A stroll through history with John Tower

Posted Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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sanders It’s no secret that one of my favorite politicians of all time is the late Sen. John Tower of Texas, a man who was short in stature but in every other way a giant of a human being.

Tower, who died in a plane crash in 1991, was a true statesman who commanded respect by being a fierce debater on public policy without ever being petty or personal. He was one whose patriotism could not be questioned and whose genuine loyalty could not be undermined.

While he and I certainly didn’t agree on every issue, I admired him because he — unlike so many in Congress today — wasn’t into political grandstanding. When he came out fighting for or against a particular bill or cause, it was because it was what he believed, not because he was yielding to overt political pressure.

The other day I had a chance to listen again to that distinct voice of his as I took a walk through history with him via the Internet.

I was able to do that because of a great joint project of Southwestern University in Georgetown and Southern Methodist University in Dallas, collaborators on The John G. Tower Digital Media Collection, featuring more than 200 audio and video clips of the senator during his 30 years of public service.

Tower graduated from Southwestern in 1948 with a degree in political science and earned his master’s degree from SMU in 1953.

Kathryn Stallard, director of special collections and archives at Southwestern where the John G. Tower Papers are housed, traced the beginning of the project to a few years ago when it was realized that the 16mm film clips were deteriorating and needed to be preserved digitally. In addition, the school wanted to figure out a way to share the material with a broader public.

Tower’s daughter, Jeanne Tower Cox, brokered a collaboration with SMU, with which Southwestern’s special collections already had a relationship, Stallard said. Cox also put up the seed money for a test project, leading to SMU’s Norwick Center for Digital Services preparing the audio and film clips for the web.

Much of the audio clips is taken from Tower’s weekly radio show, a five-minute segment that the senator distributed to stations all over Texas, in which he discussed legislation and other important issues of the day. The themes in the collection include Vietnam, student unrest, gun control, the space program, the debt limit and school prayer.

Stallard said when they were selecting the clips, they were looking for the major issues in the past that in many ways are the same issues being debated now.

The radio broadcasts generally began the same way: “Fellow Texans, this is your U.S. Senator John Tower bringing you another weekly radio report from Capitol Hill in Washington.”

In a 1968 report, Tower talked about another Civil Rights bill that had just passed the Senate, explaining that he favored the section making it a crime “to injure or intimidate Negroes or civil rights workers,” but that he voted against it because of the open housing sections which he thought included provisions better left to the states and local governments.

Other clips include Tower introducing Barry Goldwater at the 1984 Republican Convention, his conversation about busing with President Nixon and Tower reading William Barret Travis’ last letter from the Alamo.

These archival clips give an insightful view of a man who continued to serve his country even after he left the Senate, accepting special assignments from Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush. The elder Bush also nominated Tower to be secretary of defense, which would have been perfect for him and the nation, but Democratic senators denied him that post.

Tower was gracious even in that defeat, saying simply that he was more disappointed than angry or hurt.

No, John Tower was never a little man.

Bob Ray Sanders' column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. 817-390-7775 Twitter: @BobRaySanders

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