By Glenn Dromgoole
It took them about 40 years to write it, but Gaylon Finklea Hecker and Marianne Odom have produced an excellent book of oral history – Growing Up in the Lone Star State: Notable Texans Remember Their Childhoods (Briscoe Center for American History, $39.95 hardcover).
They started interviewing interesting/successful Texans in 1981, completing 28 of them before “life got in the way” and the project languished in drawers for 27 years. Fortunately, they revived it, added another 19 interviews, and found a publisher.
This is an engaging book to read, with 47 Texans from various walks of life talking about their Texas childhoods. The subjects, some of whom are now deceased, range from movie, music, and sports celebrities to those who have made their names in business, politics, education, religion, medicine, military, and communications.
Here’s a sampling: Lady Bird Johnson, Archbishop Patrick Flores, billionaire Red McCombs, Rep. Senfronia Thompson, former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, pitcher Nolan Ryan, author Sandra Brown, golfer Ben Crenshaw, college president Ruth Simmons, singers Trini Lopez and Jimmy Dean, and actresses Debbie Reynolds and Sandy Duncan.
Several with ties to Abilene are included: Joe Armstrong, who grew up here and became publisher of Rolling Stone and other magazines; Sarah Weddington, the McMurry grad who successfully argued Roe v. Wade before the Supreme Court; Liz Smith, who attended Hardin-Simmons before making her name as a New York celebrity columnist; and former Exxon CEO and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, brother of Abilene’s Dr. Rae Ann Hamilton.
You may find yourself comparing their Texas childhood experiences to your own.