I went to Ann Richards' memorial service this morning. It was a spectacle - almost 4,000 people, lots of celebrities (political and otherwise), that kind of thing. I'd never been to a political funeral before. Apparently the normal rules (don't applaud, don't show up wearing fishnets and/or a sequened turquoise jacket, don't walk out after the headline eulogizer, stand up and be quiet until the family exits) don't apply, especially when Hillary Clinton is giving a campaign speech - I mean, eulogy. And why the President (who claims Texas through and through even though he wasn't born here) couldn't be bothered to come to his home state for an important funeral is beyond me. Everybody else - from Lady Bird Johnson on down - was there, including loyal Republicans Kay Bailey Hutchison and the Governor.
The service was full of music, laughter, and tears. Lyle Lovett, Willie Nelson, and Nora Jones were playing before the UT Faculty Brass Quintet started the pre-service music. And I suppose if the best you can do for live music is to get Jessye Norman to sing "Ave Maria," well, we have to take what we can get. Wow, was it beautiful, as was the Wesley United Methodist Church Intergenerational Choir. Ron Kirk and Henry Cisneros gave standard eulogies, Liz Smith told hilarious stories, and Hillary talked a lot about continuing Ann's legacy. (She also said that Ann told her that, in regards to her hair, "You have to make a decision." She also said, with respect to her role organizing Texas for the McGovern campaign in 1972, "What happens in Austin stays in Austin.") They showed a film of snapshots (to the sounds of Willie's "Don't Fence Me In," Jerry Jeff Walker's "What I Like About Texas," and "Love Lift Us Up" (Hey, 2 out of 3 ain't bad). The images of the thousands of ordinary Texans who marched up Congress Avenue to the capitol on her inauguration day were especially powerful - she opened our state government to everyone - and those thousands of ordinary Texans showed up to remember her this morning. Here is the service if you want to watch it.
But for me, the best part of the service was the speech by her granddaughter Lily Adams. Lily's picture with her grandmother when the former was a little girl is famous in Texas, and Richards often talked about Lily as representing her hopes for the future. A giant banner of that photo hung to the right of the stage today. But Lily said it all: "To you she was the governor. Or Ann. To us, she was Mamie." Her speech was simple, direct, and full of sadness and love. She closed by saying, "She was fond of telling people she had eight nearly perfect grandchildren. I'm here to say we had a nearly perfect grandmother."
I saw Ann Richards in person only once in real life, at South by Southwest, at the screening of The Boys of Baraka. She slipped in late, sat down directly behind me, two rows up, and just smiled when everyone (and I mean everyone) turned around to gape. She wanted to watch the movie, and maybe she wanted us to watch the movie, too. It's a story of hope for the hopeless, and opportunity for children who don't get opportunities. And that was what Ann Richards was ultimately about, as everyone from a United States Senator to a nineteen-year-old grandchild said today. May we remember that legacy and carry that work forward.