The Audacity of Hope

Photograph by Michael O'Brien

I have a very clear memory of returning from a birthday trip with my wife to Paris, where we were blissfully unaware of the awful happenings back home. This was in late April 1998, when cell phones weren’t ubiquitous and BlackBerrys didn’t exist—even e-mail was in limited use—so my first stop when we landed at DFW airport was a pay phone near the gate where our connecting flight to Austin was boarding. To my great dismay, I had dozens of voice mail messages at the office marked “urgent.” The first few made me feel as if I’d walked into the middle of a conversation—I had—but from what I could gather, someone in the Texas Monthly family named Jan had been shot in the gut during a robbery in Mexico. The first panicked question I had was, “Which Jan?” At the time, there were three people with that name in our orbit—Jan Reid and Jan Jarboe Russell, both contributing editors, and Jann Baskett, our ex—marketing director—and all three were dear friends. The second question, once I learned the gravely injured “Jan” was Reid, was, “Is he going to survive?” That wasn’t clear. We could only hope.

The story of what happened before, during, and after has since been recounted by Jan several times, in these pages and elsewhere, so there’s no mystery about what came next. Thanks to the assistance of many Good Samaritans—some connected with this magazine and some not—he was airlifted to Texas in one piece and began his long convalescence at Memorial Hermann hospital, in Houston, in the watchful care of, among others, the famous surgeon Red Duke. Jan was by no means himself and still isn’t. He has had to adjust his once vital, athletic bearing to the consequences of the tragedy. He has been and remains, occasionally, in great pain. His mobility has been forever hampered. The simplest, most blithely taken-for-granted aspects of his daily life are significantly more complicated. There are things he just cannot do, or cannot do without great preparation and effort and tumult.

But he has persevered, as he writes with characteristic understatement in “ Citizen Cane ”, a memoir of sorts that marks the tenth anniversary of that dark day. It’s a testament to his courage and strength that he does not complain about his lot, not in this piece or any other I’ve read and not in person—not even in weak moments or with a bit of drink in him. He and his extraordinary wife, Dorothy Browne, have endured so much over the years with grace and dignity and a remarkable sense of humor. Even the resolutely secular among us can surely agree, as he himself argues, that Jan’s life has been blessed. Ours has too. Knowing him, and not losing him, has been a true gift.

I cannot let the moment pass without acknowledging the retirement of one of our longest-tenured colleagues. Only our founder and publisher, Mike Levy, has spent more time as an employee of Texas Monthly than Hope Rodriguez (see Contributors). As an assistant in the art department for 34 years—literally half her life—Hope worked for every single editor and all but one art director and alongside every single person to walk these halls. Her title was “art coordinator,” but it may as well have been “conscience.” Caring for and returning photos and illustrations to our contributing artists was her official job description, but what she really did was play den mother, keeping two generations of whiny, moody, elitist, foulmouthed egomaniacs in line. Always smiling, never judging, she made rough-around-the-edges types into decent, upstanding citizens by her moral, ethical, spiritual, philanthropic example. There will never be another like Hope—and we’re all better for what she taught us.

Next Month

Willie Nelson, the war over abstinence, Jerry Patterson, the welcoming community of Farmers Branch, and—speaking of which—Kinky Friedman’s open letter to Christians.

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