A strong man of words with 'The Wright Stuff'

Posted Saturday, Apr. 13, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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sanders Jim Wright, a former speaker of the House of Representatives, has always had a way with words.

It can be said that his words, conveyed through this newspaper in 1954 to the city's most powerful man -- Star-Telegram founder and Publisher Amon G. Carter Sr. -- were probably key to Wright winning his first race for the House seat he held for more than 34 years.

It's a familiar story to some old-timers: Wright was a young Weatherford mayor when he decided to challenge Rep. Wingate Hezekiah Lucas. Wright was evidently causing concern among Fort Worth's establishment because, two days before the election, the paper's evening edition carried a front-page editorial endorsing Lucas and saying Wright had no "well defined ideas."

On seeing the editorial, Wright went to the nearest typewriter, composed what would become a nearly full-page ad and wrote a check for $974.40 to pay for it. The publisher, reportedly after being assured the check was good, published Wright's comments, titled "An Open Letter to Amon Carter."

Among other things, Wright wrote, "For you have at last met a man, Mr. Carter, who is not afraid of you ... who will not bow his knee to you ... and come running like a simpering pup at your beck and call."

That open letter and many more of Wright's words are in his recently published book, The Wright Stuff: Reflections on People and Politics by Former House Speaker Jim Wright. Published by TCU Press, it's edited by James W. Riddlesperger Jr., Anthony Champagne and Dan Williams.

As the son of an English literature/poetry teacher and a salesman who was "a voracious reader," Wright was inherently a wordsmith.

"Words are the weapons of peace, the instruments by which we convey thought, the very stuff of which civil discourse is made," Wright says in the introduction. "Actions speak louder than words, we are told. Yet very often the most dramatically heralded deeds have been either inspired or provoked by words. Since time began, words have started and ended wars."

Wright, my longtime congressman who became a treasured friend, is a master of words, as this book proves with samples of his columns from the Star-Telegram, excerpts from other books, speeches to clubs and conferences, and some touching previously unpublished works.

I've witnessed his eloquence firsthand: while he taught Sunday school, spoke at a Mexican fiesta in fluent Spanish and gave funeral orations eulogizing the powerful as well as the servant.

Wright's eulogy on the House floor for his mentor, the other great speaker from Texas, Sam Rayburn, is in the book. So are televised remarks Wright delivered to the Soviet people at the invitation of Secretary General Mikhail Gorbachev.

Wright showed great respect for others, regardless of their political party. So the book includes writings about former Speaker Tip O'Neill, Lyndon Johnson and Harry Truman, but also passages about "Good Side of Nixon," the decency of Gerald Ford and Barry Goldwater's refusal to use slanderous information about one of LBJ's aides during a fierce presidential campaign.

The book's cover has the photo of a broadly smiling, waving Wright riding with President John F. Kennedy and Vice President Johnson in an open limousine in downtown Fort Worth just before Kennedy left for Dallas on Nov. 22. Wright includes a moving account of that day.

There's also the text of his resignation speech from Congress. He told his colleagues "let me give you back this job," concluding with something I wish current members would take to heart:

"Let that be a total payment for the anger and hostility we feel toward each other. Let's not try to get even with each other. Republicans, please don't get in your heads that you need to get somebody else because of [Sen.] John Tower. Democrats, please don't feel that you need to get somebody on the other side because of me. We ought to be more mature than that."

He's always been made of "the Wright stuff." And I'll forever love him for it.

Bob Ray Sanders' column appears Sundays and Wednesdays.

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Twitter: @BobRaySanders

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