Today I want to report on a couple of recent deaths worth mentioning in the newspaper. One is of note to anyone who’s been around Texas Democratic politics for more than a few minutes. The other is of note perhaps only to me and to anyone who’s heard me speak on the local civic club circuit.
Carrin Patman died May 22 at age 86. She was a longtime force in the Democratic Party, including serving on the Democratic National Committee. She was the daughter of a state senator, wife of a state senator and U.S. House member, and daughter-in-law of another U.S. House member.
Perhaps more important, she, in her own right through her own efforts, was a force in Democratic Party politics. That was back when it was even more challenging than it is now for a woman to be a force in any kind of politics.
Her father, Fred Mauritz of Ganado, served in the state Senate. Patman’s obit noted that, as a young girl, she licked stamps and knocked on doors in support of his campaign, an endeavor that set her on a course of political involvement.
She graduated in 1954 from the University of Texas. At Barton Springs in 1953, she met Bill Patman. They married that year, and in 1960, with Carrin as campaign manager, he was elected to the Texas Senate seat that Mauritz had held 20 years earlier. Bill Patman was the son of the late U.S. Rep. Wright Patman. After 20 years in the Texas Senate, Bill Patman served four years in the U.S. House. He died in 2008.
Among the successful political battles Carrin Patman fought were efforts to bring women and minorities into positions of influence and to stop winner-take-all presidential primaries.
Her obituary noted one of the many ways she was known in Austin: “Though her interest in the Democratic party and its values never waned, in the 1980s, Carrin embarked on a new career in fitness, mastering aerobics and becoming a certified instructor. Membership in her Austin seniors class was highly prized, and she took great pleasure in enhancing the health and well-being of her students and friends.”
Those who knew her in political circles — and there were many for many years — knew hew as a force with which to be reckoned.
The other recent death I want to bring to your attention is the June 2 passing of K.E. “Cotton” Thompson at age 90. Thompson lived in Huntington, a small East Texas town near Lufkin, which is where I started newspapering in 1975.
Thompson, an Army veteran, enjoyed a variety of business ventures, played 42 (a dominoes game) and dabbled in genealogy. But the two most important facts for our purposes today are that he worked at Angelina Truck and Tractor and he was one of, as I recall, seven Democratic candidates for a seat on the Angelina County Commissioners Court in 1976.
As a novice reporter, I did my due diligence and interviewed each of the candidates for a story in the Lufkin Daily News. I duly reported the occupation of each candidate. Thompson, I told readers, was a tar salesman. Seemed odd, but I figured that sticky stuff doesn’t sell itself. Somebody’s got to be a tar salesman.
Remember, I, born in Brooklyn, was new in East Texas, where my presence often led to this insightful observation from the locals: “You’re from out of the county, aren’t you?” True story: A tennis partner of mine determined from my accent that I was British. I love East Texas.
Thompson called me when he read my article about his political race and told me I had made a little mistake.
“Ken,” he said by way of correction, “I’m a tar salesman.”
Yes, sir, Mr. Thompson, that’s what I put in the paper. After a little verbal back and forth, he was able to break through the language barrier and make it clear that he sold the kind of tars you put on your pickup and have rotated periodically. That was the moment on that particular day when I said something I said on lots of days in Lufkin: “Toto, we’re not in Brooklyn anymore.”
And because the forces of nature have a puckish sense of humor, Thompson was elected to the Commissioners Court, where I subsequently spent many meetings carefully trying to decipher what he was saying.
I lost touch with Thompson many, many years ago, but I’ve told the tar salesman story many, many times. I was sorry to hear of his death but glad to see he lived a long life.
Here’s hoping it included a lengthy and happy retarment.