Eulogy of Barbara Jordan
Austin, Texas, January 20, 1996
I, ah, didn't think I had enough time this morning, and I didn't wanna call the President and tell him he had to cut, and they promised me that nobody had a hook up here. Well, Nancy, ah, the truth is I'd counted on Barbara preaching my funeral. She always could make things sound a lot better than they were. And Barbara was every bit as good as she sounded. In a world that sways on the winds of trends and polls and prognostications she was a constant and she was as true as the north star. Barbara Jordan was an American original and a national treasure. And she was my friend.
I know that at some point I'm supposed to say that despite all the public acclaim that Barbara was really just like everybody else. But that would be wrong. No matter what else was going on when you were with Barbara you could never quite shake the feeling that you were in the presence of somebody that was truly great. I remember talking to her one time about how she prepared to teach an ethics class at the LBJ school. Ah, before Barbara's classes ethics was not one of those courses that caused students to just stampede to enroll. And, ah, the idea of actually teaching a course in ethics would have given most of us pause. But Barbara said she had done her best to compile a list of everyone across the country that had taught such a course anywhere and then she just wrote to 'em [sic] and asked 'em [sic] to send her the syllabus, you know. "But," she said, "of course, it was necessary for me to craft one of my own." It was always necessary for Barbara to craft her own. And we thank God for that.
And now, if we're gonna [sic] be honest we have to say that there were some people who managed to resist Barbara's persuasive manner. And I've told this story many times but I could not allow this occasion to pass without telling it again. When I was a county commissioner Barbara was building her house out in the country down at the end of a narrow, little, tree shaded lane. It was about a half mile or mile long and there was an old woman who owned some property half way between the road and where Barbara was goin [sic] to build her house. And she was apparently not thrilled to have Barbara building a house down there. I mean who could tell who might be coming to visit. So, ah, even though the road had been open to the public forever she put a gate across it with a padlock on it. And, it may be hard, ah, to imagine Barbara really hopping mad but she was and she called me up and she said, "Ann, Ann, this old woman has put a gate across my lane and the lane is used by everyone and I want that gate down." Well, it took no small amount of doing but we got the lane designated for county maintenance and we got the gate down. And years later I was going out to the house for a party and I thought about that old woman and so I said to Barbara, "What ever happened to that old woman?" And Barbara suppressed a smile and got that voice of the Lord inflection in her speech an-an [sic] she said ah, ah "Well Ann, ah, that old woman died and went to Hell." An [sic] and that's pretty much how it went with Barbara. If reasoning didn't work and prodding didn't work and the law didn't work divine intervention was bound to just overcome whatever.
People talk about what a private person Barbara was but the American people knew everything they needed to know about her from the moment they met. There was simply something about her that made you proud to be a part of the country that produced her. And she forever redefined what it meant to be a Texan in the eyes of this nation.
In the grimmest days of Watergate, it was not only her voice and her intellect that defended the Constitution, it was her existence. People said to themselves if our society and our system created Barbara Jordan, well, then maybe there is hope. And they were right, of course.
Her years in the Texas Senate and the Congress gave her power and fame but I think these last years in Austin secured her place in history and in our hearts. Of the time that she spent with students and with people like me, I think it was important to her. And her counsel was literally invaluable to us. You know in politics the tendency is to think about what somebody can do for ya [sic]. But there was something about Barbara that made you wanna [sic] do something for her. Ah, Sam McClellan, ah, has been Barbara's friend for a long, long time. And a few years ago Sam decided that Barbara needed to be able to visit him down at the beach and so he went to considerable trouble and expense to have his condominium on South Padre fixed up to make it wheel chair accessible. An-an [sic] Barbara went down and she had a great time. And then after she left, Stan and I got to talking about it and worrying about how for the next visit we could build a boardwalk that would allow Barbara to get closer to the beach and actually roll up and down out of that sand. I'm not sure why she had that effect on people. Maybe it was because we knew that we owed her.
I like to think that Barbara knew how much she meant to us and how grateful that we are that she crafted a life that was truly her own. When we lose someone who is dear to us I think we become aware of how short the movement of life is and how small and fragile, really, we are in this ocean of time. Our loss today is personal, it is profound. Our friend, our sister, our daughter is gone. But, Barbara Jordan's still with us. And she is strong! There is nothin [sic] small or fragile about this legacy. It will thrive and she will live on through us, the people who admired her and learned from her and loved her because we know that in the words of that old gospel song, she lifted us to higher ground! And we thank God for the glory of her life and the pleasure and the honor of her company.