Sunday, June 30, 2013

Let the People In: The Life and Times of Ann Richards by Jan Reid

Ann is what I call her, although I should properly address her as Governor Richards. But then everyone calls her Ann, as if she were a close friend, a sister, a neighbor, still alive. 

We all read books through the veil of our own experiences. As I read Jan Reid’s absorbing book Let the People In: The Life and Times of Ann Richards, there was a parallel story running through my head. Where I was when Ann did this. The words I said to Mark McKinnon when that happened in the book. My shouting match with Lena Guerrero behind closed doors on a certain day in the book.

Yes, my position as the President of the Texas Women’s Political Caucus during Ann’s successful run for Governor of Texas was fortuitous. But this is a book review, and my stories about my relationship with Ann, and some of the other characters in her life-drama are for another day.

Jan Reid (pictured), longtime writer for Texas Monthly, begins with Ann’s youth in Waco, Texas, and ends with her tombstone in the Texas State Cemetery. In between he provides an entertaining look at how Ann goes from the high school debate team, to marriage and motherhood, recovering alcoholic, county commissioner, governor and icon.

 Many of the details in Reid’s book are repeats to anyone who has read Ann’s two books, Straight from the Heart and I'm Not Slowing Down. But what I did find very satisfying about Let the People In were the details about Ann’s gubernatorial administration; what she accomplished, what she didn’t accomplish; and why. The players, the disasters, the almost constant drama behind closed doors kept me awake and reading even though I already knew they were coming and the outcomes, which is a tribute to Reid’s writing.

Of particular interest to me was Ann’s relationship with Bob Bullock, the bulldog Lieutenant Governor. One minute they were close as kittens, the next they were fighting like brother and sister. Anther relationship struggle I was unaware of was between Ann and humorist, Molly Ivins. In fact, according to Reid, Ann had the capacity to irritate, antagonize and occasionally tear people apart. Some of the comments he gleaned from Ann’s staff were cautious, but clearly not complementary. And I did pick up a few tidbits I probably should have known, but didn’t. Like the fact that Ann managed Sarah Weddington’s successful Legislative bid in 1972.

Parts of Reid’s book are painful, like Ann’s struggle with alcoholism, and defeat at the hands of the Bush/Rove machine, but most was just good political intrigue and like Ann, fun.

One annoying thing that shouldn’t have bothered me but did, is the page after page implications of a love relationship between Bud Shrake and Ann. It just seemed to me it was more of a flirtation than a genuine love affair. They wrote fun and loving notes to each other, which Reid sprinkles like cookie toppings throughout the book, but Reid also implies that Shrake and Ann were very seldom together. To me that just does not add up to what Reid calls, “Ann’s second greatest love.” But then Shrake is buried next to Ann, so obviously there was more to the relationship than what is presented in the book.

Let the People In: The Life and Times of Ann Richards did not rock my world, but it did entice and intrigue me, and it brought back a flood of my own Ann Richards personal memories; memories I have blocked out for years. But then that’s a story for later.


  1. I'd love to hear your stories! I, too, was a bit disappointed with the book, although I'll admit I only read the parts that mentioned my mother, which I found rather shallow and missing most of the wonder of their times together. I would like to see a more thoughtful in-depth account based on interviews with people that were close to her in their own words. But then, like you, I have my own Ann stories, like when I was 5 and we went to her annual Easter egg hunt on their front lawn in Dallas and I coveted and wanted to find the hand-painted Batman egg...little Jewish girls in the 1960s rarely got to go on such treasure hunts...

    1. Thank you for commenting Debra. I though so much of your mom as I read the book. I agree there are a lot more stories to tell.

      I laughed so hard about your Jewish girls easter egg hunt! You are the bomb kiddo