Saturday, October 5, 2013

100 Things I Want to Tell My Children and Grandchildren: #4

(Photo is of the staff in Bob Honts' Office, 1985, including yours truly on the left)

There is a special place in your heart where you keep your moments of greatness tucked away.

I had no idea what I was getting into in 1984 when I showed up at the Travis County Courthouse. The job interview was as assistant to then County Commissioner, Bob Honts, who honed his sagacity against the steel of Texas political icon, former Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock. Honts was, unbeknownst to me at the time, a “colorful” local legend characterized as a revolting show-off by his enemies and a slightly flawed genius by his friends.

When I walked into Honts’ office that day, he shook my hand, looked piercingly into my eyes and said, “I have to get back on the dais, so you have 20 seconds to tell me why I should hire you.”

I opened my mouth and words came tumbling out from some place I didn’t even know existed. “I have above average intelligence, more energy than I know what to do with and a low tolerance for boredom,” I rattled off breathlessly.

“Okay,” he quickly responded. “Will you take this?” He was pointing to a long list of numbers on a piece of paper he held in his fist, and which I later realized was salary levels, but at the time just looked like a bunch of impossibly small numbers.

As I leaned into the paper willing my brain to catch up to the moment and my eyes to focus, Honts, not one for pauses, pointed higher up on the salary level list and said, “How about this?” I just wanted to agree and get the hell out of his incredibly intimidating presence. “Okay,” I said in a quivering voice.

“We’ll process the paper,” he said, as he turned and walked out, back to that dais where issues I couldn’t have conceived of previously would become de rigueur for me over the next four years of my employment.

Within the week, I found myself sitting on the front row of Commissioner’s Court, pen and paper in hand, no idea what I was supposed to be doing. The first item on the agenda was the consideration of an oil lease on property Travis County owned. The prospective lessor, and his very handsome son (another story, another time), owners of an oil and gas exploration company in Ohio, had stated their proposal eloquently and the county attorney had recommended the contract.

Commissioner Honts waggled his fingers in my direction summoning me to the dais and whispered, “What do you think?” Good Gaud! He was asking me if I thought Travis County should sign the lease!

Having dealt with a fair share of oil and gas lease issues when I was married and living on a ranch in the middle of oil country in west Texas, the one thing I knew for sure was that everyone “lawyered up” big time.

“I think you should have an oil and gas attorney look at the lease,” I whispered back. Honts requested a delay and the county eventually made a lot more money off the lease than was originally proposed.

That was my first day, followed by many more filled with similar issues of intrigue. But my favorite, and the focus of this #4 of the one hundred things I want to tell my kids and grandkids, was STARflight.

(The first STARflight is pictured right. The inscription says, "To SueAnn - A STARflight all by herself - Bob Honts.)

It all started one day about a year into my “Honts experience,” as I was sifting through the two-foot pile of mail that came across my desk on a daily basis. On a magazine cover I saw a photo of a man standing in front of a helicopter, obviously a doctor as he was wearing the requisite white coat over blue scrubs and had a stethoscope draped around his neck. The caption on the cover said something like, “Dr. Red Duke and Lifeflight,” which I found out was a helicopter ambulance service associated with Herman Hospital in Houston.

Just that week the Travis County Commissioners had wrestled with the issue of the emergency medical needs of residents living in the rural reaches of the county. I believe that a couple of people had died in route to the hospital, and their deaths seemed to hinge on the length of time it took to get them to care. There is a precept in emergency treatment call the golden hour, which holds that if appropriate medical intervention is applied within an hour, the outcome for the patient is tremendously enhanced. The article about Dr. Duke talked about that golden hour and how the Houston Lifeflight was saving lives.

I tore the picture from the magazine (pictured left), taped it to piece of yellow legal pad paper, and wrote below, “Hey, Bob. Wanna be a hero?” I put that piece of paper in Bob’s box and received it back a few days later with his note saying, “I doubt it’s feasible, but you can look into it if you want to.” I still have that note somewhere, probably in a box in the attic.

One thing led to another and within a few months, Dr. Red Duke was before the Commissioner’s Court testifying on behalf of the a proposal to establish a lifeflight program in partnership with the City of Austin. I’ll never forget my call to Dr. Duke. “Would you like for me to pick you up at the airport Dr. Duke?” I said. To which he replied in his endearing drawl, “Honey, I’m just like an old lone coyote. I’ll take care of myself.”

Shortly thereafter, Austin/Travis County birthed STARflight (Shock Trauma Air Rescue Flight), and has been saving lives ever since.

Without a doubt, emergency air rescue would have eventually come to Austin, but I am very proud of the small part I played, and thankful I had the courage to say something to Bob, who, by the way, is one of the smartest guys I've ever know. 

I have kept that small moment of greatness tucked away in my heart like a tiny trophy. I think we all have those tiny little trophies, those special moments of acting nonchalantly and becoming a silent hero.

So that is my message to my children and grandchildren, have the courage to dream big, and the courage to give voice to your dreams.

1 comment:

  1. VERY interesting!! Information about you I'd never heard - you have every right to be so proud of this MAJOR accomplishment. I thought I was reading a pioneer story about Mommy Wade - like mother, like daughter :) How very cool!!!