Robert Gary (R. G.) Ratcliffe’s name first appeared in a newspaper when he was five years old. In what he would later describe as a huge embarrassment to his mother, Ratcliffe managed to shift the family’s parked car into gear and went for a cross-street joyride before striking a neighbor’s house. A five-year-old making off with the family car was enough to attract several local TV stations and the newspaper—and get picked up by the wire service so that it went nationwide, the 1959 equivalent of his story going viral.
After growing up in Dallas, Ratcliffe headed to college at the University of Missouri, where he got a degree in journalism and American history. Then, for more than four decades, Ratcliffe went on to chronicle history, particularly the history of modern-day Texas politics. Ratcliffe will be retiring at the end of the year after having graced the pages and website of Texas Monthly during the final chapter of a stellar career. “I’ve known about him for the last 23 years,” said Texas Monthly editor in chief Rich Oppel, who also was executive editor of the Austin American-Statesman. “I frequently winced when R. G. would beat us to the punch on a breaking story or, worse yet, an investigation.”
While a young reporter with the Florida Times-Union, Ratcliffe covered the trial of serial killer Ted Bundy. After returning to Texas and doing a stint with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Ratcliffe joined the Houston Chronicle’s Austin bureau, where he built a reputation as being one of the best political reporters in Texas. He was one of only three reporters who heard then front-running candidate for governor Clayton Williams make his now-infamous quip comparing rape to rain (“If it’s inevitable, you might as well enjoy it,” Williams said). And he is one of only five reporters listed in the Internet Movie Database entry for the George W. Bush documentary Journeys With George, in which he had a starring role.
He began doing work for Texas Monthly in 2011 and became a full-time staffer in 2017. His tenure at Texas Monthly is somehow fitting for a magazine that earned a national reputation thanks, in part, to the political reporting of legendary writer Paul Burka. And while Ratcliffe did not spend as much time at the magazine as Burka, he carried on the Burka legacy of insightful political reporting. Political editor Carlos Sanchez spoke with Ratcliffe about his career, the Texas sport of politics, and his love of history, particularly Texas history.
And here is a collection of some of the most well-read pieces that Ratcliffe wrote for Texas Monthly: