2020 - 2021 Oral histories

Siblings Anne Hoey Knight, who is a retired Episcopal priest, and Robert Knight, who is a retired real estate developer, share their Austin memories while being interviewed in the Austin home built by their maternal grandparents in 1928. The home just happens to be the current site of the Westwood Country Club, which provides the perfect setting for this fascinating interview filled with stories of their ancestors, including several strong females in their family tree.

Former Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe takes us through his fascinating life, from his childhood in Tyler, Texas to studying law at the University of Texas and then serving the County for over 26 years. He discusses his career in public service as a civil rights attorney, Justice of the Peace, County Commissioner, and County Judge. After retirement, he answered the call to serve Travis County once again, when he returned as Interim County Judge during the COVID-19 pandemic. Judge Biscoe shares his thoughts about racial discrimination, past and present, and it’s impact on the community

David Richards describes his family, education, and career, giving special attention to politics and activism in Austin from the 1960s to the present. Richards is known as a prominent labor and civil rights attorney who successfully argued landmark cases in both the Texas and the United States Supreme Court. This fascinating interview includes his recollection of the first political race of Ann Richards, who was his wife at the time, and who would later become Governor of Texas.

Don Toner recalls his 60-year theater career, from his early days in New York as an actor, director, and stage management company founder, to coming to Austin in 1988 to serve as artistic director of the Live Oak Theater. Toner describes establishing Austin’s first Actor’s Equity theater company, building the State Theater Company, and the Austin Playhouse. In his current role as co-producing artistic director of the Austin Playhouse, Toner is focused on plans for a new facility as the theater celebrates its 20th anniversary.

Beginning with her family’s migration to Texas in the early 1800s, Martha Hartzog describes her family, her early life in Port Lavaca, her time at the University of Texas, and adventures in her professional career, including her work at the Rare Books Collection at UT, the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory and as Executive Director of Austin Community Television. Hartzog remembers many fascinating stories from her multi-faceted career, including making video documentaries, acting in leadership roles in the Daughters of the American Revolution, and serving on the Austin Historic Landmark Commission.

Richard “Dick” Barrick recalls his idyllic childhood in Clarksville in the 1950s and 60s, including summer days swimming at Deep Eddy pool and frequenting the soda fountain at Nau’s Pharmacy. As a lifelong member of St. Luke United Methodist Church, Dick provides unique insight into church history and leadership. He describes with pride the church’s Infant Care Center, as well as its role in supporting the Austin Rape Crisis Center and AIDS Services of Austin.

Gonzalo Barrientos recalls his childhood in Bastrop, the impact on his education of a landmark desegregation case, and racial discrimination he experienced. He remembers meeting then-U.S. Senator Lyndon Johnson in high school, which inspired him to dedicate his career to public service. Barrientos describes his early career as a community organizer at the National Urban League and with VISTA, as well as his distinguished political career serving 10 years in the Texas House of Representatives and over 20 years in the Texas Senate. Having recovered from COVID-19, he shares his unique insights on the pandemic’s impact on the Austin community.

Sam Perry shares his memories of his late wife, Shirley Bird Perry, who dedicated her career to the University of Texas. Born and raised in Stockdale, Texas, Shirley Bird arrived at the University of Texas as a college freshman in 1954. She had a stellar college career and was named “Most Outstanding Woman Student” by the UT Dad’s Association. She went to work for the Texas Union Staff after graduating from U.T. with her education degree and continued working for the university for decades. In 2011, U.T. President Bill Powers awarded Shirley Bird Perry the highest honor at U.T. in recognition her importance to the university. Sam Perry lovingly describes their life together, as well as her dedication to and impact upon U.T.

 

Malcolm Greenstein describes his boyhood and the early days as a VISTA volunteer, through his ascent to becoming a renowned civil rights attorney. He explains how he chose Austin as his home in the early 1970s. He also recalls his inspiration to establish Murray’s Bagel Nosh, which was an Austin favorite that garnered recognition from Texas Monthly. When asked about his dedication to public service, he credits the values he was taught by his family, particularly by his mother who was saved from the Holocaust by being sent to live with relatives in the United States. Mr. Greenstein describes his most memorable cases throughout his 
50 year career as a legal advocate for victims of discrimination.

 

Gay Gaddis grew up in Liberty, Texas dreaming of attending the University of Texas one day. In the early 1970s her dream came true when she came to the university to pursue her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Studio Art. Studying under famous artists and photographers developed her significant artistic talent and participating in an experimental program at U.T. introduced her to the world of advertising. Ms. Gaddis describes her experiences at U.T., the early days of her career and her establishment of Austin-based T3, the largest woman-owned advertising agency in the United States. After building the highly successful business from the ground up and being at its helm for over 30 years, she sold the company in 2019. Ms. Gaddis describes her life now as a nationally recognized author, artist and public speaker.

 

Robert D. Spellings, Sr. reminisces about his life and career in Texas politics. Two critical events in his life were the decision to attend the University Texas after being recruited to play football by legendary coach Darrell Royal and meeting Frank Erwin who became a mentor and lifelong friend. Mr. Spellings recalls witnessing many significant events in Texas history, including the tower shootings by Charles Whitman on August 1, 1966. Having served in top roles for Ben Barnes, Bob Bullock and Mark White, he was well positioned for the final phase of his career as an administrative lawyer and lobbyist. He is a masterful storyteller with many interesting tales to tell.

 

Edna Ramón Butts recalls her childhood in Rio Grande City with her family and close South Texas community. She recalls her time at the University of Texas as an undergraduate and law student in the 1970s. Her lifetime of service to the State of Texas began with her work for Texas House Speaker Billy Clayton, and continued through her high level posts with two Texas Attorneys General and Senator Kirk Watson. Her current position as the Director of Intergovernmental Relations and Policy Oversight for the Austin Independent School District has given her substantial knowledge of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic upon Austin’s children and families. She describes how AISD has addressed the challenges of the current heath crisis in order to support the students and continue their education.

 

Judge Guy Herman has lived a life of adventure, from riding the rails across the western United States to attend a wedding to hitchhiking all over the world. He recalls many fascinating stories of a life well lived. Austin has been his home since graduating from law school at the University of Texas. As Travis County’s probate judge, he has worked tirelessly to improve the opportunities for physical and mental health for the Austin community. He recalls spearheading the successful effort to create the Travis County Hospital District in 2004, inspired by the county’s inability to adequately meet the needs of the mental health patients he saw in his court. He movingly describes his lifelong efforts to right the injustices he has seen.

 

Ann Johnston Dolce is a fifth-generation Austinite who describes growing up in Austin during World War II and living so close to the Capitol that it was her daily childhood playground. She reflects on the changes she has seen in Austin during her lifetime. She describes the lives of her ancestors in early day Austin, which she has learned through her love of genealogy and historical research. In addition to her careers, first, in computer technology and then education, Ms. Dolce has served in leadership roles in numerous community service organizations. She reflects on her training in the Junior League of Austin and how it equipped her for challenging roles to come.