Rodeo Austin picks new leader

Rob Golding, new CEO of Rodeo Austin.

Rodeo Austin,  one of Austin’s signature events, has a new leader. Rob Golding, who has served in the past decade as founding principal, chairman and CEO of Live Oak Gottesman, a commercial real estate development and services company, takes over the venerable group that emphasizes entertainment and education, as well as preserving the culture of the West.

“(Golding) brings a strong background and expertise in executive leadership roles and community engagement,” said Laura Estes, director of marketing & merchandising for H-E-B said. “Rob will continue the vision and lasting impact Rodeo Austin delivers in empowering the youth of Greater Austin with entertaining and meaningful hands-on learning opportunities.”

Golding is no stranger to public service. He has been involved at the board level with numerous local organizations including the Urban Land Institute, Capitol Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America, Salvation Army, Austin Economic Development Corporation, Greater Austin Crime Commission, Health Alliance for Austin Musicians and the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce.

“It is an honor to step into this role with Rodeo Austin,” Golding said. “The board, staff and incredible base of volunteers have built a terrific organization and I look forward to working with them on innovative ways to grow the presence and impact of the organization. I found the mission and professional challenge at Rodeo Austin irresistible.”

First envisioned in the 1930s, Rodeo Austin started as a livestock show staged across the street from the State Capitol. It later moved to the City Market at Seventh Street and East Avenue, then the City Coliseum near the Palmer Auditorium on the south riverfront. The first two utilitarian structures were demolished, the third was recycled as the Long Center for the Performing Arts.

After the rodeo moved to its current facility, the Travis County Expo Center on Decker Lane, it grew in size, but grew away from core Austin culture. No more parades down Congress Avenue. No more office closures or class cancellations. A breakdown of attendance is usually not made available, but it appeared for years that the group’s carnival far outstripped the rodeo sports, concerts or the nearby livestock show in popularity.

For decades, the rodeo’s powerful board of directors remained resolutely the province of a few loyal families.

Longtime CEO, Bucky Lamb, parted amicably with the group several months ago, according to rodeo spokeswoman Jennifer Stevens.

Hearing from a Gabour family member about the UT Tower shootings

Photo: Time

We’ve heard from dozens of readers who wanted to share their stories about Aug. 1, 1966, when Charles Whitman‘s horrific spree from the University of Texas Tower initiated the modern era of mass public shootings.

They have been responding to the American-Statesman’s extensive reporting on the 50th anniversary of the tragedy.

We had not, until now, heard much from the Gabour family, who were among the first shot inside the Tower on that terrible day. For 50 years, they have remained mostly silent.

Today, Jim Gabour, wrote a powerful piece for the Guardian about the deaths of family members Marguerite Gabour Lamport and Mark Gabour, as well as the critical wounding of Mary Francis and Mike Gabour.

He aslo makes connections to a sniper who later took shots at people from the Howard Johnson’s in New Orleans.

New Orleans police officers fire into a concrete cubicle atop the Howard Johnson hotel, where Mark Essex was holed up. Photograph: GE Arnold/AP

Here’s how the story begins (follow the link above and read it all):

“I remember when word came in. I was home from school for the summer, doing full-time manual labor at my family’s small weekly newspaper in Central Louisiana. We were home for an afternoon meal when the heavy old black telephone receiver rang in the kitchen. Maybe I sensed something and instinctively knew it wasn’t one of my buds, because I did not rush to the phone as usual.

My father took the call.

He was standing at first. I watched the pale, disbelieving look grow on his face as he slowly sat on the kitchen stool, the phone poised a few inches from his ear, stopping to stare at it every few seconds like it was something horrible, something foul.

He held on to the windowsill like he was dizzy. I stood a few feet away and watched silently, not wanting to intrude. Something was happening here; something was being told to my father. Something bad.”


If the #Texit comes, count on an #AusTexit

First, the #Grexit didn’t happen.

Then, the #Brexit did.

Now, regional nationalists and the usual rump caucus of secessionists are talking about a #Texit.

If that happens — and legally, it can’t — we’ll be hearing about #AusTexit.

Capitol of AusTex. Christopher V. Sherman,

Though we are proud Americans and Texans, would Austin really want to stick around a new nation that regularly treats the city as if it were a child who shouldn’t make its own decisions?

For decades, we’ve called that kind of periodic legislative abuse — attempted reversals of our democratically resolved ordinances — “Austin bashing.”

Look, if we left with just the population in the immediate Austin vicinity, say, 1 million of the 2 million in the metro area, we’d still be bigger than 74 of the world’s countries and dependent territories, according to WorldoMeters.

We’ve already got a pretty nice Capitol (see above). And think what we could do with all that state land that sits untended and untaxed. We’ve probably got enough good barbecue and Tex-Mex on hand to last a while.

Then, if we wanted to re-join the United States, we’d be like West Berlin during the Cold War. Some latter-day version of JFK could airlift us goodies blocked by Texas border guards.

Kind of like Scotland and Northern Ireland these days, thinking about their next step in a post-EU Britain, maybe Austin should keep that in mind.

Austin reacts to a proposed gondola system

When I posted a link to an American-Statesman commentary by Brigid Shea and Jared Ficklin about a proposed gondola system to help alleviate traffic, the response was predictably divided.

A few dozen readers gave the idea a thumbs-up. Others dissented thoughtfully.

Frog Design

Jake Billingly would prefer “a very large fleet of electric buses using existing roads.” I regularly take buses currently on those roads and, while they are a key part to my personal transit strategy, they still get caught in traffic and perform far better traveling north-south than east-west.

J Richard Smith was disappointed about what would be abandoned: “No light rail, but that?!” Light rail is very expensive, it tears up roads, takes away lanes, and takes seemingly forever to build. I use them in other cities, but they are already built.

John Havard Macpherson wants “moving sidewalk, Google and other technologies that work better than the 80-year-old cable car concept.” True, gondolas aren’t new, but that’s one of the selling points. They have proven to work in other cities. He also endorses a monorail, but those are also expensive and more disruptive during construction.

Later that morning, my husband, Kip Keller, looked up from the newspaper — an even older technology — to say: “Hey, am I missing something, or is this really a good idea? I don’t see any downside.”

Well, I was skeptical at first because I’m deathly afraid of heights, but the idea of stringing the first line along South First Street seemed a stroke of genius.

This is a narrow thoroughfare — a block from our house — that can’t be expanded without knocking down a lot of buildings. Also, the existing sidewalks are similarly narrow as well as uneven and would be hard to support a movement mechanism.

One could take wheelchairs, bikes, strollers and dogs onto gondola cars. They’d come every few minutes. They are air-conditioned. I’m not editorializing, but let’s give this idea a shot.

Orlando shooting report prompts return to 2001 Austin LGBT survey

Last night, we attended the Orlando vigil on West Fourth Street. Despite some antagonists posted on the fringes of the crowd of perhaps 1,500, the event couldn’t help but be moving. The LGBT community and its allies stood tall in all their gorgeous diversity. 


Yesterday, before the vigil, I wrote about how the Orlando shooting related to a sense of LBGT safety in Austin as it has evolved over the past five decades or so. Lots of cool links there to previous stories, too.

One we couldn’t find online was the following article, “Voices of Gay Austin,” written in 2001 by social scientist Sean Massey and myself. We dug it out of the digital archives, without the attendant photos, graphics and individual personality profiles.


But this should  do:

“An overwhelming majority of lesbians and gay men feel safe, comfortable and satisfied with the quality of life in Central Texas. Yet they miss certain aspects of traditional gay culture and community, such as social spaces, businesses and other resources dedicated to gay men and, especially, lesbians.

A first-of-its-kind newspaper study found that gay men and lesbians came to Central Texas for the same reasons that brought other newcomers — high levels of education, jobs, natural beauty and tolerance of difference. Yet they are less content with the lack of social opportunities in a city with no lesbian and gay community center or cohesive gay district.

The American-Statesman study, which did not employ random sampling, grew out of a Carnegie Mellon University finding that Austin ranked third in the nation — after San Francisco and Washington, D.C. — for concentration of gay couples among major cities. That same Carnegie Mellon research indicated a high rate of correlation between a city’s attractiveness to gay couples and to the high-tech industry.

More than 1,200 lesbian and gay Central Texans responded to the American-Statesman’s initial questionnaire, which ran in the Life & Arts section Aug. 26, 2000. Open-ended interviews with more than 40 of the survey participants revealed nuanced views of issues concerning the gay community, including:

* Gay men and lesbians who moved to Central Texas from elsewhere were more attracted to the general quality of life and economic prosperity than to its dispersed gay community. They love the natural beauty and laid-back attitudes, but hate the traffic, rising cost of living and sense of increasing political conservatism.

* Most reported being “out, ” or open, about their sexuality. Experiences of discrimination were rare when seeking jobs, housing or medical attention. Reports of discrimination were higher, however, while working on a job, shopping at an area business and in public places.

* Lesbian and gay Central Texans populate every walk of life. Not surprisingly, more than a quarter of the participants work in the high-tech industry. What may raise eyebrows is the indication of greater discrimination in government and education than in other occupations.

* Lesbians are less satisfied with the local culture and community than gay men, while Latinos expressed more satisfaction than non-Latinos. People in relationships — 69 percent of the participants — are more satisfied with the area’s culture than singles.

* Thirty percent of our Central Texas survey respondents are parents of children.

* Eighty percent identified themselves as having some religious persuasion.

Long ago, Austin earned a national reputation for tolerance of difference. Yet it never developed a visible gay district on the scale of Houston’s Montrose or Dallas’ Oak Lawn.

Many gay Central Texans seem to like it that way.

“There is no ‘gay ghetto’ here, ” said Richard Lee Williams, an advertising firm employee who grew up in San Antonio. “On the other hand, gay people are everywhere.”

Lesbians and gay men may live all over Central Texas, but without a street life, some, especially newcomers, encounter difficulty obtaining information about gay-specific and gay-friendly businesses and organizations.

Gay Austinites turn most often to the Texas Triangle, a statewide gay publication, for information, but they find its news and listings far from complete.

The lack of information leads to a feeling of disconnectedness.

“I think of community as a sense of belonging to something larger, in which people share similar outlooks and experiences, ” said Dan Quinn, who moved to Central Texas to attend Southwest Texas State University. “In a place like Austin — with no gay neighborhood or real center and where sharp cultural differences might be hard to see sometimes — it’s difficult to find community beyond your immediate circle of friends.”

Another problem for newcomers: If they are not inclined to Austin’s primarily gay male club scene — only one coffeehouse, Gabby and Mo’s, targets lesbian clientele — they encounter obstacles connecting face-to-face.

“It’s definitely more difficult in Austin than in larger cities, due to the fact that we don’t have many gay meeting places, ” says Tom Formann, who works for the software company Broadjump. “In my experience, the best way to meet is through private parties.”

“Women usually meet through friends or through social or athletic activities — softball, Lady Longhorns basketball or volleyball, ” says Sherry Scott, Web site manager at St. Edward’s University.

Certain Austin neighborhoods bear a reputation for relatively high gay and lesbian density — Wilshire Woods, Clarksville, French Place, Travis Heights, Allendale — a perception supported by a high concentration of survey responses from those ZIP codes.

So why didn’t Austin develop a coherent gay district like many other American cities in the 1960s and ’70s? Some survey participants point to Austin’s overall security and tolerance, thus the lack of need for safety in numbers.

“Gay Austinites don’t need the protection of a ghetto, ” finance and marketing consultant Eugene Sepulveda says. Comparing Austin to other cities, he says, “Where there is less comfort with being ‘out’ in public, people tend to be even more outrageous behind the closed doors and windows of gay bars.”

Among the other reasons offered by participants for local tolerance include higher levels of education and lower average age. Another reason may be changes in social values, partially attributed to the media and the gay political movement.

After all, gay men and lesbians — including Texas Rep. Glen Maxey and Travis County Sheriff Margo Frasier — hold high elective office in Central Texas.

“Nowadays, the stigma is gone, ” hardware store department manager Robert Salazar says. “Kids don’t seem to think anything of it.”

Something missing

Why, then, do many Austin gay men and lesbians report longing for the kind of traditional gay society that has developed in larger cities from San Francisco to New York?

Sepulveda suggests that it may come from a mutual sense of not fitting in while growing up: “There is a shared experience that, at some point in our lives, we worried that if people found out that we are different, they might not love us, ” he says.

A transcendent experience for today’s gay men and lesbians is coming out — meaning, being open about their sexuality — to friends, family and co-workers.

Indeed, according to the responses to the survey, gay men and lesbians feel comfortable being out in Central Texas: Ninety percent of those who responded reported that they are out with some, most or all of the people with whom they share their public and private lives.

Living in a city with welcoming churches helps. Eighty percent of those surveyed reported a religious allegiance. Metropolitan Community Church and the First Unitarian Universalist Church are known for their large gay and lesbian adherents, but Austin is home to chapters of Catholic, Episcopalian, Lutheran and Methodist gay and lesbian support groups, along with welcoming Baptist, Buddhist and Presbyterian congregations.

One disconcerting statistic: Forty-five percent were not out to all their heath-care providers, something that could prevent complete medical attention.

“It is a shame that we are not better at soliciting that information, ” said Dr. Hillary Miller, a general practitioner in a committed relationship with a woman. “(The patient) needs to say: ‘You know, there is this thing about me that may or may not impact on my health, but I just wanted to let you know.’ I don’t think it’s a good idea to be in a relationship that should be about two-way communication and you’re hiding a basic truth about yourself.”

While gay and lesbian Austinites are generally out, they sometimes encounter hostile environments working, shopping and, especially, in public — 35 percent reported discrimination in public places. Some described it as overt antagonistic behavior, some as the hurling of anti-gay slurs, and some simply as a perceived hostile atmosphere.

Anecdotally, these incidents consisted mostly of ill-placed jokes, the adolescent catcalls shouted from passing cars or minor vandalism, but some gay men and lesbians encountered inequities in how they were treated by employers and businesses.

“I have no domestic partner insurance at work, ” says a high-tech worker who asked that his name not be used for fear of retribution on the job. “This means my 59-year-old life partner, who is self-employed, has to pay exorbitant fees for his insurance, while other employees’ opposite-sex mates are covered by the company.”

The State of Texas does not specfically protect gay men and lesbians against employment discrimination, but the City of Austin does. That contributes to Austin’s reputation as a gay magnet, centrally located in a conservative region.

“Austin could not happen any place else but Texas, ” architectural historian Peter Flagg Maxson says. “But it is in no way representative of Texas. When I hear of anti-gay stances of the Legislature, read reactionary newspapers in other Texas cities or hear horror stories from friends elsewhere in the state, it makes me very, very glad to live in Austin.”

Lesbian differences

More confounding is the question of scarce lesbian social spaces, especially in a city that once fostered an active lesbian culture centered around feminist politics in the 1970s and ’80s.

Austin does support versions of Guerrilla Queer Bar (roaming parties that colonize otherwise mixed clubs and restaurants). In addition, a monthly social dance and fund-raiser, Club Skirt, is held at Fiesta Gardens. Still, there’s no exclusively lesbian bar.

Although lesbians complain about the lack of bars, clubs and other venues, business owners have found it difficult catering to them. Gabby and Mo’s, an eclectic coffeehouse on Manor Road, attracts crowds of lesbians for certain music acts or fund-raisers. Nevertheless, its owners are experiencing financial difficulties and are considering closing down.

“We tried to create a space for women in a social setting, ” co-owner Patty Carvajal said. “It’s hard. Some customers want something exclusively for women. We are not. Others are alienated by our straight customers or say we have too young a crowd. I say to them: ‘Make it your own.’ ”

Carvajal also humorously repeated the truism that: “Once women find girlfriends, they don’t go out.” Instead, they connect as couples through extensive networks of friends and colleagues — which leaves singles out in the cold.

Black lesbians face special obstacles related to traditional cultures.

“Being lesbian is un-African, ” says poet and independent filmmaker Chinwe Odeluga. “In the ’60s and ’70s, the whole idea was to be progressive. Being gay or lesbian was considered by many within the movement to be nonprogressive — it was European American — it’s a white thing.”

Odeluga, who praises the inclusiveness of the Latino organization, ALLGO, is trying to get lesbians of color to be more visible.

“You think you’re the only one, ” she says. “And, when you go to lesbian events, it looks like you are the only one — so many lesbians of color will not go to public gay events, but will instead go to someone’s house — watch sports or party, but won’t be out.”

Susan Post, longtime owner of the feminist shop Book Woman, urges newcomers to volunteer for charities or attend lectures or bookstore events to meet other women. She also thinks the charitable aspect of Club Skirt and its once-a-month schedule guarantee its success with women who prefer not to attend bars or clubs.

What’s missing in Austin, according to many survey participants, is a sense of larger gay identity. The loss of the Cornerstone community center several years ago — reputedly because of lack of interest among gay and lesbian Austinites — still saddens and confounds those who want a shared social space.

Meanwhile, other gay men and lesbians are more concerned with their level of comfort in a thoroughly integrated Austin. Dr. Miller foresees a time of greater acceptance for gay men and lesbians when they no longer worry about the subtle perception of judgment from other people, even at highly public events.

“When we’ve arrived, we won’t sit down during a slow song, ” Miller says. “If I had to say the one reason that I’d put a rainbow sticker on my car is so that my child or somebody else’s child in the next generation can go to an Austin club or a gala and feel free to dance to a slow song.”

Although increased social spaces and other resources would please Austin’s lesbian and gay community, many feel there is no need for a traditional gay ghetto.

“When people moving here ask me the location of the gay district, ” says real estate agent Todd Adkins, “I say, ‘We don’t have a gay neighborhood. We have a gay city.’ ”

Others feel that a special sense of gay and lesbian community is inevitable.

“We are as diverse as the entire world, ” Sepulveda says. “We are white, black, brown, yellow, male, female, Democrat, Republican, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Jewish, Muslim and every other population niche.

“Some folks warn that when we are fully assimilated and no longer discriminated against, there will no longer be any sense of community. But I don’t really see that happening. We’ll all probably still share that experience of once having a deepest, darkest secret, the one we couldn’t even let our mom and dad know because they might not love us anymore.

“So, yes, there is definitely a lesbian and gay community in Austin, ” Sepulveda says. “I feel part of it. I’m proud of it. But not all gays and lesbians feel the same way.”


Austin culture: The hot stories so far this year

These stories about Austin’s people, places, culture and history rang true with readers during the first six months of 2016.

Her first foray into open combat saved a fire station. In the early 1970s, the Austin city manager wanted to move the fire station on Kinney Avenue in the Zilker neighborhood to the other side of Barton Creek. “If the fire station was out there, from one direction they’d be blocked by trains, from the other direction by floods,” says Shudde Fath, who turned 100 on Monday. “I’d seen them save a child who was choking and a neighbor’s mother having a heart attack.”

Early on June 26, 2015 — the day that the crucial U.S. Supreme Court decision was announced — their phone rang and rang. A voice crashed over the line, “You guys can get married!” William “Bill” Lavallee drowsily replied, “We can’t afford to get married!” Two days later, friends of Lavallee, 88, and Forrest Hooper, 83, picked them up from their South Austin apartment to obtain a marriage license. The merry troupe arrived at the Travis County offices bristling with official papers collected over the couple’s 59-year partnership.

Seven years after civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down in Memphis on April 4, 1968, there was no public monument to his legacy in Austin. No statue. No park. No school. No street. No community center. Although it was relatively painless and inexpensive in April 1975 to change much of East 19th Street — the part that runs through East Austin from Interstate 35 to Ed Bluestein Boulevard — into Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, the battle for public recognition was far from over.


People thought they were crazy.Not that relatives, friends and coworkers actually believed that Gail Vittori and Pliny Fisk III were unbalanced in the 1970s. Just that their life goals and their choice of location — Austin — didn’t make conventional sense.  “People thought I was going off the deep end,” says Vittori, co-director of the globally admired Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems, about her early, idealistic search for the roots of human conflict. “A lot of what had fascinated me was how to democratize access to resources.”


The cottage at 1203 South Third St. hasn’t changed that much since the 1930s.“There was a store that sold wood in the next block,” says Ken Ashworth, gesturing across West Gibson Street. “My mother sent me up there with a nickel to fetch wood. At age 5, it was my first errand.” Ashworth, former Texas Commissioner of Higher Education, described this one-bedroom — now expanded — house with its little wood-burning tin stove in his magnificent 2015 memoir, “Phantom in the Family: Tracking Down My Runaway Father.” It was the first secure retreat for his mother and his three siblings, abandoned by their mysterious father, H.L., who had as many as nine children with five or possibly more wives.
In 1910, Antonio Rodríguez, a 20-year-old Mexican, was accused of killing Effie Greer Henderson at her ranch home near Rocksprings, close to the jagged southern slopes of the Edwards Plateau. A posse took him to the Rocksprings jail, but two days after the killing, a mob yanked him from his cell and burned him alive at the stake. His extrajudicial execution — one of many documented during the political violence along the border from 1910 to 1920 — caused an international diplomatic incident. Riots raged in Mexico City and along the Texas-Mexico border, just as Mexico was tilting toward a revolution that would send up to 1 million war refugees northward.
Bit by bit, historians add to history. They exchange findings. And, along the way, they make new friends. And look at what Richard Denney and Lanny Ottosen, two history buffs working separately, found: Two burgs dubbed Montopolis. One on each side of the Colorado River. In an American-Statesman article published Jan. 31, 2015, I described a personal tour of today’s Montopolis neighborhood on a muddy, chilly day. My intrepid guide was Fred McGhee, author of “Austin’s Montopolis Neighborhood.” As we zoomed around the semirural district in Southeast Austin by car and on foot, McGhee, a noted activist who trained as a marine archaeologist, pointed out remnants of the old settlement’s past.
Two Austin houses turn 175 this year. You know one — the French Legation — as the “oldest house in town.” Locals and tourists love this Creole-style home that rests on a steep crest; it was built for Alphonse Dubois de Saligny, France’s chargé d’affaires to the new Republic of Texas. A museum since the 1950s, it hosted a 175th birthday fête on March 5. You are probably familiar with the other handsome house — Boggy Creek Farm — because of its organic foodstuffs rather than its history. Yet builders likely finished both structures, the latter for settlers James and Elizabeth Smith, almost simultaneously in 1841 in what is now East Austin.

On Saturday, March 19 — as the 30th annual South by Southwest Festival wound down to a close — South Congress Avenue swam with locals and tourists. Though the weather had turned chilly, folks dressed in funky outfits strolled slowly up and down the wide sidewalks. Peaceful and relaxed, they stopped to chat, to drink in some street music, or to browse the hand-made crafts hawked by outdoor vendors. Some ventured into shops or eateries, virtually all of them locally generated. At scattered spots along the way, eager young activists used their charms to sign up passers-by for idealistic causes. Every once in while, one could catch the foxy whiff of a still-forbidden substance. If the alert observer squinted very hard — and blocked out decades of intervening memories — one could almost be transported to Austin’s Drag along Guadalupe Street opposite the University of Texas campus in the 1970s.  Sure, the hair is shorter, the crowd is more varied, the causes have evolved, and the prices on those modish crafts have skyrocketed. Yet so much about Austin’s culture in the 2010s reflects an unmistakable provenance in the 1970s.


Dapper in a dark jacket and jaunty hat, Roger Lambert relaxes in the gleaming lobby of the historic Gunter Hotel in San Antonio. His bushy, well-trimmed beard lends him a professorial air, and his wise eyes dance with avuncular warmth. When he sits down behind the grand piano in the hotel’s darkened Bar 414 to play his signature mix of jazz, blues and classical tunes, Lambert looks as if he has always belonged right there. How many of the spiffy bar patrons would guess that not long ago, Lambert — seven years homeless in Austin — had camped out in a bamboo jungle off of East Riverside Drive?



On Sept. 3, 1968, Robert Brooks, then 21 and president of the St. Edward’s University Students’ Association Inc., boarded Air Force One with Lyndon Baines Johnson, president of the United States, for a flight from Austin to Washington, D.C. The native Austinite had gone along with his father, Max Brooks, an architect and Johnson family friend, already at work on plans for the future LBJ Presidential Library. Onboard, the country’s leader, who had announced on March 31, 1968, that he would not seek re-election, pulled the younger Brooks aside and asked for his advice about the polarized Vietnam War homefront.


Early one February morning, nine history buffs huddled on the south shore of Lady Bird Lake. They carried with them maps in paper and digital editions. Egos left snugly at home, they readily shared anecdotes and insights about the potential Colorado River crossings of the Chisholm Trail, the multipronged Texas-to-Kansas routes for vast post-Civil War cattle drives, some of which were funneled through Austin. The nine gathered outside the youth hostel on Lakeshore Drive where Tinnin Ford Road dead-ends. How many Austinites who park here to jog or walk their dogs pause to wonder how this short, southwest-to-northeast street earned its name?
“Val M. Keating.” I certainly didn’t expect to stumble on those three words while looking into a Texas group that had reformed mental health care in the 1930s.  But there in black-and-white pages was a familiar name on a list of founding directors. That would be my grandmother, my mother’s mother. Alongside her name was an additional clue: “Texas Relief Commission.” All along I had known that Grandma Keating — a kindly but complex woman — had been a social worker. And that she had held fairly high positions in her field. Although I have researched diverse topics since the sixth grade, I had never bothered to find out more about her. A reminder: If you are interested in history, start with your family.
When Jim Ritts ascends the Paramount Theatre stage on Saturday for the populist palace’s annual gala, he will have much to extol. During 2015, the director of the Paramount and State theaters toasted the older venue’s 100th birthday with a string of parties, a careful revamp of its façade, and the crowning addition of a vertical sign absent from Congress Avenue for more than 50 years.  Ritts can look back, too, on the first five years of his tenure, which saw steady audience growth for movies, comedy, music and special events, including the scene-altering Moontower Comedy & Oddity Fest. And perhaps most importantly, plans for a key project that he has quietly promoted for years — a proposed 30-story tower to replace a derelict building at the corner of East Eighth Street and Congress Avenue — were made public recently. The tall “car-free” project will not only give the theater block a whole new look and feel, but also provide a floor of free offices for Ritts’ staff, along with extra cash to renovate the interiors of both theaters.
When Gobi-Kla Vonan served as a junior counselor at the Austin Sunshine Camps, he welcomed a 9-year-old boy on the first day. “He had never been to Zilker Park,” says Vonan, now 21 and studying architecture at the University of Texas. “And he lived in Austin.” Right away, Vonan filled in the new camper about Sunshine activities. “We’re going canoeing and swimming,” Vonan said. “We’ll have big-group games and small-group games. And team-building activities like ropes courses. You are going to have a good time and learn a lot.’” A similar welcome scene has been played out thousands of times since 1928, when the Sunshine Camps — founded by the Young Men’s Business League and the Travis County Tuberculosis Association — were first set up in the middle of Zilker Park.
When war broke out in Bangladesh in 1971, Mohsin Khataw was rebuilding jetties in Chittagong harbor, then part of East Pakistan. He was serving as project manager for a team of engineers from West Pakistan. “I was advised to leave,” Mohsin recalls of the bloody civil war between East and West that ended in Bangladeshi independence. “They said: ‘You are not very safe here.’ I had a team of West Pakistanis who begged: ‘Mr. Khataw, please go away.’ I couldn’t. … I can’t abandon my people. We were rounded up and put into prison. Very bad conditions.” When he was released on bail, Mohsin, disguised and pretending that he could not speak, flew through several Asian capitals before reaching his home in Karachi, Pakistan. “We did not know if he was alive or dead for nine months,” his wife, Amina Khataw, says. “If he even existed. When he came back, the airport was filled with people.”

Lisa Byrd has paid heed to East Austin history. She also has seen how the story can go astray. “There were freedmen, for instance, in Austin prior to Emancipation,” Byrd says. “Austin was a mecca in part because there already was a free black population. At one time, African-Americans made up 30-35 percent of the population.” The outgoing director of Six Square, formerly known as the African American Cultural Heritage District, grew up in Philadelphia. Being from somewhere else helped her bridge the gaps in the city’s shared memory about East Austin. She has observed the narratives ever more carefully since she was appointed in 2005 to the African American Quality of Life Initiative, a response to police mistreatment of the city’s black community, as well as to studies about local health, education and employment disparities.

1,000 Wins: Our Great Futures Spring Luncheon

It was enough just to hear all the great data.

How the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Austin Area has grown from three clubs to 26 in the past 15 years. How they’ve partnered with Austin ISD, Del Valle ISD, HACA and Southwest Key Programs. How they serve 12,000 kids a year and how 100 percent of their members graduate to the next academic level.


Kelly Crook and Nadia Battle at Our Great Futures Spring Luncheon for Boys and Girls Clubs of the Austin Area.

Yet for fans of Longhorns women sports, the best came last.

Always expansive emcee Brian Jones interviewed Jody ConradtKaren Aston and Chris Plonsky, all who contributed to the University of Texas women’s basketball team’s 1,000 wins.

I could have listened for hours, but one bit of data stuck in my brain: 99 percent of Coach Conradt’s students graduated.

Also astounding!

Gutsy tales at Austin Speech Labs event

Sometimes, live testimonials do the trick.

My colleague, Nicole Villalpando, effectively explained the role of Austin Speech Labs, a nonprofit that helps people recover from strokes, in a recent American-Statesman article.

Linda and Robert Lee at Austin Speech Labs Gala.

I was my turn to learn more at the One Word at a Time gala, set at the Four Seasons Hotel. Pre-dinner chat introduced me to some of the Austin Speech Labs players, among them medical doctors, but not to the meat of the matter.

Speeches in the banquet hall flowed by pleasantly, as did an impressive video that focused on stroke survivors. It’s pretty darn amazing that the group will take on a survivor for as long as they need to recover their words, for just $10 an hour. Even if it takes many years.

Divya Bharal and Dave Kapur at Austin Speech Labs Gala.

It was not, however, until two of them stood before 450 of us that the coin dropped. Not long ago, Lindy Jansky of Corpus Christi and Bill Hrncir of Laredo were struck silent by strokes. But here they were, speaking in public, telling their own stories, every so often visibly and audibly redirecting their words with incredible courage.

Vigorous nods of approval to founders Shilpa Shamapant and Shelley Adair, as well as honored advisors Dr. Everett Heinze and Dr. Thomas Hill.


Finding Innovation at the Future of Care Luncheon

Want a peek into the future? Attend Seton’s Future of Care Luncheon next year.

It’s here, years ago, that I first learned about the new University of Texas Dell Medical School and its partner, the Dell Seton Medical Center. It’s also at this lunch for civic and business leaders that I first heard about the integrated care model envisioned by Central Health and its partners, a medical path that some believe will be a blueprint for the rest of the country, if not the world.

Kristi Henderson and Griffin Mulcahey at Seton’s Future of Care Luncheon.

This time, I picked up futuristic clues from the finalists among 85 companies that competed in the first-ever Innovation Awards. As the super-sharp Kristi Henderson explained, this time the competition focused on links: distance care, cloud-stored medical records, a patient’s connected communities and so forth. Mind blowing stuff!

I also viewed a glossy video on preparations for mass trauma at the new teaching hospital, efforts headed by four battle-tested surgeons gathered there, along with top talents who have left their previous homes and jobs to join the Austin experiment.

Finally, emcee Pete Winstead, chairman of the medical center’s capital campaign and a veteran of past superhuman civic efforts, convinced me that Austin is going to be a life science center in the way of San Diego, Boston and other cities.

So add to a high-tech economy, manifold cultural activity, a quest for sustainability and widespread start-up capacity, another signature Austin theme.

Blue Lapis Light Lunch delights at Chez Zee

It’s always gratifying to see a benefit ideally matched to its cause.

Such is the case with the Blue Lapis Light Lunch for Blue Lapis Light at Chez Zee.

Jordan Hill and Gina Hill at Blue Lapis Light Lunch.

More than 50 lunchers soaked up the springtime decor and eats in the cozy banquet room as they chatted about everything under the sun. I was seated with author Sarah Bird (“A Love Letter to Texas Women”), consultant and journalist Khotan Shahbazi Harmon, lawyer and environmental activist Melanie Barnes (Waller Creek Conservancy), tech developer Michael Esposito (Blue Moon Software) and environmental strategist Melita Elmore (BSI).

So you can imagine the range and quality of the exchanges. Yet all eyes and ears were on Blue Lapis prophet Sally Jacques when she described the aesthetic and spiritual goals and deeds of her esteemed aerial dance company. Then, of course, came the eye-popping video of their high-flying exploits, which sealed the deal for the assembled backers.

Note of approval: The simple vertical card that showed the menu on one side and the pledge outreach info on the back.

Update: In a previous version of this post,  Khotan Shahbazi Harmon’s name was misspelled.