Ann Richards in My Living Room
By Pamela Stone
With the passing of the dynamic columnist, Molly Ivins, I’m also missing her friend and political colleague, former Texas Governor Ann Richards, who died in September, 2006. Her advice on learning to live alone is excerpted in my book, A Woman’s Guide to Living Alone: 10 Ways to Survive Grief and Be Happy, Taylor Publishing, 2001.
When I interviewed Ann Richards for my book, I felt as though she was sitting in my living room. She was vibrant, direct and filled with wisdom and humor. Touching on her divorce and starting over, she spoke with candor. She also said that after losing the governor’s race to George W. Bush, she turned her back on politics and never looked back. Like many Texas women, Ann Richards was not afraid to reinvent herself.
“When I left the governor’s race, I virtually had no money at all. You can’t make money in public office. That’s an expensive proposition,” she says.
“I worked hard to establish new sources of income, and I did it joyously. I’m having a wonderful time. One of my life goals is to learn new things. I can’t stand to do what I’ve always done.”
Here are a few of her candid comments:
“One of my favorite sayings is, ‘If I’m in a bad mood, I change my mind.’ If you want to be in control of your life, be in control of what you think.”
Don’t Let Others Make You Feel Guilty.
She suggests working hard at rejecting old tapes which program your mind like “If you divorce, you’re throwing good years down the drain,” “Gee, you must be lonely,” or “I’m afraid the children will suffer.” When people tell these things, they are often imposing thoughts of how their life would be if they were in your circumstance.
Avoid Being Dependent on Others.
“I think that women who set themselves up in a dependent posture, either on their children, their spouse, their significant other, or whoever it is, are making a mistake. If you’re depending on others for your well-being, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Because no one person can possibly meet all your needs. Only you can do that.”
Getting Over Your Grief.
"Get up and get out of the house!” she exclaims. “Get rid of all that stuff. Sell whatever you’re living in and move to a small space. Avoid having an extra bedroom where someone can come and sleep in your house.”
“I’ve established life on my own terms. I’ve had to draw my own boundaries. I don’t ask anyone’s permission.” Also, she doesn't do a traditional Christmas — “I don’t put up a tree anymore, and I don’t own an ornament.” Instead, she traveled with her children each holiday, visiting places like Jamaica or Europe.
“I don’t babysit. I’m the grandmother who buys the presents and writes the checks,” she says laughing. She prefers to ask one of her seven grandchildren out to dinner, where she can get to know what’s going on better — instead of entertaining the entire family as a group.
"I’ve come to the period of my life when I can see the end of it. If I’m lucky. I’ve got 20 years left where I’m going to be physically and mentally able to do what I’d like to do. So I better figure out how I’m going to spend those 20 years.”
“You should never depend on another human being for your income. Financial security is the greatest security there is.”
Ann Richards had this to say about her divorce: “I don’t mourn that passing.” She also notes, “The impact of divorce is enormous. But out of it there is a really positive side. I’ve never lived alone before, ever. To me, that is an enormous accomplishment.”
As I listened to her during the interview, she seemed like my mother and grandmother and great-grandmother, all rolled into one person. My grandmother had her wit. My mother had her beauty, charm and confidence. And my great-grandmother had her sweetness and regard for others.
Ann Richards made me feel blessed to be a product of amazing Texas women. From this hardscrabble place, there are many women who rise above their stations in life. And fight for their families, as well as their freedom. I know, all women do this. But if you've ever driven through a desolate West Texas landscape, you'll realize what I'm talking about. The land is huge. Not a tree in sight.
My family moved to West Texas when I was three years-old. I remember little but the dust. It covered the floor, window sills, countertops, bookshelves and even our beds. After three months of this torture, my mother said, "Enough! I'm going back to Dallas." And that's exactly what we did.
However, daddy brought her back when I was 14. A few years after the Bushes moved to West Texas, so did we. It was oil country. The wildcatters were throwing money around. There was a sense of urgency in the air. My father thought West Texas was the new frontier.
However, in this raw land, there was little opportunity for women. In Midland, Texas, Shell and Humble Oil companies owned tall office buildings, where they hired geologists to explore for oil. But there were few female geologists. During my childhood, West Texas was a man’s world. If you strived for something more ambitious than being a housewife or a teacher, you had to reinvent yourself to fit in.
Through the years, though, Texas women began to make changes. With their wit, beauty and dogged determination, they slowly shaped a Texas to be proud of. I am grateful to both Ann Richards and Molly Ivins. Their tough-talking gave women a voice. One that we’ll never forget.
(More information and the remainder of this article can be obtained by contacting Pamela Stone at firstname.lastname@example.org).