(This is too wonderful a story not to read. - promoted by Karl-Thomas Musselman)
It’s kind of odd, but when I think about Ann today, my mind keeps roaming back to two colors: orange and blue. Lemme explain.
In 1989, I had the honor of serving as Ann’s travel aide for a day on a trip through East Texas. In Texarkana and Lufkin, she gave speeches to business leaders about the success of her unclaimed property program and how the state’s economic prospects were tied to improving public education. For her, it was pretty tame stuff, but it was what she needed to do to show she was more than a life-support system for wicked one-liners.
However, our landing in Orange signaled that something new was up. As the plane taxied to a stop, we peered out the window and saw about a dozen men waiting to greet us. Every one of them was wearing the brightest orange, double-knit blazer you’ve ever seen. I’m talking about an orange as bright as the orange sherbet at El Azteca (as it turned out, they were all members of the Orange Chamber of Commerce).
She turned and looked at me with that now-famous mischievous grin and said, “Now isn’t that the most wonderful thing you’ve ever seen?”
Outside, she was greeted like a rock star that had dropped into a small town nobody cared about. It was all big smiles, dainty handshakes and kisses on the cheek.
We climbed into a limo that fell into a motorcade led by a crazed constable in an orange Comaro – with flashing lights affixed to the top – roaring up the street at 60 miles an hour and screeching to a halt at each intersection to block cross-traffic. Ann gave me one of those mischievous grins again. I felt like the groupie that I was.
We arrived at some hall – a hotel or convention center or something – where they were holding the annual NAACP dinner and Ann was the featured speaker.
As we entered the room, folks rushed toward her, a scene that would be repeated over and over in the coming years. Men and women, old and young, of all races and ethnicities, of all persuasions, were drawn to her. As Molly Ivins would put it, Ann had Elvis.
Frankly, I was surprised by the diversity of the crowd. All the local Anglo elected officials were there. Their shaved necks gleamed like fireballs, yet there was a comfort level in the room that suggested these people knew and respected each other.
As it came time for Ann to speak, I told her the press had left, so we wouldn’t be getting any coverage of her speech. I expected her to be unhappy about it, but she wasn’t and went back to adding notes in the margin of her already beautiful speech.
When she started, I recognized the words as they flowed along. But you could also see and hear that Ann’s emotions were building, unlike the day’s previous speeches. Somewhere along the line – maybe 15 minutes in – she cast the speech aside and started roaring with a fury the likes of which I’ve never seen before or since. The crowd went crazy – repeatedly interrupting her with standing ovations and screams and shouts and amens.
It all came so fast and furious that I don’t remember the words. But it left a deep, permanent impression on me and I suspect everyone in that room. Afterward, I felt like I’d stood in the face of a hurricane.
So yeah, when I think of Ann, I’m going to remember orange.
And blue, the gleaming blue eyes of her granddaughter, Lily, set against the brilliant blue of the Texas flag as Ann held her aloft after telling us there could be a New Texas. And there was for a time. We owe it to Ann to make it so again.