A Father’s Day Facebook post reminded me today of someone with whom I was acquainted while I worked as a journalist, but he was someone whose hand I never shook. Indeed, our paths never crossed.
Still, I considered him a valuable source.
He was the late George E. Christian Jr., who in the late 1960s became noted as White House press secretary during the tenure of President Lyndon Johnson.
Christian’s son, Brian, posted a Father’s Day greeting to his late dad today and it brought back a memory I had about my own long-distance relationship with George Christian.
I’ll be candid about one matter: I do not recall how Christian’s name and phone number ended up in my Rolodex. My file did have that information. There were occasions during my years in Beaumont and later in Amarillo — when I was editing opinion pages at newspapers in both communities — when I needed some “deep background” information political matters in Austin.
George Christian retired from the White House grind in 1969 after serving as press secretary since 1966. The end of LBJ’s presidency was plagued with lots of bad news emanating from the Vietnam War. Christian suffered plenty of wounds himself battling a skeptical White House press corps.
However, after leaving public life, he did not lose his affinity for reporters and editors. He ran a public relations firm in Austin that often put him in contact with some of his old nemeses. I wasn’t one of them. I was just an opinion journalist who at times needed some “expert” advice on what was happening in Austin.
There were times — I lost count of the number of them — when I would call George Christian. We would chat about this or that. I would ask him about the flow of laws being written in the Legislature. I would inquire about how he envisioned the progress of legislative initiatives.
George Christian always was willing to tell me his thoughts, or to refer me to someone who had more detailed answers to the questions I would ask. Most amazingly, he never seemed to tire of talking on the phone with someone he had never met face to face.
He was courteous, kind, professional and as near as I can tell, always truthful.
I don’t have many regrets about the career that ended in August 2012. One of them stands out. I regret never shaking George Christian’s hand and telling him how much I appreciated the knowledge he was willing to share with me.