My journalism career enabled me to cross paths over the course of many years with some of the more fascinating and occasionally unique individuals one ever could imagine meeting.
I want to tell you about one of them. I won’t speak ill of him because he’s no longer around to defend himself.
I present to you Manny Perez Villasenor. My peeps from Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle know of whom I am writing.
Manny was a Potter County commissioner who I believe it is fair to say was quite unlike any other who served on that elected governing body.
Manny died in 2011. My relationship with him went up and down, back up and then back down repeatedly over the years I worked as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News.
He was irascible. Also cantankerous. He could get angry at the hint of a negative word. He also could be kind. Manny could be engaging in a clumsy, inarticulate sort of way.
Above all he was honest. Yep, he was an honest politician. I have not just typed an oxymoronic phrase. Manny Perez always told you what was in his heart, on his mind. He didn’t sugar-coat anything that I ever remember.
In this era of the liar in chief, and of politicians at all levels being caught telling lies or “misspeaking,” Manny Perez was at some level the original truth-teller.
Yes, he could be frustrating. Even maddening in his mercurial temperament. If I wrote something complimentary of him, he could not have been kinder, or more solicitous.
But . . .
When I wrote something with which he disagreed, Manny would pick up the phone and read me the riot act. “I don’t care what the Globe-News thinks of me,” he would rant. “I work for my people” in Potter County’s Precinct 2, he would say. “I never want to speak to you again,” he would conclude. After a lengthy harangue, he would hang up.
Of course, I would remind him that he most certainly did “care” what the paper thought of him, which is why he would bring it up.
A week later, or maybe two, he would call. Manny needed something from the me, or the newspaper. It would be as if the previous tirade he launched at me never occurred.
Manny was a proud Democrat, although given his inability to articulate public policy or to explain in clear, concise terms anything of detail, I never was sure why he adhered to any partisan label.
I think he would consider himself to be a political conservative. He didn’t like spending public money needlessly. He didn’t attend seminars, workshops or various meetings that took him out of his comfort zone . . . meaning anywhere outside of his northeast Potter County precinct.
He and I would have lunch once in a while and he always — as in always — remind me that he didn’t do business with anyone outside of his precinct boundaries.
I’ve moved away from Amarillo. Manny Perez has been gone for eight years. In a strange — and unexplainable — way I still miss him.
The man kept me on my toes. He kept me humble in a way only Manny Perez could do.