Remembering Maury Maverick Jr.

Maury was the only person I've ever known who made being cantankerous a virtue. Maury looked at the world from and oblique angle. You could see it in the way he stood, one hand in his pocket, his head cocked to the side as if to say you can't see things right if you're looking at the world straight on. In fact, Maury had one of the most expressive heads I've ever seen. Sometimes it looked like it weighed him down—with the weight of the world inside, as when he'd be sitting at a table and put his head down and wag it back and forth like a cudgel while muttering about the forces of darkness and what they were doing to our democracy.

Maury was a study in contradictions. He was a proud Marine veteran of World War II with a Quaker's soul. He was devoted to Tom Paine, Jefferson, and Madison and believed deeply and passionately in this country as an idea but was so let down by it in practice. He cussed like the ex-Marine, trial lawyer son of Maury Maverick Sr. would, but was a Zen Buddhist when he communed with nature, birds, dogs, and trees. He constantly and proudly referred to his Maverick heritage but carried the burden of his father's fame and expectations to his grave. (He often told the story of visiting his father on his deathbed, who told Maury, "Well at least you didn't turn out to be as big a horse's ass as Elliot Roosevelt.")

He was someone who cared deeply about people but had a hard time communicating and could never make small talk. So you'd often get bluster or gruffness or criticism. I'd get calls at the Observer—and for some stretches it was after every issue—where I'd pick up the phone and the voice would say, "Maury Maverick. You know you might be right about everything you say, but your stories are too damn long." I took that to mean that he liked the stories. And he thought they were too damn long. He was probably right.

Then there was his sense of humor and that glint in his eye—even when it didn't work too well for seeing. He could be playful. He wouldn't let you get away with anything. He'd say something to try to rouse a response, say something on the edge of appropriate as a way of checking your pulse. For instance, Maury helped me apply for conscientious objector status. I'd had a rabbi who wouldn't write a letter of support. Fortunately, the temple's religious director, Milton Bendiner, wrote a good letter about war, peace, and the concept of Shalom on my behalf.

Maury constantly reminded me of how lucky I was to have four years of a college deferment before being called in the draft. As I was walking out of his office, after we'd completed the process, he called me back to give me one more message: "Now don't go out there and fly bombers for those Israelis." He couldn't resist saying that.

Maury was a people's hero. He'd stand up for you if you were ordinary folk whose rights were beat to shreds. He fought for civil rights and civil liberties in the days of Jim Crow and Joe McCarthy. He fought the Red Scare as a member of the Texas Legislature. He successfully defended Texas Communist Party Secretary John Stanford's rights against search and seizure. He showed the U.S. Supreme Court, including Justice Hugo Black, that among the items seized were the writings of Pope John XXIII and those of Justice Black. You know he enjoyed that. He talked about the wounds from those battles like they were old war wounds. But you also knew they took their toll. As Ronnie writes, Maury probably represented more conscientiousness objectors during the Vietnam War than anyone in the country. And most of them were farm boys from the inner city who'd only begun to think about war once they were already in the service. Maury worked to get them out. That was a hard row to hoe.

Back in the early '80s, I'd heard that the legendary Emma Tenayuca had returned to San Antonio. I wondered if I could interview her for the Observer. Since she'd been run out of town for her politics four decades earlier, she kept a low profile. There was only one way to meet her. I talked to Maury and he set it up. He told her I was "good people." When I was finally able to meet and interview her, she told me it was only because Maury had said I would be okay. He was the only person in San Antonio she trusted outside her family. Maury was good people.

And he built a network of good people and urged them on. He never gave up, never thought the fight wasn't worth waging. Until his dying day, and beyond in his last column, he engaged the world to make it better.

On the day Maury died, Dave Richards wrote his friends: "It is by no means clear to me that we will see another like him in our lifetime—the only thing I suppose is he didn't have to listen to Bush's state of the Union or hear the results of the Israeli election. Peace and Freedom are precious commodities."

Geoff Rips, The Texas Observer, February 14, 2003

Farewell to Maury

"An 82-year-old man, childless and ailing, could have had a lonely funeral. That's not what's happening today," said Maury Maverick Jr.'s "sort of double cousin," lawyer Merrill Maverick Clements, speaking for the family to about 1,000 people who filled O'Neil Ford's spectacular Trinity University chapel, overflowing into the choir's balcony, the morning of February first at Maury's funeral service. Among those present were former U.S. House Speaker Jim Wright, Maury's former Texas House colleagues Babe Schwartz, Bob Wheeler, Bob Mullen, and Johnny Barnhart, family, friends, the county judge, two former mayors, dissenters he had defended, and strangers who admired his columns in the San Antonio Express-News for 20 years. As Rev. Raymond Judd, Jr., said, "he'd get a kick out of this."

He died of kidney failure the morning of January 28 after an operation. The writer Jan Jarboe Russell, whom he phoned most mornings at about 8:30 for 30 years, was with him during his final space of lucidity the night before. "He said three things to me clearly," Jan said. "He said, 'I'm dying, and I don't know what to do.'" Jan replied, "None of us knows what to do, Maury. And you're right, you are dying." "Should I have had the operation?" he asked. There was no question about that: 15 doctors had concurred. "Yes, you should of, you had to," Jan said. "Are we at war yet?" he asked her. "No, we're not," she said. "Thank God for that," he said. Earlier he had told her that "if Bush leads us into war, he's leading us straight into a trap." For two decades the Express-News, and then the Hearst chain, had stuck with him through tumult and outrage over some of his columns; the Sunday after his funeral his last one appeared. He quoted the U.S. Catholic Bishops opposing a U.S. attack, and he signed off by asking, "What say the leaders of other religions in San Antonio about a war in Iraq?"

Maury was the son a great and famous man, Congressman, then mayor, Maury Maverick Sr. of San Antonio, the leader of the Young Turks in the U.S. House who rebelled when Roosevelt abandoned his own New Deal in 1935 and 1936. When young Maury was 6, his father, lying in a bathtub, called his boy over to him and had him put his hands in the severe shrapnel scar he bore in his shoulder from World War I. "Never forget," the father said to the boy. "This is the price of liberty." As the boy grew his father charged him: "You have a famous name. Speak up, and help the ribbon clerks." Sometimes Maury Jr. was tormented with anxiety and fear, but all his life he was true to his father and to the ribbon clerks.

During his career as a lawyer he handled more than 300 cases pro bono; he was the most active lawyer in the country for conscientious objectors in the military service against the Vietnam war. Childless, he had many children. With attorney Lou Linden, Maury established the legal precedent that conscientious objectors could be exempted not only on religious, but also on ethical grounds, as long as they objected to all wars. On that very basis my own son Gary refused to kill in Vietnam. Jan was like a daughter to him. He helped Didi Drabble, now on the Philidelphia Inquirer, get started on her career. He got Cary Clack on as an Express-News columnist; Clack lists among "Maury's children" poet Naomi Shihab Nye (who rendered beautifully, to the throng for Maury, Frank Dobie's poem "The Mustangs"), along with attorneys, a businessman, a teacher, and other journalists.

At the chapel Father Bill Davis said that one day he was "walking the 18 holes" at the Brackenridge Park golf course with Maury Jr. when Maury said to him, "Bill, I don't believe in your God, I'm a pantheist." Gesturing toward some cardinals flying over them he told the priest, "Those are my cardinals. You've got yours." Maury worshiped at a certain tree along that walk, once he hugged it while I was walking with him, and he greeted the purple martins returning every spring. Davis said, "Maury, with his cardinals and purple martins and all these things, he's about the closest thing to St. Francis that I've really ever met."

Rev. Claude Black, who preaches on the East Side of San Antonio, said that when he became friends with Maury it was a time when he, a black man, could not attend the University of Texas or use white restaurants, and "If we had not had the same values we could not have been friends." Black continued: "I knew him as a man who wanted this nation to live up to its promises.... The name is patriot, loyal to the promises of this government.... He was a mediator, a person who heard the cries for justice in the community, and you know that there's somebody in the community who understands your cry.

He was buried beside his father and mother at San Jose burial park. The crowd at the green tent sang "Amazing Grace." A jazz band played, circling them. With his widow Julia and other family arrayed and dancing quietly at the side of the casket, a pretty woman named Carolyn fulfilled his request for the occasion by doing a seemly, but sexy, hoochee-koochee. A male neighbor had heard Maury say he also wanted a stripper at his funeral and, unbeknownst to Julia, had hired one to perform. Dressed flimsily in a black lace outfit, with an improvised black lace face veil mounted in her hair, a softly fleshy young woman only Renoir would regard as voluptuous shimmied and slowly stripped at the casketside and displayed with g-string, her very white derriere. Julia, in fairly good humor, quietly asked anyone with a coat on to throw it over her, but no one did.

When he was lowered into a deep rectangular hole some of us dropped leaves and flowers down on him; Terrellita, his sister, dropped in two cactus pads. We took turns, dropping shovels of dirt from the waiting back-hoe. Then the back-hoe filled in the hole and men in workclothes smoothed the dirt. In her column the next day Jan Jarboe Russell wrote:

"One morning, many years ago, I awoke in a deep funk, the kind of despair that murders the soul and makes the simplest tasks—making coffee, getting dressed, going to the office—seem impossible." The telephone rang around 8:30, and Maury said "Hey, kid, what's going on in the world?"

"In response," Jan continued, "I whined. Maury shut me down cold. 'Stop bellyaching,' he said in his bulldog voice. 'I know things are tough, but I want you to get off your ass and go do something brave for your country.'" With him gone now, "every day, I'll shake myself from sleep, go out and try to do something brave for my country. You do the same."

Ronnie Dugger, The Texas Observer, Feb. 14, 2003

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