By John Kanelis / email@example.com
HEDLEY, Texas — Cruising through this Donley County community today at the end of a 5,400-mile trip across the western United States, my mind was drawn to a son of this part of the Texas Panhandle.
He was born and was reared in Hedley. Ernie Houdashell went on to serve two tours during the Vietnam War, then found his way into the political arena.
Ernie became a trusted source for me when I arrived in the Panhandle in January 1995 to become editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. He later — after I left the Globe-News — would become a good friend, with whom I would share occasional lunches at an Asian buffet we both liked in Amarillo.
Houdashell was chief of staff to state Rep. John Smithee, a Republican from Amarillo, when I arrived at my post way back when. He then got elected and re-elected time and again as Randall County judge, presiding over a commissioners court that set policies and oversaw their implementation often at the urging of Houdashell, a consummate deal-maker.
Ernie and I disagreed politically. We never let those differences get in the way. He once told me that we only were “adversaries, not enemies.”
Houdashell died of COVID-19 complications earlier this year. Even though I have moved away from the Panhandle, we kept in touch. I would see him on my occasional forays back to the Caprock.
On Houdashell’s watch as county judge, the county moved from a cramped Amarillo annex to a more spacious complex in another Amarillo neighborhood; he also oversaw the relocation of the county’s government complex from the square in Canyon to another site across the street from West Texas A&M University; the county expanded the displays at the Panhandle Veterans War Memorial, adding a Vietnam-era Huey helicopter, an F-100 fighter jet and a piece of the USS Arizona battleship that was sunk at Pearl Harbor.
Indeed, Houdashell was proud of his service during that war. He served two tours, the first of which qualified him as what was known back then as a REMF, an acronym for “rear echelon mother … ,” well you know the rest of it. That didn’t set well with Houdashell, so he volunteered for a second tour, getting orders for a Huey company, where he served a yearlong tour as a door gunner.
He told stories about growing up in Hedley, about the shenanigans he and his buddies would pull at the old water tower that still stands alongside U.S. 287. He told tales about a fellow he identified as “Gervis Pinkerton.” I know if Gervis was a real guy. It didn’t matter. Houdashell cracked me up with every story he would tell.
In some respects, Ernie Houdashell never left Hedley, Texas far behind. It was part of him and contributed greatly to the charm I recognized in my friend.
I will miss him forever.