Like a mildly successful game show contestant, George W. Bush will leave the White House a few Januaries from now with some lovely taxpayer-funded parting gifts: an annual stipend of $157,000, Secret Service protection, secretarial help, even free postage for life—all courtesy of the 1958 Former Presidents Act. By contrast, when he left the statehouse earlier this year, he received … next to nothing. Other than health insurance and a modest pension based on the salary of a state district judge, he got not so much as a gold watch from his constituents. Without the equivalent of a Former Governors Act on our books, he was left to fend for himself (or would have, had it not been for his new gig). No bodyguards. No steno pool. No stamps!
You might think that life as a former governor of Texas would be pampered and glamorous. But except for “43,” the previous occupants of 1010 Colorado Street have found the joy of ex to be elusive, at least at first. For one thing, there’s the mental transition from ruler to ruled. “It’s a shock to have everything that comes with the office and then immediately go back to being an ordinary citizen,” says Dolph Briscoe (1973-1979). For another, there are the physical realities, such as getting around on your own. “More and more I miss the fact that I had someone to do the parking for me,” says Mark White (1983-1987). Still, the five surviving exes who aren’t the leader of the free world have managed to make lives for themselves that are as interesting, if perkless, as their personalities.
Take Preston Smith (1969-1973). After his second term was up—until 1974, governors served for two years rather than four—the feisty veteran pol returned to Lubbock with his wife, Ima, and got into the money business: He signed on as a fundraiser at his alma mater, Texas Tech, and joined the boards of two banks. The former went better than the latter. Smith was able to help Tech raise $600,000 right off the bat to complete construction of the university’s Ranching Heritage Center, but the banks got walloped by the economy of the late seventies. “Interest rates got so dadgum high that people couldn’t pay off their loans,” he recalls. In the years that followed, Smith dabbled in public relations and real estate and tried unsuccessfully to recapture the governor’s office, but Tech remained his great passion. Nearly three decades later, he maintains a busy schedule as the administrative assistant to the chancellor—at age 89. (Ima Smith died in 1999.) “I’m in better shape than I’ve been in years,” he says. His secret? Plenty of sleep, clean living, and rigorous exercise three to five times a week. What he misses most about being governor is “the association with so many friends all over the state,” though he’s making new ones every day. “Lordy, mercy, it’s hard sometimes for me to walk down the street,” he says. “People recognize me, and they want to visit. I like that.”
Briscoe, Smith’s successor, misses the Governor’s Mansion most of all. He first spent the night there when he was nine, at the invitation of then-governor Ross Sterling, his father’s business partner. “He let me sleep in Sam Houston’s bed,” Briscoe remembers. “I liked it, and I always wanted to go back.” The longtime rancher got his chance, and he describes being governor as “the greatest opportunity a Texan can have.” When his second term was over, he and his wife, Janey (who died last year), rented a friend’s house in San Antonio, where they remained for nineteen years. Like Smith, Briscoe turned to banking, serving as a director of Alamo National Bank until the great shakeout of the eighties. Today he is the chairman of three “country” banks, in Uvalde, Pearsall, and Crystal City. “It has been a very rewarding experience,” he says with a chuckle, “but it’s really an opportunity to make a difference in a rural community.” Ranching, however, continues to be his