Barbara Jordan: Speaking the Truth with Eloquent Thunder

By Max Sherman | Go to book overview

MY PERSONAL INTRODUCTION
OF BARBARA JORDAN

I take my cue from Henry Steele Commager, one of the nations most distinguished historians and teachers, who died in March 1998. This consummate teacher said, “What every college must do is hold up before the young the spectacle of greatness” in history, literature, and life. I would go a step further and say that all of us in public service must hold up before the young—and the public—the spectacle of greatness.

How will we do this? If I have a theme, it centers on the life of Barbara Jordan, who was my friend and colleague for twenty-five years. For most people in public life, she symbolized what ethics and values are.

In 1988 Barbara almost drowned. I was at my mother's home in the Texas Panhandle when the call came informing me of the accident. I immediately boarded a plane and came to Austin. I went from the airport to the hospital. The intensive care area was closed, but being a politician, and in my youth a door-to-door Bible salesman, I found an open door and a friendly custodian who took me through the maze of hallways to her room. Her attending physician was still there. I identified myself and he let me stay. They were not sure she would live through the night. I held her hand, but because she was unconscious, she did not know I was there.

Later, while still in the hospital and unsure of her future, Barbara invited a few people to come and spend some time with her. We did not talk about politics or policy matters, but fundamental, basic values. We even worked in a little religion.

Barbara lived for eight additional years. That near miss with death shaped the rest of her life. I am convinced that she approached her teaching, her life, and her commentary on impor

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