Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Memorial Service

It's been really hard for me to get a coherent line of thought about the Ann Richards memorial service. It was held here in Austin on Monday, and it was wonderful and funny and inspiring, and bits and pieces of it keep floating to the top of my mind.

I was planning to head over by myself, but ended up going to the service with a good friend, which was even better. It was a beautiful Austin day, a day that wasn't 100 degrees in the shade, so everyone was walking together, enjoying the idea that summer might actually end someday. People were filing in from all directions, and we wandered up, into the Erwin center, and up the ramp to the arena space. The first thing I saw as I walked through the gateway into the seating area, was a huge projected image of Ann with her arms held up and a huge smile. There was a stage on the floor with giant flower arrangements, some bleachers, chairs, piano and podium, all surrounded by 4000 of my closest friends. It was almost like a concert getting ready to start, except the lights were more dim and the crowd was dressed nice.

Ron Kirk, the former mayor of Dallas led the event. He was eloquent and funny. He said something I liked very much, about how "the good 'ol boys weren't asked to move out of the capitol, just move over" for the New Texas Ann was building. There was a gospel choir, and I felt the lump in my throat when the soloist sang. Jessye Norman, the opera singer, was there and I saw her look at the choir with admiration. They were fantastic.

Other bubbling memories included Erika handing me a Kleenex, just in case.

Liz Smith telling (cleaned up) antidotes about hanging out with Ann. She said that Ann was the most alive person she had ever met, and that we should keep her that way by living life with as much gusto as she would have. There were no tears, only laughter with her stories.

Henry Cisneros spoke, Jessye Norman sang twice, the gospel choir put out another powerful piece, and then Hillary Clinton got her turn.

She said, that when she met Ann, she felt like she was meeting a force of nature, and that it surprised her because she was already living with one. She said Ann told her, that she would have to figure out what to do about her hair, it either needed be completely unremarkable or go REALLY BIG. While she spoke, I sized her up as a presidential candidate. I've never figured out why the Conservatives hate her so much. She was controlled, and poised, and a leader, but I feared it might actually take an Ann Richards to open that door-- some sort of Texas Tornado, bigger than life, who would charm more than she offended and sweep us into a new era of politics. Hillary did say one thing that perhaps more than anything else has stuck in my mind.

She said when she was considering her run for Senator of New York, Ann was one of the people she sought for advice. Ann asked her what was it Hillary wanted; did she WANT to be Senator of New York? Then Ann told her that whether it was hard or not was irrelevant, anything important would be hard, wanting it was the key.

The service was nearing the end, and soon it was time for the last speaker, Lily Adams. She was the 19 year old, oldest granddaughter of Ann Richards. I feared, from the moment I noticed her on stage, that she must be quivering about having to speak. This was a friendly crowd, but we were a crowd.... a big one. And not too many people have the stage warmed up by a world famous opera star, two mayors, a gospel choir, and the lady who might make a serious run for the presidency. But it was her turn. She got up to the lectern and spoke. And she was strong, and poised, and funny, and ready. She told us about her Mammy. She talked about the lessons that Ann gave her, at basketball games, on campaign trails, in private moments. And while she spoke, Ann was our grandmother for a few moments, just like we always thought she was.

And Lily's stories, and the stories of a black mayor from Dallas, and a brown mayor from San Antonio, and a brash lady from New York, and a lady who might be president, all wove together and reinforced each other.

Ann Richards had pulled everyone along with her. The Texas Tornado expected people's best, and while I sat there, I felt like I had to do something, be governor, be a teacher, fight for a cause, be someone that makes a difference. Instead of feeling settled, I felt all wound up, and I realized I hadn't even cried, and no one around me had, because we were called to get out there and DO something.

After the service we were all given paper fans with a sly photo of Ann on one side, and a story on the back. It says:

"At the end of the State Treasurer's race in 1982, the only remaining campaign materials were masks of Ann's face made previously for her birthday party, so she passed out these masks at her last campaign rallies.

'When we left LaJoya's Senior Center and pulled onto the dusty road, I looked out the back window and saw a tiny little woman who couldn't have been more than four and a half feet tall who was probably in her eighties. She was in a cotton print dress that hung straight to her ankles, standing there waiting for a ride...

And she was wearing my face.

For me, the image of that woman is like a beacon in the storm.

Because that small woman is what the business of public service is all about.

I imagine seeing what she sees. She probably doesn't see much connection between the government and what goes on in her life, but you and I do.

There are real people with real lives who are counting on us.

And we will not - we cannot - disappoint them."

Ann W. Richards
1933- 2006"

I was being spoken to, a whisper in the ear, that being involved is our job. Fighting for what we think is right is worth the energy, and what makes our lives work. It's time to get to work, now I'm just trying to figure out what I'm being called to work on and what I want to do

1 comment:

stephen guy said...

she was a giant amoung us. let her live on in you. and i wanna see the motorcycle mama version that you had framed by your desk at mahlum for years.