the record is complete, we did have in-person meetings that day with Senators Rockefeller, Harkin, Riegle, Daschle, Simon, and Senate majority leader Mitchell. Senator Kennedy had a lunch for us in his office and we concluded the day by meeting with one of the most powerful and best friends the university has ever had, Congressman J. J. "Jake" Pickle.
We left for home the next day. I am sure Mullins, Millsap, and I all thought we were big shots, and for B it was not much more than a typical two days in Washington.
My point of this story is merely to illustrate how seriously B took his fiduciary responsibilities to the university. B loved the Clintons and they loved him. However, it took only a few seconds for him to realize that the UT System's medical schools had significant problems with the new health care initiative. As a result, he instinctively knew that his only obligation was to do what was in the best interest of the medical schools.
The really great Regents look at issues only through one screen: How will the decision impact the university's ability to complete its complex mission of teaching, research, and service? B understood, maybe better than anyone else I have ever known, that political questions and politicians are interesting, but they are transitory, while the university's mission remains central to the well being of Texas.
It was my honor to serve under B. He was a brilliant example of a true public servant.
The word we have heard over and over again today was "love". Let me say it one more time, B, we love you, and we will miss you every day.
One of B's favorite scholars and writers was the great Christian neo-orthodox theologian and social critic, Reinhold Niebuhr, whose thoughts and actions were, not unlike B's, a great influence in my life. Niebuhr wrote that "From the perspective of the individual the highest ideal is unselfishness. The individual must strive to realize his life by losing and finding himself in something greater than himself."
B was so much more than a liberal Democrat who happened to be Jewish, living in his beloved Waco, or a nationally important fundraiser, more than a man of wealth and influence, or an insurance magnate, or even more than the powerful, caring philanthropist and fellow of the letters we knew him to be.
When we talk of Bernard Rapoport, we should talk about how he chose throughout life to live in something greater than his own personal achievements. Throughout his life, B chose to love most regardless of whether he agreed with them or not, never compelling others to adhere to his ideology or theology. He never chose to do that. He didn't need to do that. He did not need to compel anybody's behavior.
Whether you were a Democrat or a Republican; Jew, Gentile, or Muslim; atheist or fundamentalist, these distinctions were, at his very core, unimportant to him. That was the way he chose to lead his life—with a remarkable level of compassion, caring, and love.
In the many years I knew B, I never heard him say a denigrating word about anyone. I doubt he ever did in his long life. Maybe critical, maybe political, but never intentionally hurtful.
B loved people, and he loved his family beyond all measure. He loved Audre in ways none of us will ever know. He worshipped Ronnie! And how he loved "the girls!" If you were with B but for a few minutes you would hear stories of his father, the Russian immigrant who had escaped from the chains of the Russian Czars in the gulags of Siberia, who spoke Spanish before he spoke English because he lived among poor Mexican immigrants in San Antonio.
There were three things he would say his father always told him: 1. Never let a book out of your hand. 2. Protect your name. 3. Always have a sense of outrage at injustice.
B would say: from his mother, he learned compassion and love. And she underscored B's father's teachings about the value of learning with this lesson from her own father: "Wisdom is the unspotted mirror of the power of God and the image of His goodness. Knowledge is the path to wisdom. Knowledge is the Messiah of humanity."
B Rapoport was comfortable and welcome in the presence of kings, presidents, princes, potentates, and the powerful. Yet he was as comfortable and welcome in the presence of a Cub Scout, or a poor minority student in a struggling school, or an average family in a cafeteria or Mexican restaurant in Waco. He had a unique kindness the likes of which we may not see again for a long time.
If you were in need, he was there for you. How many of us present here today did he help in some way? Big and small ways! He did that for the people here in Waco, Texas, in the State of Texas, in the nation, and around the world.
Those who were less fortunate, who were in poverty, who were the victims of injustice, or were just in need due to some personal calamity had a champion in B.
He was a giver. A generous giver.
B loved Israel, and he and Audre gave much of their riches to Israel.
What a joy it was to see him walking the halls in the Knesset or sitting in the Knesset. Having three breakfasts at the King David Hotel from 6 to 9 a.m., or lunch and dinner with the Mayor of Jerusalem. Yet, typical of B and Audre, their gift would be given to Israel with the understanding that it would be not only for the Israelis, but for the Palestinians as well. B knew that if the Palestinians didn't have peace, Israel would never know peace.
Like Israel, here at home B knew that the people on the other side of the tracks were deserving of good health, economic opportunity, and education. He also knew that for the entire community to thrive, a generosity of spirit and real world concern was crucial for all citizens. B believed that Waco, our state, and our nation are only as good as the health and literacy of those across the tracks.
Growing up in San Antonio, B had a friend with whom he played marbles all the time. B, being B, quickly mastered the game, winning all the time. However, he soon realized that if he won all the marbles, his friend would have no more marbles and then he, B, would have no one with whom to play the game. Thus, he altered his game so the game could go on. B wanted marbles, but not all of them. That was quintessential B. And that was his lifelong model of a fair world.
Anthony Quinn, as Zorba the Greek, said that in order to live life, you have to know how to love.
B knew how to love. If someone wanted to be rich, he wanted them to be rich. He knew, in politics, we needed conservatives as well as liberals and moderates. He did worry about the strident voices on the political extremes today. He knew that in order for a family or a community or a nation to grow, people had to talk, had to listen, had to negotiate, had to work hard and work together, and had to express genuine care for one another. He knew it was the only way to continue to be able to play the game and have a sustainable society.
Family was everything to B. He loved Audre so: How, oh how, Audre, did you do it? By his side, every waking moment for seventy years, ‘til he took his last breath. Audre, what a life you guys lived. Almost beyond belief. How would you like to be the stabilizing force inside the tornado? Then there were "the girls," Abby and Emmy. The perfect son, Ronnie. And the perfect daughter-in-law, Patricia.
To B, it was not what you thought, just that you did think. It was not about what you believed, but that you believed in yourself and in hard work. What mattered to him was who you were within your heart.
B gave all of us something, something that made us better, more whole. We all thought we owned him. He was fine with that. He wanted us to have all we wanted, just work hard for it. Work, work, work. He wanted those who had less to have more. He wanted us all to grow and to prosper in one way or another. I believe we all thought he'd be here forever. I know he planned to be. And, really, he will be with us throughout the rest of our lives.
His words always carried meaning because his deeds proved the truth of his words.
The great Jewish scholar and a favorite of B's, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once wrote:
It is in deeds that [a] man becomes aware of what his life really is, of his power to harm and to hurt, to wreck and to ruin, of his ability to derive joy and to bestow it upon others; to relieve and to increase his own and other people's tension. It is in the employment of his will, not [only] in reflection, that he meets his own self as it is, not as he should like it to be. The heart is revealed in the deeds.
B chose not to wreck or ruin, but to relieve and restore. His choice of deeds brought renewal and growth into people's lives. That's the legacy of this man we honor today, a man of passion and deeds, deeds which revealed his heart. Heschel concluded:
The deepest wisdom man can attain is to know that his destiny is to aid, to serve. We have to conquer in order to succumb; we have to acquire in order to give away; we have to triumph in order to be overwhelmed. Man has to understand in order to believe, to know in order to accept. . . .
This man whom we called "B", the man whom Audre called husband, whom Ronnie called father, whom Abby and Emmy called "Grampa," whom Patricia called father-in-law, and whom we called friend—this man we shall always cherish. He truly fulfilled his destiny to serve, to give, to bestow joy, and to overwhelm us with his love.
The following interview between Michael L. Gillette and Isabel Brown Wilson took place on February 19, 1988, in Ms. Wilson's office in Houston, Texas.
G: Let's start with your recollections of your home in Virginia, Huntland.
W: Huntland Farms near Middleburg, Virginia.
G: Tell me the story of how that place came to your family.
W: I'd be glad to, because I think it's a rather remarkable story. It shows my father's capacity to trust other people's judgment. He and my uncle (Herman Brown) had been looking for a place close to Washington but not in the District itself. They thought just on the other side of the Virginia line would be convenient to have a place to stay when they came up and entertained as they did quite a bit of in those days.
[Frank] Posh Oltorf, now of Marlin, Texas, who was then a Washington representative for Brown and Root, was instructed to try to find such a place. He had spent several months when he telephoned my father with great excitement one day and said, "I have found the most marvelous place." And my father said, "How far is it from Washington?" And Posh said, "An hour." Well, in truth it was more like an hour and a half, especially in those days. But he was very excited about it and he thought it was a rare buy. The owner, a French count, needed some ready money and it was on the market at a very good price. So Papa said, "I can't get up to see it for another month" or so. And Posh said, "Oh, you've got to act on this right away. We need to do it in the next two or three days because otherwise it'll be gone. Somebody else is going to buy it." So he said, "If you like it that much, you call Oveta [Culp Hobby] and get her to go out with you. If she says she likes it, we'll buy it." So he called Oveta and she went out and saw it and called back immediately and said it was a beautiful place. And it is a beautiful place to this day. It was bought and my mother and father and aunt and uncle never saw it until several months after it was bought.
G: What was their reaction to it?
W: They liked it very much. They were delighted with it. But Papa said, "Posh, you lied to me. It's further out than an hour; it's more than an hour away from Washington." I do remember him—[laughter]
G: There's a story associated with that, that they bought the house furnished with—
W: It was almost wholly furnished, not entirely. There were, of course, no paintings and no silverware and no china or any of that, but much of the furniture was there. There were certain pieces that had to be added later, occasional tables and some chairs and things, which Mama then went to New York and bought, as I recall. And she bought some around there in Virginia because she wanted antiques. They were not fine antiques but things that would look right in the house.
G: Describe the house.
W: Well, originally the center part of it was a Federalist house, which was built by one of three brothers in 1837. It was pre-Civil War. It was a very small Federal house which was added onto in 1912, something like that—I'm not sure of the exact date—when a Mr. Thomas came down from Long Island and decided this was beautiful hunt country and he liked to ride to hounds. So he redid the house, which was in very bad disrepair at that point, and added the two wings that make it so beautiful now. But he changed the style; it's not Federalist style anymore. He added also an imposing porch and façade with columns which were not a part of the original house. (He even built a brick kiln to make round bricks for the columns and serpentine walls.) It was just a plain brick house to begin with. But he certainly did everything, in my opinion, in very good taste, although he changed the style. It's a lovely house.
G: Is it on a hilly—?
W: No, not particularly hilly. Slightly raised, I guess. You look down—there's a pond behind it on which Mr. Thomas, I understand, had a gondola that he imported from Venice. It eventually leaked and filled up with water and rotted. I can remember when I first went out to the house in the early fifties, seeing the remains of the gondola in the pond. Those are now gone. And I think he had swans.
What happened with Mr. Thomas was that he ran out of money partway restoring it. He had been courting Miss Charlotte Nolan, who was later the founding headmistress of the Foxcroft School, nearby. She was a very pretty young woman then, and everyone thought they were going to get married. However, he needed more money than Miss Nolan had and so he ended up marrying a Wells-Fargo heiress, which enabled him to finish the house. But the people who lived in the area were so upset at him for not marrying Miss Nolan that the story we heard—don't know if it's true or not—was that from then on no one would have anything to do with him. So he was never as happy in the house as he thought he was going to be. Miss Nolan never married. She came to tea when we first bought the house.
G: You said two wings were added. What were the wings comprising?
W: There's a large master bedroom wing as you're facing the house, looking towards it on the left, and on the right is a large dining room wing. Those wings are one story. They are quite tall ceilings so they're a little more than one story with a sort of barrel vault ceiling. They both have fireplaces at either end and they are very grand, elegant rooms.
G: Did your parents spend a lot of time there?
W: As much time as they could, but unfortunately they never seemed to have enough time to spend. It was not air-conditioned at first, and so in the summer it was quite warm. A swimming pool and air conditioning were added later. The air conditioning was primarily added for my Aunt Margarett, who had quite bad asthma. She needed the air conditioning to be able to visit at all in the summer.
G: How often did LBJ go out there while he was majority leader?
W: Oh, I don't know. I wish I had the records on that, but I think he maybe occasionally went out there when they were not there. But my memory is that almost always Mama and Papa or the Herman Browns were there when he went to visit. Occasionally I think—I noticed a letter from Mrs. Johnson—she and Luci or one of the children would go out sometimes after the pool was built and they could swim and relax and get out of Washington. They did use it.
One of the other interesting things that happened there was when we first bought it, the State Department—I don't know how this was arranged—got in touch with my father when they needed a secure place, a remote place where the press would not find anyone, to try to help negotiate the Dutch and the Indonesian independence which was in process about that time. So they got the negotiators out there at Huntland and they worked out the details on that treaty. I'm sure there were many details worked out elsewhere but one of the working sessions, I should say, was there.
G: Were you there when that happened?
W: Oh no, I was not. I just remember hearing about it. Nobody was there except the principals.
G: What would a typical weekend with LBJ be like? Would it be more informal, relaxing around the pool, or formal parties?
W: No, no, no. There were never formal parties there. There was very good food. Tessie Anderson was the cook. She was married to Bill Anderson, who was an Irishman and I think in his youth a jockey—he was a small man, he was very interested in horses and unfortunately, he was very interested in the bottle also. So any time he got nervous he took to the bottle and he would be slightly tipsy, or maybe more than slightly tipsy, but Tessie would rise above it. She was the most beautiful cook. She was Virginian and spoke with the wonderful broad Virginian "A." She had been trained by the French count and was also naturally a very good cook. It was nothing fancy, but it was the best food I think I've ever eaten in my life. I can still remember it with happiness. Her vegetable soup was the best vegetable soup I've ever put in my mouth.
A typical weekend when LBJ came would include lots of talk, lots of good conversation, lots of sitting around and laughing and relaxing, occasional walks. I don't really remember him walking very much. Sometimes, when the Speaker was down, Sam Rayburn, he loved to fish. And we had a pond that was some distance away from the house that had a lot of fish in it and he loved—we used to call it Lake Rayburn.
G: Is that right?
W: When the Speaker came to Huntland, he would go off and fish all afternoon. Representative Homer Thornberry was there frequently with his wife, Eloise. They were all friends of the then-Majority Leader Johnson who he could relax with and that he felt at ease with. And so they were very easy, informal weekends with good food and conversation.
G: What did they talk about? Did they talk about politics?
W: Yes, they talked about politics a lot. What was going on—I don't remember any gossip. I just remember, oh, jokes, stories about what was happening. I don't remember intellectual conversations, no. They were political because that's what they were interested in.
G: Was LBJ usually in good humor at those?
W: Yes, he was. I think he relaxed there. He loved Tessie's cooking and I think he relaxed there as well as almost anywhere. He felt at ease and comfortable among friends. These were brief weekends. Many times they would be there just one night.