Emmette S. Redford: The Eyes of Texas Are upon Him

Article excerpt

Emmette Shelburn Redford was the classic Texan. Tall in stature, he was a man of southern charm, Washington savvy, an insatiable need to examine how things worked, an intense interest in how democratic theory could be satisfied, and a strong need to serve. This essay examines Redford the man as seen through the roles of educator, bureaucrat, volunteer, scholar, and, yes, Texan. Little effort is made to disaggregate these roles because they flowed together. Indeed, their wholeness is what made Emmette Redford such a special man. As Peter Flawn, president ad interim of the University of Texas at Austin, said at the time of Redford's death in January 1998, "Emmette Redford was an exemplary educator, scholar, and public servant. The university community will miss him. He was devoted to his students, to democracy, and to the principle that good government can help make the world a better place for all of us."(1)

Redford the Man

To have a sense of Redford the man, one must first understand Redford the boy. Emmette Redford was born in San Antonio in 1904 and reared in Johnson City, Texas, where his friend Lyndon Johnson was born in 1908. He and his two brothers understood responsibility and the need to help their widowed mother, the Johnson City postmaster. By age 12, Emmette was a sworn U.S. postal clerk. He also sold pots and pans.

He never graduated from high school, but went on first to junior college, then to a teacher's college, and finally to the University of Texas. He left college to teach public school for two years, following a family tradition: Each of the Redford brothers taught public school to help the other brothers through college. Emmette completed his baccalaureate degree at the University of Texas in 1927, complete with Phi Beta Kappa membership, and his master's degree the following year. By 1933 he had earned a Ph.D. from Harvard University. (Later, he received honorary doctor of laws degrees from Austin College and Texas Christian University.)

Redford was a dedicated husband to his beloved Claire and father to Sam, who died at 13, and Lady Claire. He and Claire reared three grandchildren, and he frequently iterated the need to remain young in spirit and sound of body to handle three youngsters.

Redford the Educator, Bureaucrat, and Volunteer

Redford taught briefly at Texas as a student, spent a year at Texas Christian, and served as an instructor and tutor at Harvard while completing his doctorate. Then, he returned to his great love, the University of Texas, in 1933, where he taught until 1994. His teaching career spanned 71 years; his professorial career at Texas, 61 years. His longest service at Texas was in the Government Department, but he ended his tenure in the Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Public Affairs, named for his childhood friend. He retired as Ashbel Smith Professor of Government and Public Affairs in 1975, only to spend the next 19 years teaching part-time at the LBJ School. How many public administrationists have taught until they were 91 after retiring at 71?

Redford would occasionally take a leave from the University of Texas during his long career. He spent four years during World War II as a regional and national bureaucrat with the Office of Price Administration and several summers in various federal agencies from the 1930s to the 1970s. He also held visiting appointments, usually for the summer, at Duke University, Columbia University, the University of Chicago, Syracuse University, and what is now Texas A&M University at Commerce. But mainly he helped generations of Texas students understand how government--especially the U.S. national government--worked and helped them to appreciate the principles on which that government was founded. The Texas student government recognized him with its teaching excellence award.

Simultaneously, he gave generously of his time, dedicating 25 years to serving as president of the University of Texas Co-op (book and merchandise store), an activity he called "my hobby. …