People We’ll Miss—2009

December 2009By and Comments

With the end of every year comes an accounting of life—our triumphs, our disappointments, our hopes fulfilled or yet unmet. It is also a time to reflect on those who won’t be coming with us into the next year. This annual exercise feels particularly poignant in 2009: The passing of celebrities in the past twelve months was striking not only for the roster of names—Ted Kennedy, Michael Jackson, Ed McMahon, Les Paul, Robert McNamara—but also for the unrelenting number, particularly during what was informally dubbed the “summer of death.” In Texas, we noted with special sadness the loss of native greats like Farrah Fawcett, Horton Foote, and Patrick Swayze. We also bid farewell to many who shaped our state’s consciousness and fate, from politician Don Yarborough and federal judge William Wayne Justice to civil rights advocate the Reverend Claude Black and Chicana poet Angela de Hoyos, from real estate mogul Trammell Crow and restaurant king Norman Brinker to trial lawyer John O’Quinn and first female university president Lorene Rogers. Not to mention the 35-plus Texas soldiers who gave their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is in this spirit of reflection that we pay tribute this month to the lives and stories of Texans we’ll miss. Our list on the following pages is idiosyncratic and by no means comprehensive; indeed, an accounting of all those who have made a mark on our state would require several issues (last month we celebrated the late Bud Shrake with a selection of his letters). Instead we’ve taken the measure of six high-profile figures—as remembered by other Texans who knew them—as well as a host of characters who, while significant in their communities, were not nearly as well-known. It was the late Horton Foote himself who once said, in reference to his playwriting, “I believe very deeply in the human spirit, and I have a sense of awe about it, because I don’t know how people carry on.” In a sobering year, we seek to remember with that same wonder people whose stories—passionate, eccentric, compelling—remind us of what it means to live. KATHARYN RODEMANN

Dan Rather on Walter Cronkite
[ 11.04.1916 – 07.17.2009 ]

Walter Cronkite

Walter Cronkite
Portrait illustration by HELLOVON

Walter Cronkite, the iconic anchor of the CBS Evening News, was the face of television journalism for four decades. Born in Saint Joseph, Missouri, he grew up in Houston and attended the University of Texas at Austin, where he worked on the Daily Texan before taking a job with the Houston Post. After distinguishing himself as an intrepid World War II correspondent, Cronkite was recruited to CBS by renowned newsman Edward R. Murrow in 1950. A reassuring voice amid the chaos of assassinations, war, and social unrest, Cronkite was famously dubbed “the most trusted man in America.” He died at age 92.

Dan Rather inherited the CBS Evening News anchor chair from Cronkite in 1981. He is now the anchor of Dan Rather Reports, on HDNet.

Walter started working in television in 1950, when the Korean War broke out. That’s how he got his break as an anchor. He was a reporter then, at the CBS affiliate in Washington, D.C. Now, this was Neanderthal television. All he had was chalk and a blackboard, but he was adept at explaining the war without news footage. Part of the secret to his success was that he was a terrific ad-libber. Ad-libbing is not rocket science, but it’s harder than it might appear, particularly when one has to stay on the air for a long time, say, on election night or during some sort of catastrophe. He later earned the nickname Old Iron Pants because he could stay on the air for hours on end.

An anchorman tries to keep his emotions bottled up as much as possible, but there are moments of great grief or great joy when it’s just not humanly possible. As an anchor, Walter was very good at keeping his emotions in check. There were a few times, though, when he could not remain detached. If you remember, when Walter delivered the news that President Kennedy was dead, he took his glasses off, and it was very obvious that he was fighting back tears. That captured the national mood. In a few seconds, Walter personified what we were all feeling, and it touched the audience. The same was true when he covered the moon landing. He had this boyish enthusiasm about the space program, and so when the Eagle landed on the moon, he said, “Oh, boy!”

He was indefatigable and relentless on a story. Sleep meant nothing. Holidays, weekends meant nothing. Walter liked few things better than breaking a story. He always backed his correspondents in the field, particularly if we were working on a controversial story. In 1965 and ’66, I spent almost a year in Vietnam, when the war was being expanded. We did not have telephone contact between Saigon and New York at that time, which shows you how long it has been, so we corresponded by telex. He would telex a few words of encouragement: “Great story on X,” or “Know this is a difficult assignment. Thinking about you.” During Watergate, when we were catching a lot of heat, some of it internal, he gave me his complete, unadulterated support. He’d say, “Don’t let ’em scare you.” By then—’72, ’73, ’74—he was huge. He was the Great Walter Cronkite, so you can imagine what that kind of call meant to me.

Now the standards for news have dropped tremendously, not only online but across the board. I don’t want to engage in old-man talk here, but Walter had high standards. He believed in quality and integrity. Just as Murrow did before him, he believed in the importance of American journalism. Walter was the North Star, which is to say that if you strayed off course, you could always look to Walter to find your way. AS TOLD TO PAMELA COLLOFF

A. Kelly Pruitt, 85
[ 02.09.1924 – 02.15.2009 ]

Kelly Pruitt didn’t like houses. He was a successful enough artist to afford one, but he preferred to live in tepees or converted school buses or the gypsy wagons he painted himself and hauled around the country to art shows with an old fire truck. Most of the time, he could be found along the Rio Grande, near Presidio, where he was raised. His paintings—often depicting cowboys—were collected by the likes of Liz Taylor and Greer Garson and on occasion sold for as much as $40,000, but he was known to give them away or trade them for necessities like horse feed. “He eschewed fame,” says his longtime friend and companion Pawnee Jewell. “He just didn’t want all the trouble.” Less than a year before he died, he started digging his own grave. “There was an old cemetery, and he got inspired,” says Jewell. “He told me, ‘I got it about half dug, and I laid down in it and tried it on for size. It was pretty comfortable.’ ” JAKE SILVERSTEIN

Gregoria Martinez, 94
[ 04.12.1915 – 08.25.2009 ]

A devout Catholic, Gregoria Martinez was no doubt familiar with God’s exhortation to Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply.” As the mother of 5 daughters and 6 sons, stepmother to 3, grandmother to 98, great-grandmother to 164, and great-great-grandmother to 16, the Vernon resident was nearly as prolific as the biblical couple, producing a small congregation of nearly 300 descendants. A longtime migrant worker, she and her husband, Ponciano, who died in 1994, went back and forth between Texas, where they chopped cotton, and the Midwest, where they picked cherries, cucumbers, and tomatoes. It was Martinez’s work ethic—and insistence that her kids “go to church and do right”­—that has shaped subsequent generations. “She would pay us to help iron the clothes and would give out little goodies, a dollar here or there or candies that she had hidden in her room,” remembers Rick Martinez, the oldest grandchild. “She was a softie, but stern.” JORDAN BREAL

Clarence “Scoop” Gentry, 93
[ 07.08.1915 – 01.03.2009 ]

It was a measure of Clarence Gentry’s reputation that his colleagues gave him the nickname all reporters secretly crave. Known as Scoop, the Dallas native loved knowing things before everyone else, first as a youngster delivering copies of the Morning News and the Times Herald and later as a journalist for papers such as the Express and the Post Tribune. The first African American to go to Jim Wells County to cover the infamous Box 13 incident during LBJ’s 1948 Senate race, Gentry refused to let discrimination hinder him. He interviewed Wendell Willkie by having the Republican presidential hopeful escort him to his hotel room (Gentry had not been allowed on the premises) and asked questions of Democratic senator Estes Kefauver from a hotel lobby when the manager barred him from going upstairs. “He worried about the news that wasn’t being covered,” says his daughter Dorothy. “He wanted the whole story to be told.” BRIAN D. SWEANY

John Paul Barnich, 63
[ 09.25.1945 – 02.02.2009 ]

Houston’s first openly gay municipal judge wore many hats—attorney, educator, gay rights activist—but John Paul Barnich, a Santa Claus look-alike with white hair and a white beard, may have been best known for his ebullience: When his pet iguana turned five, he threw a birthday party that included a mariachi band, and his Montrose bungalow (nicknamed Zillaville, after his collection of Godzilla figurines in the electric-blue kitchen) was home to his legendary Thanksgiving potlucks, which he presided over, naturally, in an oversized throne chair. His bigheartedness spilled, unmeasured, into every area of life. “In the earliest days of the AIDS epidemic, John was there for people when nobody else was,” says longtime friend Joanne Harrison. Amid the fear of the disease in the eighties, when landlords often evicted people with AIDS, Barnich opened his home and took them in. He rounded up friends to visit AIDS patients who were dying, often alone, in Houston’s hospital wards, sitting with them in their final hours. “He never made a big deal about it,” remembers Harrison. “He just did it.” PC

Manuel Castillo, 40
[ 11.23.1968 – 01.06.2009 ]

Manuel Castillo was not an artist, but he might as well have been: As the founder of San Anto Cultural Arts, he was responsible for covering San Antonio’s West Side with vibrant murals—36 of them and counting. A native West Sider whose passions included punk rock (he was the drummer for the band Snowbyrd), Castillo promoted pride of place by organizing fellow residents into painting crews. He also started a local newspaper, El Placazo. “He knew that art had the potential to save a community,” said friend and artist Cruz Ortiz earlier this year. Castillo rallied poets, musicians, painters, and politicians to his cause, and when he died, friends pulled an all-nighter to create the ultimate mural: a hand-painted, deep-blue casket covered in gold and red images of Castillo’s many loves, among them a turntable, a barbecue pit, a tallboy, the punk bar Taco Land, and a pair of flip-flops. KR

Brandon Lara, 20
[ 10.08.1988 – 07.19.2009 ]

In 2007, when Brandon Lara’s classmates were walking the stage for their high school diplomas, the New Braunfels native was in Iraq. A quiet guy who had a knack for attracting friends, Lara had graduated early to fulfill his dream of joining the Marines. He was serving his second tour when he was killed in combat in the Anbar Province, and his death sparked a remarkable outpouring: Despite only two days’ notice, hundreds of mourners, many holding American flags, lined the streets as his body was transported the twenty miles from Randolph Air Force Base, in San Antonio, to a funeral home in New Braunfels. Since then, a seven-minute YouTube clip of the procession has been viewed more than 67,000 times. One father who took his young sons to pay their respects captured onlookers’ feelings best: “I wanted them to see what sacrifice means,” he said, “and to know that Lance Corporal Lara is a real hero, not a movie hero.” JB

Meyer Reiswerg, 77
[ 05.07.1932 – 05.07.2009 ]

Meyer Reiswerg and his father were making a good living selling guns by mail order until the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy, when the practice was outlawed. So Reiswerg adjusted his compass and went into military surplus. The world-famous store he opened in Galveston in 1972, Col. Bubbie’s Strand Surplus Senter, sold countless odd items—mine probes, 52-foot radio antennae, infantry field hats advertised as “complete with World War I dandruff and mothholes”—but the greatest attraction was “Meyer the Buyer” himself, a boisterous man who loved Hawaiian shirts and addressed customers with the Yiddish term of endearment “bubbie.” After his death, Reiswerg was buried, in keeping with Jewish tradition, in a shroud, though his favorite Hawaiian shirt was placed next to him in the casket. At his family’s request, the mourners wore Hawaiian shirts—and so did the rabbi. JEFF SALAMON

Harry Kinnard, 93
[ 05.07.1915 – 01.05.2009 ]

Lieutenant General Harry Kinnard, a Dallas native, manned a machine gun at Pearl Harbor on the morning of the Japanese attack, parachuted into Normandy on D-day, and helped pioneer the use of helicopters in Vietnam. But he is most remembered for a cheeky retort that inspired troops during the Battle of the Bulge. On December 22, 1944, his 101st Airborne Division found itself surrounded by Germans in Bastogne, Belgium. When two enemy officers marched in with a letter demanding that the Americans surrender, Kinnard suggested that the official reply be his commander’s initial four-letter rejoinder. “To the German Commander, ‘Nuts!’ The American Commander,” read the missive they sent back. Four days later, U.S. troops from the south broke through the German line, ending the siege, and that defiant response came to epitomize both the American fighting spirit and Kinnard’s thirty years in uniform. Says his widow, Libby, “It never entered his mind not to do everything he could for his country.” JB

Liz Smith on Farrah Fawcett
[ 02.02.1947 – 06.25.2009 ]

Farrah Fawcett

Farrah Fawcett
Portrait illustration by HELLOVON

Farrah Fawcett became one of America’s most famous faces when, in 1976, she posed for a poster in a red bathing suit and shortly thereafter was cast on the TV show Charlie’s Angels. Born in Corpus Christi, she attended the University of Texas at Austin before moving to Hollywood. She spent much of her life in the tabloid spotlight for her relationship with actor Ryan O’Neal and sought legitimacy onstage and on-screen, often playing battered or abused women (The Burning Bed, Poor Little Rich Girl, The Apostle). Fawcett posed for Playboy in 1995—the issue sold more than four million copies worldwide—and again in 1997. She died at age 62.

Liz Smith is a journalist and gossip columnist who covered Fawcett throughout her career. She is a co-founder of the web site

Farrah was extremely genuine. What struck me in our conversations was that at some point she’d always mention her parents. Even if she was defending herself for the Letterman appearance or thanking me for something in my column, the conversation would always lead to her parents and Texas. That was impressive. She was a lovely presence—and knowing so many celebrities, it’s rare for me to say that. She rarely called to promote anything. She’d call to thank me for writing something nice about her or for defending her.

One of her best performances was in Poor Little Rich Girl. It’s instructive, because she plays a famous woman who is used and abused by men. So many stars end up playing some version of themselves; I think Farrah was trying to tell us something about her life. When she was young, it was all about the big hair and the smile. But whatever she felt about her looks, it wasn’t what she fell back on in her films. Take her role in The Apostle—again, another serious, suffering woman. There was a melancholic quality to her that expressed itself through her work; I found her most convincing in these painful roles. I’d always wonder whether it was an unconscious thing or something she was trying to work out in her life with Ryan O’Neal, which was certainly fraught. They were together eighteen years; she was one of those women who is very invested in the man. My feeling was that it wasn’t some dark secret in her past haunting her—it was just the craziness of becoming an iconic figure. Farrah was essentially the girl-next-door type, and then she became famous overnight based on a poster and a few episodes of Charlie’s Angels. When she went to Europe, she was mobbed like a great movie star. But she wasn’t one—it was her look that captured everyone’s imagination. She was known only for her look. That has to do something to you inside. So if you consider her roles, it’s not just that she wanted to prove she could act but also that she wanted to get away from an image she felt unworthy of.

Few people, even if they are beautiful, wake up and think, “I’m hot stuff.” You’re faced with your reality. In the beginning you wonder, “What is everyone doing?” But then as your career continues, you get confused, and you think, “How do I keep this going?” All that applies to Farrah. She made odd choices that I didn’t write about because I liked her too much to criticize her. She had her issues with aging. I was frankly shocked by the Playboy thing—not that she did it, but that she did it when her son, Redmond, was ten. That’s an age when your mother naked in Playboy is not something you want to see. But she was always a sweet girl from Texas. She may have been a fragile character, but she also had considerable strength. It’s the old steel butterfly story. AS TOLD TO MIMI SWARTZ

Ornette Coleman on David “Fathead” Newman
[ 02.24.1933 – 01.20.2009 ]

David “Fathead” Newman

David “Fathead” Newman
Portrait illustration by HELLOVON

David “Fathead” Newman first picked up the saxophone as a teenager. Born in Corsicana and raised in Dallas, he attended Jarvis Christian College, in Hawkins, before deciding to devote himself to music full-time. He played in R&B and bebop bands led by Buster Smith and Red Connors, and in 1954 he joined Ray Charles’s R&B group. Through 1964 he arranged and played alto and then tenor sax on many of Charles’s biggest hits, such as “Hit the Road Jack” and “What’d I Say.” After moving to New York City, Newman became an ace accompanist, backing everyone from Aretha Franklin to Herbie Mann. Known for his soulfulness and musical versatility, he also recorded almost forty albums of his own, including this year’s The Blessing. He died at age 75.

Ornette Coleman, a saxophonist and composer who pioneered the free jazz movement, met newman when they were teenagers. his latest album, Sound Grammar, won a pulitzer prize in 2007.

Fathead was a beautiful human being, and he played fantastic. He was one of the most profound tenor players, though he also played alto. He was a very natural person.

I was born in Fort Worth, and he was from Dallas. I would go to Dallas to play, and he would come to Fort Worth to play. We played in jam sessions, and when we were teenagers, we would get together and play in parks. I liked to go to Dallas because the musicians had a particular kind of improvising; they used to play in so many different keys. I thought, “This is good.” In Fort Worth, most of the songs people liked were church songs.

I also liked going to Dallas because of the quality of the guys playing. The city was never identified with any class or race; I never heard anyone speak about someone from Dallas as being black or white or anything else. They just used their names, which was very healthy. So even if the musicians didn’t know each other, they still got along.

Dallas was a powerful place for people to go and find an identity they hadn’t heard. Where I lived, it was a lot of cowboy music. But there, it was more like improvising, more like “Let me see what you can do.” Fathead and I, we would never worry about the style of what we were playing. The more people we found who played bebop, the more free we were. We played with Red Connors, who opened my eyes to what playing was. He would always find another resolution for the same notes. If he played a B and went to a C, the next day he would play the same B but it would represent another sound. I said, “Oh, my goodness. That’s true.”

Later on, Fathead was more popular than I was, as far as people he was playing with. He became known as an accompanist. I think he played closer to the sound of the person singing, the emotion of the person more than the sound of the note. Most vocalists don’t hire you to play the melody; they hire you to back up the resolution of how the melody moves. In jazz, the melody is something to improvise from, but it doesn’t have to be the domineering quality making you hear what you want to play.

Fathead always sounded to me like a preacher, like a preacher preaching. What the preacher does is take the diatonic key and put that into the verses of the Bible. What a musician does with a horn is put the changes of bebop into an idea. You don’t have to be religious to do that, and you don’t have to be any particular race. It’s about finding something inside you. AS TOLD TO MICHAEL HALL

Ann Campbell, 85
[ 12.23.1923 – 08.03.2009 ]

Ann Campbell planned on having only one child, but she and her husband, B.C., ended up with no fewer than eleven Campbells. When B.C. suffered a heart attack in 1966, she was left to raise them on her own. Stressing the importance of hard work and faith in God, Campbell refused to take handouts, instead scratching out a living cleaning houses and selling roses she grew behind the family’s ramshackle home, in Tyler. “When it rained, we had to get buckets for the water coming through the roof,” remembers her sixth-oldest child, Earl, who famously went on to cinch the 1977 Heisman Trophy while playing for the Texas Longhorns. “I always said, ‘Mom, one day I’m going to build you a house so when you look up at night, you can’t see the Big Dipper.’ ” He made good on his promise in 1978, when he signed with the Houston Oilers. Until the day she died, Campbell proudly displayed her son’s Heisman atop an illuminated four-foot column in her living room. PC

Betty Buckley on Horton Foote
[ 03.14.1916 – 03.04.2009 ]

Horton Foote

Horton Foote
Portrait illustration by HELLOVON

Horton Foote, a playwright and screenwriter, earned a reputation as one of America’s finest storytellers with plays such as The Young Man From Atlanta, which won a Pulitzer Prize, and his Oscar-winning screenplays for To Kill a Mockingbird, an adaptation of Harper Lee’s novel, and Tender Mercies, which featured Robert Duvall as a down-and-out country singer in rural Texas. Foote’s work, which was staged all over the country, was cherished for the way it portrayed the struggles and victories of ordinary people in the American South. Though he derived much of his inspiration from the stories and figures he knew in his hometown of Wharton, he imbued his characters with a dignity that made them universal and timeless. He died at age 92.

Betty Buckley is a tony award–winning actress and singer. She met Foote in 1981 on the set of Tender Mercies, in which she played country singer Dixie Scott.

I was living in los angeles when Fred Roos, who was Francis Ford Coppola’s producer and one of the great casting minds in Hollywood, called me up one day and said, “There’s this great screenplay by Horton Foote, and they need an actress who can sing country western. I’ve recommended only one. Go get the job.” At the time I was finishing my work on Eight Is Enough, which had been a really hard job. I had gone to acting school in New York with the dream of becoming like my favorite actresses: Geraldine Page, Kim Stanley, Gena Rowlands. I wanted to be an actress who conveyed truth. But the TV show rarely challenged me, and it could be frustrating. So Roos sent me the script for Tender Mercies, and when I sat down to read it, I wept. It was the most beautiful script I’d ever read. It was like a gift from God.

Horton spent every day on the set in Waxahachie. He had a full head of white hair and fluffy white eyebrows and this beautiful quality to him, and I was just enchanted. One day he spent the afternoon telling me stories about working with Page and Stanley and all the actresses I admired. I’d finally landed the kind of role I’d dreamed of, and here was this great American playwright who had written for and worked with all these women spending time with me. He was a classic Texas gentleman with a huge heart.

His compassion is what speaks through his plays. Tender Mercies is about alcoholism and recovery and family. It’s about forgiveness. Horton drew from his life in Wharton and the people he knew there, but he treated the characters in his stories with such humanity, even with all their flaws, that there’s an everyman feeling about them. I used to go to my grandmother’s house in Gainesville every summer—I remember the little white houses, the big trees—and the dignity and awareness that Horton brought to small-town life really resonated with me. There’s also a cadence to his writing that specifically captures being a Texan. There’s a musicality to it, a lovely languidness.

A number of years after Tender Mercies, there was a festival in Houston that was honoring Horton. Robert Duvall was there, as well as everyone else from the film, and as part of the festival I sang “Amazing Grace,” because Horton liked the hymn and it was one I could sing a cappella. Sometime later I was asked to do the same thing at a theater festival honoring Horton in Alaska, and after that, I essentially became Horton’s gala singer. Anytime there was an event in his honor, he would request for me to come and sing “Amazing Grace.” It became a routine: People would make speeches, Horton would get up to thank everyone, and then I would sing. He often mouthed the words. I remember singing in Alaska and looking in his eyes, and he radiated such light and affection.

Afterward we would hang out and tell stories, and the best part of it all was his laugh. He would crack himself up telling a story, and it was worth everything to hear him giggle. That was Horton. AS TOLD TO KATHARYN RODEMANN

Kazuo Inafuku, 64
[ 06.12.1944 – 03.27.2009 ]

For Kazuo Inafuku, running the Japanese-English newspaper The Southern Journal was a labor of love in more ways than one: Not only did he devote twenty years to the publication, writing and editing on nights and weekends (his day job was at an international freight company), but he also shared his editorial duties with his wife, Norma. As he typed up articles in Japanese—he cared particularly about community events and connecting his readers, who lived throughout the South, to one another—she wrote stories in English and handled the advertising. After meeting as college students in a karate class in Missouri, the couple lived in Okinawa, Japan, and then moved to Houston, where Inafuku soon founded the newspaper with the help of friends. He and Norma worked on layouts together. “We would argue about who was going to get what page,” she recalls. “He was such a gentle, humble person. But when it came to news, he could be hardheaded.” KR

Stephen Harrigan on Elmer Kelton
[ 04.29.1926 – 08.22.2009 ]

Elmer Kelton

Elmer Kelton
Portrait illustration by HELLOVON

Born in Horse Camp, in Andrews County, and raised on the McElroy Ranch, in Upton and Crane counties, Elmer Kelton wrote more than sixty books, including The Time It Never Rained and The Good Old Boys, which was turned into a made-for-TV movie starring and directed by Tommy Lee Jones. A seven-time winner of the Spur Award for the best western novel of the year, Kelton was known for his prodigious narrative ability and deep knowledge of ranching. He spent fifteen years as a livestock and farm reporter for the San Angelo Standard-Times. In 1995 the Western Writers of America named him the greatest western writer of all time. He died at age 83.

Stephen Harrigan is a novelist and screenwriter who first met Kelton in 1982. His most recent novel, Challenger Park, was published in 2006.

What always struck me about Elmer was how authentic and unshowy he was. None of his tremendous accolades ever budged him an inch from who he was: a hardworking guy from San Angelo who put a premium on doing his job and getting it right. There’s no calculation in his work. He did the job he had to do, as a novelist, of putting the pieces together and making them fit, but they were all honest pieces. This was a world he knew and was qualified to write about. I’m just now finishing up a novel that takes place in 1920, and in the last year or so, Elmer and I had several crucial conversations, because I had a character who was running a cattle ranch out in Shackelford County in 1919. I was scratching my head, trying to think, “Who could I call, who knows this stuff?” And I thought of Elmer. He was busy finishing his own book, one of his many books—he probably finished two books during the time he and I talked about mine—and he was just an encyclopedia of information. You know, like how you keep your screwworm medicine in a boot on your saddle. He described what it smelled like, and he described what kind of stoves there would be in my character’s house. He told me what kind of car the guy would be driving. We talked about whether there were pickups then, and he didn’t think so; he thought it would probably be just a regular Model T. It was a whole world he was able to offer me as a gift.

I feel a great debt to Elmer for all that and for the lessons I’ve learned from reading his writing over the years. He knew how to keep a story moving without making it one-dimensional. He observed carefully, he wrote carefully. He understood how people react in the situations in which he put them. There was no overabundance of language. It was precise and correct for what he was doing. To me, reading him, talking to him, observing him, he became, in many ways, a model of what a writer should be. You know, people always wanted to pigeonhole him as a pulp western writer. It was difficult for him to break out of that category into respectability. But he just kept at it, wrote the books he wanted to write, and wrote them the way he felt they should be written.

Elmer’s death is one of those measurable cultural moments, I think, because he represented one of the last links to a storied version of Texas. You felt the earth shake a little when he died. I’m glad I was able to talk to Elmer when I did about all this stuff, and I wish I’d talked to him about a lot more. But he wasn’t the kind of guy who encouraged idle conversation. He grew up in a time when you didn’t waste energy talking about nothing in particular. He was a classic West Texan. AS TOLD TO JAKE SILVERSTEIN

Enrique Peña, 73
[ 01.11.1936 – 07.31.2009 ]

“He was a workaholic,” Enrique Peña’s widow, Minnie, says. “We would get up at four o’clock, look at the Today show or sometimes put on FM music, drink our coffee, and talk.” Then Peña, a state district family court judge in El Paso, would get to work by six—not just weekdays but Saturdays and Sundays as well—and put in a full morning reading case files. In the 327th District Court, where Peña served from 1971 to 1991, he was as demanding of others as he was of himself. “If you were a lawyer in his courtroom and for some reason not prepared, boy, you’d get Henry’s wrath,” says criminal defense lawyer and longtime friend Joseph “Sib” Abraham. What drove Peña most was a desire to help the youngsters caught in the midst of the cases he heard. “These children were on their way to being wayward,” says Abraham. “And Henry always felt, ‘I need to talk to these kids.’ ” J. SALAMON

Joe Bowman, 84
[ 04.12.1925 – 06.29.2009 ]

Joe Bowman could shoot a playing card in half edgewise, “draw” a picture in sheet metal with multiple rounds, and fire a bullet at an axhead, splitting it in two and causing the fragments to extinguish two lit candles on either side of the blade. Known as the Straight Shooter and the Master of Triggernometry, the Tennessee native moved to Houston when he was twelve, where he opened his own boot shop after World War II. But his love for the quick draw and extreme marksmanship made him a celebrity at shows and festivals across the country—and earned him the chance to teach his craft to movie stars (Robert Duvall in Lonesome Dove, among countless others) and law enforcement officials. “I’ve seen fast, I’ve seen faster, I’ve seen fastest,” actor James Drury, who starred in the television show The Virginian, told reporters. “And then I’ve seen Joe Bowman.” BDS

Clarence Swensen, 91
[ 12.29.1917 – 02.25.2009 ]

Fans of The Wizard of Oz know Clarence Swensen, even if it’s difficult to say exactly where his character was on-screen. At four feet six-and-three-quarter inches (with a nickname like Shorty, he never overlooked the three quarters), the Austin native portrayed one of the Munchkin soldiers who escorted Dorothy as she started down the Yellow Brick Road on her quest to meet the great wizard in the Emerald City. Though Swensen made only $50 a week plus room and board (Toto reportedly earned $125 a week), it was more than enough to earn him a spot in movie history. “He appeared in only three films, one before The Wizard of Oz and one after,” says Myrna, his wife of 62 years. “That was his film career. But he loved it, and he loved talking about it. I accused him of being able to walk up to a telephone pole and start a conversation.” BDS

[ 08.27.1929 – 07.15.2009 ]

Maria de la Luz Nieto—or Lucha, as she was known—was a born performer. From her earliest days in Sabinal, when she won a singing competition at age nine, to her final ones in San Antonio, when she sang with the San Fernando Cathedral choir, she was happiest onstage and surrounded by music. She became popular in San Antonio and across the U.S. for her ardent renditions of traditional Mexican songs, belting out rancheras and norteñas to crowds in Chicago, Miami, and at West Side nightclubs such as Lerma’s, and for her corridos, whose subjects ranged from political figures—Henry Cisneros, Bill Clinton—to events such as 9/11. She kept composition books on hand at all times. “She felt so close to her music, she carried it with her, like a purse,” says her daughter Lourdes Bugher. In tribute to her lifelong passion, Nieto was buried in a favorite stage outfit: her pink charro suit. KR

Bobby “Tex” Moore, 76
[ 02.02.1933 – 06.13.2009 ]

Bobby Moore arrived in Corpus Christi in 1968 for one reason: to sell you a car. The Georgia native hawked Dixie Cream Donuts as a young man, but he hit his stride in Texas, at one point becoming the number three salesman in the nation for Chrysler. His slogan was “You get more with Moore,” and he was so good at his job that he could work one week, then spend the rest of the month either in his beloved Las Vegas or on the road with his pal Freddy Fender. Always the showman, Moore made sure his customers never forgot him by wearing green suits, red suits, and yellow suits—complete with matching ties, hats, and shoes. “He dressed a bit like Liberace,” says his son Bobby Junior, who owns the Stingray Alley dealership, in Corpus. “And he’d give you his custom-made hat if you bought a vehicle from him.” No wonder Moore’s tombstone includes his favorite word: “Sold.” BDS

Matt Martinez Jr., 63
[ 05.19.1945 – 03.13.2009 ]

The irony would not be lost on chef and restaurateur Matt Martinez Jr. that his most famous dish, Bob Armstrong Dip, bears another man’s name. The scion of a Tex-Mex restaurant dynasty, Martinez created his most lasting culinary legacy—an outrageous appetizer consisting of layers of taco meat, guacamole, sour cream, and chile con queso—at El Rancho, his father’s Austin restaurant, at the request of land commissioner Robert Armstrong in 1972. When Martinez moved to Dallas, in 1985, to start his own restaurant, the dish became a staple there too. Matt’s Rancho Martinez has for years attracted the city’s movers and shakers, and he once served a chicken-fried steak to Julia Child. But Martinez was most at ease with ordinary people. With his wry smile, neatly trimmed mustache, and jaunty hat, he looked like everyone’s favorite uncle. And in a way, he was. PATRICIA SHARPE

Patzy Swayze on Patrick Swayze
[ 08.18.1952 – 09.14.2009 ]

Patrick Swayze

Patrick Swayze
Portrait illustration by HELLOVON

Patrick Swayze was an actor best known for his romantic leads in the films Dirty Dancing and Ghost. Born and raised in Houston, he grew up in a family of entertainers. After graduating from Waltrip High School, he won a gymnastics scholarship to San Jacinto College, but he soon moved to New York City to pursue a career in ballet. Eventually he transitioned to acting, landing roles in productions of Grease and the movie Red Dawn. But it is Swayze as a heartthrob—People magazine named him the Sexiest Man Alive in 1991—that a generation of fans will remember. He died at age 57.

Patsy Swayze, an award-winning dance instructor, is Patrick’s mother. She is the founder of the Houston Jazz Ballet Company and served as the choreographer for Urban Cowboy and Hope Floats.

My husband, Jesse, was known as “Big Buddy,” so we called Patrick “Little Buddy.” My husband was just drop-dead gorgeous, and when Patrick was a boy, he looked so much like his dad. All five of my children took dancing lessons when they were growing up, but it was always their decision, not mine. Patrick was passionate about dancing, and he dedicated himself to it from the age of three. He was also very musical. He learned to play the violin and liked to sing in the school choir. And he never had stage fright—not that boy. He glowed in the spotlight.

Patrick loved to put on little productions at the house, and his first actual performance came when he was six. As he got older, he also participated in as many sports as he could: baseball, football, track, gymnastics, swimming. He was always active, and I think he was the lead in all of his school productions from junior high up. Every now and then, the kids at school would try to make fun of him. Once, when he was going from orchestra to dance class, some boys stopped him in the hall. I told him, “If they’re giving you trouble, just take those ballet shoes out of your pocket and beat the snuff out of them.”

I was fortunate to have a number of great students at my dance studio. One was Jaclyn Smith [who went on to star in Charlie’s Angels]. Another one of my prize pupils was Lisa Niemi. After high school, Patrick went on a national tour with Disney on Parade, and he played the role of Prince Charming. When that ended, he came back to Houston for a bit. That’s when he met Lisa. Back then we did a lot of work with various Houston dance groups and the Houston Grand Opera. I paired them together, and that’s how they got so close. They just hit it off, and it was obvious at the dance studio that they were inseparable. I think they fell madly in love from the day they met. They married in 1975, and she became his dancing partner throughout life.

Patrick and Lisa then moved to New York. It’s scary when your young son leaves home for good. We were thrilled that he had so many opportunities, but we were focused on him keeping his head out of the clouds. Yet because we were a theatrical family and that’s the way my children were trained, I was not at all surprised by his success. There were few male actors who could sing and dance. We just expected it, I guess. And even though he was kind of a celebrity from the time he was a child, he’d tell me about his movie success, “Mother, I can’t believe all of this is happening to me. I hope I’m worthy of it.” as told to BRIAN D. SWEANY

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