Archive for the 'Biography' Category

Bush 41: Pragmatic, civil and stately

The year was 1988. The setting was Mrs. Walton’s sixth grade Social Studies class. The conflict was a debate between a long-forgotten Dukakis / Bentsen supporter and me, the class’ Bush / Quayle surrogate.

As an eleven-year-old, I followed the 1988 presidential campaign like a hawk, clipping newspaper stories and creating my own election scrapbook.

My grandfather drove me in his roller skate of a Mazda 323 to the local Republican headquarters. There, I stocked up on Bush / Quayle yard signs, buttons and bumper stickers.

I was ready for the big debate.

My suburban middle Tennessee county was sufficiently conservative, so I would really need to flop not to win.

In addition to my policy points, I had my jokes lined up. This was sixth grade, after all. Not everyone followed politics as closely as I, much to my surprise.

“What does an old car sound like when it can’t get going?” I asked. “Dukakis, Dukakis, Dukakis.”

George Herbert Walker Bush rode to victory that year on the back of his predecessor’s legacy, his wife’s wit and his vice president’s good looks.

During his time in office, he served the nation with strength, resisting both an Iraqi dictator and a ballooning government. Bush was rightly concerned about federal overspending, especially with an overseas war pending.

In a 1990 budget deal with a Democrat-controlled Congress, Bush agreed to raise certain tax rates which contradicted his “read my lips, no new taxes” pledge from 1988.

Ironically, the deal reduced government spending significantly and instituted a pay-as-you-go (“PAYGO”) rule requiring new spending or tax cuts be offset by spending cuts or tax increases.

It created the framework for a balanced budget in 1997 and several budget surpluses in the years that followed.

Robert Reischauer, director of the Congressional Budget Office at the time, called the 1990 budget “the foundation upon which the surpluses of the 1998 to 2001 period were built.”

Bush’s willingness to compromise in order to make some progress arguably cost him his job in 1992 when a silver-tongued southern governor made him pay for breaking his tax pledge.

A remarkable quality of our 41st president was that he did not hold a grudge. He supported his successor and even partnered with him on charitable missions in their years out of office.

While Bush took his surprise 1992 election defeat quite personally, he quickly rose above the fray, leaving a handwritten letter in the Oval Office for the newly inaugurated President Bill Clinton.

“You will be our President when you read this note,” he said, “I wish you well. I wish your family well. Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.”

That, friends, is class and grace and perspective like we’ve never needed more.

Bush moved on with his life… to Astros games and skydiving and watching his children and grandchildren reach the highest levels not of power, but of service.

Scripture says you will know a man by his fruit. Regardless of your political agreement with 41 and his offspring, you cannot argue their high moral character.

Our nation lost an honorable man Friday. We should follow in his civil and stately footsteps.

 

Kevin Thompson writes regularly for The Boerne Star. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

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Why we honor MLK

County real estate records house many volumes of deed restrictions: stipulations that sellers require – and buyers agree to – when a piece of property changes hands.

So, I wasn’t initially surprised when I happened upon a set from 1927.

The parties involved in the transaction had surnames that locals would recognize. Their names are on old photos at the courthouse. Town streets still display their names.

The deed restrictions began innocuously:

1. Buildings shall be for residential purposes only.

2. All residences shall be built at a cost of at least $3,000.

3. All buildings shall be placed not less than 37 and 1/2 feet from the street.

4. No livestock shall be kept on the premises…

And then came this one:

“8. Premises shall not be conveyed to or owned by people of African descent.”

I double-checked the date. Could it have been 1827? No, my eyes had not misled. The deed restrictions had in fact been filed in February 1927, sixty-four years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

For Gen Xers and later, the period between the abolition of slavery and the civil rights movement can be a blur. Technically, there was freedom, but informally there were gradients of bondage difficult to understand without personal experience.

The letter of the law provided for equality, but the spirit of the law did not always follow suit. The discrimination described in the deed restrictions above is an example.

In his August 1963 speech in Washington, D.C., Martin Luther King, Jr. paints a picture for future generations of what life was like.

“…the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality,

“our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities,

“the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one,

“a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.”

Dr. King’s dream of justice is “deeply rooted in the American dream.” While he feels like America’s justice check has bounced, he refuses “to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt.”

His optimism, his unquestionable love for whites and blacks alike, his commitment to satisfy the thirst for freedom without “drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred;” these are the marks of a man who fights on a loftier battleground than the pursuit of mere earthly gain.

He didn’t say it from the podium that August day, but this imagery from his written speech draft makes the point:

“We are not here seeking soley (sic) the fulfillment of our selfish aims….the campaign of the Negro for equality is not a campaign for black men alone…we believe that black and white are alike on God’s keyboard.”

The most refreshing aspect of Dr. King’s persona was his focus on the future. He was simply not stuck in the past. He saw the futility of revisionist history. He didn’t vilify a lesser enemy.

“Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.”

Instead, he called the nation to the highest ideals of its past: “…this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.’”

Hence, we honor him and his noble dream again this day.

 

Kevin Thompson can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

 

 

 

Edward Glenn Biggs, 1932 – 2015

“What kind of banker are you?” a rancher asked Glenn Biggs when he arrived at First National Bank of San Antonio in 1970.

Biggs replied, “Well, a bank is like a heart that circulates money throughout the -”

“I’ll tell you what kind of banker you are,” interrupted the rancher. “You’re just like the one who renewed my loan for years, but when times got tough and I couldn’t pay, he called my note!”

“What did you do?” Biggs wondered.

“I begged and begged and he finally said, ‘I’ll make you a deal. You didn’t
know this, but I have a glass eye. If you tell me which one it is, I’ll extend your note.’

When the rancher picked the correct eye, the banker asked him, “How did you know?”

“Sir,” said the rancher, “I perceived an ounce of compassion in that glass eye.”

Each time I heard Mr. Biggs tell that story, it was better than the time before. His jovial
yet commanding presence kept you hanging on every word.

Edward Glenn Biggs died on May 26, in the year of his Lord two thousand fifteen. He was 82.

I first met Glenn when he interviewed me for a job at Texas Heritage Bank
where he served as board chairman. We met at Denny’s. He obviously wasn’t concerned about impressing me.

I left breakfast impressed by him and was impressed almost daily for the next six years. And not just by his contact list which included Fortune 500 CEOs, university presidents and U.S. senators, but also by the way he treated the cleaning crew and the receptionist.

“One time we boarded a Southwest flight from Dallas to San Antonio,” one of his associates told me once. “Glenn walked down the aisle high fiving dozens of people who knew and respected him. I slipped to the lavatory. When I returned, Glenn was embracing a flight attendant who was going through a tough time.

“That’s the kind of guy he was. You felt like his best friend because you
were. His heart was that big.”

Readers may remember Biggs as San Antonio’s CPS Energy board chair or as CEO of an effort to bring high speed rail to Texas in the early 90s. How nice would that be now when I-35 is a parking lot and airport security is a zoo.

“Glenn walked among leaders in the community,” a friend of forty years remembered. “They knew him and he knew them. I don’t know anyone who didn’t like him. Usually standouts get crossways with certain people, but that never happened with Glenn.”

For example, Southwest Airlines founder Herb Kelleher thwarted the high speed rail project, but Biggs still called him friend.

That didn’t mean the six-four, 250-pound frame stood without principle. Once he came into the break room looking for a soda. As he closed the fridge empty-handed I said, “Mr. Biggs, there was a Pepsi in there.”

He declined. The chairman of Pepsico had berated him and other Texas bankers in the mid-80s for causing the nation’s financial woes, Glenn explained.

“I haven’t had a Pepsi product since.”

As you might imagine, Mr. Biggs was quite quotable.

“She’s stronger than a Mexican plate lunch,” he would say about a determined woman.

Or this line, particularly poignant at the moment: “I hope you live forever,
and I’m the last one to say good-bye.”

Good-bye, Mr. Biggs. All your best friends miss you tremendously.

 

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

Franklin family offers model of service

“God has a sense of humor,” Larry Franklin says. The former CEO of San Antonio-based direct marketing firm Harte-Hanks never thought he’d be working the land at age 73.

“My father sharecropped the same one hundred east Texas acres for 50 years. My goal in life was not to be working in dirt anywhere. I wanted off the farm.”

After graduating in a class of 13 (“ten boys, two girls and a married woman”) from Ladonia High School, Franklin took his young wife and some football talent to East Texas State University.

“Charlotte was from the big city. She was from Paris.” Texas, that is.

“Walking off the field after my last game, she said, ‘You’re going to be a father.’ We eventually took an economics professor’s advice and went to graduate school at Texas Tech. Kelly was born in Lubbock.”

After an MBA, a CPA and 4 years of public accounting, Franklin joined Harte-Hanks in San Antonio, rising over the course of 41 years to the top of the corporation.

During his tenure, Franklin purchased 150 businesses in 37 states across 7 sectors in the media industry, including the San Antonio Express-News and KENS TV. Harte-Hanks’ assets today include mainly direct mail and target marketing businesses.

As the business grew, Franklin wrestled with his purpose:

“One day we all will answer two questions: ‘What did you do with the Lord?’ and ‘What did you do with what he gave you?’ I have felt good about the first question since I was thirteen, but I wasn’t sure about the second one.”

As he approached 60 years of age, Franklin slowed down, thanks, in part, to the power of some praying women.

“I’ve always been surrounded by praying women. First, my mother, then Charlotte, then my two daughters.”

Franklin stepped down as CEO in 2002. At the urging of his son-in-law, Jason Borchardt, Franklin purchased the first ranch he toured: 450 acres 10 miles northeast of Blanco. That was 1996.

Nearly two decades and an additional two thousand acres later, the Franklin Family Ranch annually hosts thousands of day visitors, retreaters, campers, hunters and trail riders. An Easter celebration draws more than a thousand. (“It’s not about eggs and bunnies.”) Boerne-based Still Water Sports Camps has called the ranch home for six consecutive summers.

“It has been an unbelievable run being out here with these kids,” Franklin said as dozens of diverse Still Water campers swarmed around us. “We have seen amazing transformations in kids because college counselors plant seeds and pour into their lives.”

Franklin’s two daughters and their families also live and work on the ranch. Kelly and Neil Hardwick handle the groups who visit. Kristi and Jason Borchardt manage the wildlife which includes several species of deer, antelope and sheep. Franklin’s grandchildren cook and serve meals for campers and guests.

“It just doesn’t get any better than this,” Franklin reflected. “It’s like what the apostle John said, ‘I have no greater joy than to see my children walking in the truth.’”

Son-in-law Hardwick summarized the uniqueness of the arrangement:

“We wanted a different life than what corporate America might dictate. We wanted to work together and live together. We wanted to show our kids through a life of service what it means to have a servant heart.”

Franklin recognizes the divine irony in his situation, “We always thought we’d have a place in New York City. God had a different plan.”

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Contact him at kevin@kwt.info.

A storm has passed

After battling multiple autoimmune diseases for the last four years, Justin McElhannon of Boerne, Texas, was laid to rest last month. He was thirty-two.

At his funeral, a childhood friend recalled the days they spent in lunch detention and in-school suspension. He remembered diving into rivers and stirring trouble as members of notorious Lampasas-area gangs (e.g., “The Buttkickers”).

An adult friend told of McElhannon’s love for trucks, guns and hunting. Other friends described his constant pursuit of adventure, his unbridled passion, his entrepreneurial spirit, his arch-competitiveness. One pallbearer summarized him this way, “He was a tornado.”

Storms are tenacious, real, authentic, intentional, focused – all words used to describe McElhannon at his funeral. Storms can bring wind and destruction. They also bring rain and life.

McElhannon was certainly a storm in the car business. The owners of Toyota of Boerne lured him from Houston in 2007. Co-workers called him relentless, either persuading buyers to pull the trigger on the floor or convincing them to add on extras in the finance office.

He frequently called colleagues to higher standards. It mattered little if you worked for him or if he worked for you. He would call you out.

In 2011, unexplained bouts of fatigue began to slow the storm. Then, swelling hands and hurting feet. Joint and muscle issues followed. Perplexed doctors across the country prescribed countless treatments, surgeries and therapies. Little seemed to work.

Unfit for slow days at home, McElhannon continued working both at the dealership and on his college degree, which he completed in 2012. He walked with a cane. Then, his hips gave way. Despite his growing incapacities, his good days and bad days, the storm rolled on.

Suffering has a way of clarifying. It clarifies both the character of the victim and the victim’s priorities. In McElhannon, suffering revealed a character infused with selfless love.

Foregoing his right to sympathy, McElhannon showered love and life on his sons and wife. It only takes a few readings of Misty McElhannon’s blog to know how he treated her and what she thought of him.

McElhannon’s young sons carry an innocent joy born of a passionately loving father, the kind of father who expresses love in heartfelt, heart-wrenching posthumous letters.

McElhannon’s friends tell of his unabashed expressions of brotherly love. He routinely told them he loved them, regardless of the squirming and mumbling he got in return. With his time near, his priorities came clear.

And then, McElhannon’s love for Jesus. In the footsteps of the first century Sons of Thunder, the storm followed Christ wholeheartedly to the end. He stood boldly for righteousness. He told the truth. Among the written words he left behind: “Love the Lord more than anything and everything will fall into place.”

Before what would be his final haircut, McElhannon spoke to the owner of the barber shop.

“I’ve entered the active dying stage,” he pronounced with a comfort level eerie to most listeners. It sounded a little like the Apostle Paul’s paradox, “Offer your bodies as living sacrifices…”

In this fallen world, we are all chronically ill. We are all dying. The question is what kind of dying are we doing?

McElhannon’s dying was just like his living: active. Like a great storm, he brought water to a dry and thirsty land.

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info. Read more of his columns at www.kwt.info.

The secret to Lincoln’s greatness

Last month marked the 150th anniversary of the death of President Abraham Lincoln. As John Wilkes Booth pulled the trigger that fateful night, Lincoln’s bodyguard drank whiskey in a saloon across the street. It happened on a Friday, Good Friday.

Only six days had passed since the South surrendered, ending the four-year-long Civil War. The City of Washington and half the nation celebrated. The whole nation mourned its losses. All the while Booth changed his plans from kidnapping to killing.

Lincoln always knew his end might come this way. After his election in 1860, Lincoln traveled a somewhat circuitous route to his first inauguration. From Illinois, he journeyed across the Midwest, up through New York and down the Atlantic coast.

On a stop at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, he made a brief speech about his commitment to the ideas that came to life there four score and five years prior.

The Declaration of Independence, he said, “gave liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but, I hope, to the world for all future time… But if this country cannot be saved without giving up that principle, I was about to say I would rather be assassinated on this spot than surrender it.”

Abraham Lincoln was prepared to live or die on Liberty Hill.

“I have said nothing but what I am willing to live by and, if it be the pleasure of the Almighty God, die by.”

Lincoln believed the principles that sprang forth from Philadelphia in 1776 had the power to change a country, a continent and the world. He was willing to defend them to the death. While the South considered the Civil War an act of northern aggression, Lincoln held a different perspective.

“There will be no bloodshed unless it is forced upon the (U.S.) government, and then it will be compelled to act in self-defense.”

As we know, there was in fact bloodshed and no shortage of it. Seven hundred and fifty thousand men fought and died for their concept of liberty. At each death count,Lincoln was surely tempted to call off the carnage, bring home the troops and resign himself to the coexistence of two nations. He never did.

Lincoln’s greatness stood on this: He knew when to set loose and he knew when to bind up. He set free the slaves and then bound up a torn nation. For the emancipation to live, he knew the division must die.

Through the force of his resolve and the sacrifices of his men, he saw, for six short days, a nation reunited.

After his death, Lincoln’s body backtracked by train to Illinois following roughly the same route by which he came to the presidency. The exhumed remains of WillieLincoln, Abraham’s son who died of typhoid fever three years earlier, joined him on the journey. Like those he had led through the valley of death, Lincoln was no stranger to loss.

By day, open casket viewings of Lincoln’s body drew hundreds of thousands. By night, millions of mourners lined the tracks to pay their respects amidst a bonfire’s glow.

Abraham Lincoln died on Good Friday. In his wake arose a nation more free and more resolved that, in his own words, “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Follow Kevin Thompson at http://www.kwt.info.

Boerne’s Walker heads to The Masters

After winning $1.1 million and, more importantly, a new pair of cowboy boots at San Antonio’s Valero Texas Open ten days ago, Boerne resident Jimmy Walker is off to Augusta. Is he ready?

“He’s primed and ready,” friend Andrew Tosdevin said after a round with Walker last week at Cordillera Ranch. “He just took $17 dollars off me.”

When he’s not taking on earth’s top golfers as the 13th best player in the world, Walker takes on a close-knit clan at the Jack Nicklaus course ten miles east of Boerne. The group plays up to four times a week when Walker is home, according to Cordillera golf pro Marc DeWall.

“They’re all good players, all have single-digit handicaps,” DeWall explained. “Jimmy seems to enjoy their camaraderie and the banter back and forth.”

“We treat him like one of the boys,” said Tosdevin, an accented Brit who met Walker on the driving range three years ago. The two had struck up a conversation about a shared interest: wine. “We talk trash, but in a pleasant way.”

Golf is, after all, a gentleman’s game. But it’s not for the weak-willed. Walker endured nearly a decade of ups and downs between the Nationwide and PGA tours before recording a PGA victory – in his 188th event.

Walker recently told Golf Digest about a low point on the journey:

“After six years as a pro my career hadn’t gone anywhere. Funds were running low, I’d never had a job outside of playing golf, and I was feeling dead-ended. I phoned my wife, Erin, and broached the idea of the two of us getting real jobs.

“When both people are crying on a long-distance call, that’s rock bottom. The next week in West Virginia was the hottest weather I’d ever played golf in. Just putting one foot in front of the other, I somehow won the tournament.”

Seven years and $16 million later, Walker is a different golfer, thanks in part to the work of teaching pro Brian Gathright of San Antonio’s Oak Hills Country Club and Butch Harmon who coached Tiger Woods through eight of his fourteen major tournament wins.

But Walker is no different a person, say DeWall and Tosdevin. He still enjoys time with his wife and sons. He still enjoys taking pictures of stars through a telescope.

“Jimmy is extremely generous with his time and resources,” DeWall explained. “He gives back in ways people don’t know about. He’s given a lot to The First Tee, a program that helps kids from all walks of life build character, cultivate values and make healthy choices through the game of golf.”

Tosdevin agreed, “The beautiful thing about Jimmy is he is just a regular guy. He always has time for people. He’s absolutely genuine and humble. He is simply a super nice person.”

Such a description was once often par for the course among celebrity types. That’s obviously no longer the case, even with golfers.

So it’s refreshing when you hear it and further proof that someone special will represent Cordillera Ranch and Boerne at The Master’s later this week. As the current leader in FedEx Cup points, Walker will be among the favorites.

“He’s playing beautifully,” Tosdevin assured me. “He has a great chance to win.”

At golf and life.

 

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at www.kwt.info.

 


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