Liz Carpenter's Pioneer Spirit by Jo Blaylock

Jo's Note:  I had the privilege of interviewing Liz Carpenter in her home in Austin, Texas while I was a General Manager for Senior Lifestyles Monthly Newspaper and here are excerpts from that interview. Liz was born on September 1, 1920 and died from pneumonia March 20, 2010 at the age of 89. She was 78 when I interviewed her. I left her own statements in the article because she was so good at telling stories.

Liz Carpenter embodies the pioneer spirit of her ancestors and the gracious charm of her native Salado, Texas. She is never without a quest for knowledge and she is a true listener. You know, the kind of person you feel like you have known all of your life. As we sit in her "shot-gun" style house on a hill overlooking the Texas Capitol and the University of Texas tower, she recounts her long road from Salado to Austin in 1927; Washington, D.C. in 1942 and back to Austin in 1976.

"For most people, life is an epic novel in progress, divided into a series of sagas: miniseries in the making, disappointments, heady successes, a story of adventures, daring in defeat, of dogged determination amid troubles and turmoil. So it has been in my own life. The sagas of my own experiences fall into three periods of 25 years each" said Liz. She was raised in Salado (which she says is "about a quarter of a mile from Resume Speed") with four siblings, a literary mother and a dad who was away working during the Depression. He came home about once a month bearing gifts of oysters, steaks, shrimp or perhaps a bushel of apples. "Those were special times but," Liz says, "I resent people who call it the Great Depression. It was not so great".

Liz attended the University of Texas where she graduated with a degree in journalism. Her mother urged her to go to Washington D.C. where her brother and his family were living. So, in 1942, Liz was Washington bound, arriving when Franklin Roosevelt was in office. She says she spent 34 years covering Presidents and First Ladies.

A quote from one of her speeches explains how she came to be in the White House. "When my own Senator from Texas, Lyndon B. Johnson, was nominated for Vice-President, he and Lady Bird lured me down from the press galleries to share what he called 'the great adventure of our lives', and it was all of that. I was there in Dallas that dreadful day when our young President was assassinated. I returned with the new President on Air Force One that night of November 22nd, wrote the 58 words that he delivered when he stepped off the plane in Washington, and spent the next 5 years as Press Secretary and Staff Director for Lady Bird and on a speech writing staff for LBJ. Those 58 words were the most important I have ever written, though I have written thousands:"This is a sad time for all people. We have suffered a loss that cannot be weighed. For me, it is a deep tragedy. I know that the world shares the sorrow that Mrs. Kennedy and her family bear. I will do my best. That is all I can do. I ask for your help and Gods".

Liz and her college sweetheart Les Carpenter were married in 1944 and had two children, Scott and Christy. The two parents started the Carpenter News Bureau on the 8th floor of the National Press Building. After thirty years of marriage, Liz's beloved partner in life, love and work died suddenly.

She now resides in Austin, Texas. She says, "let's see, the first 25 year saga includes growing up to going to Washington. The second saga was the time in Washington and the third saga was moving back to Austin and becoming a surrogate parent to 3 teenagers. Liz took in 3 of her brothers 10 children upon his death. At the age of 70 she became a parent to Mary 11, Tommy 14 and Liz 18.

While the interview proceeded, Liz pulled out some of her photos of Les, Lady Bird, Lindy Boggs and others. I felt privileged to receive a personal glimpse of history itself through pictures from Liz Carpenter's private files.

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