The last week has been a tough one for engaged Houstonians. Long-time civic leaders have passed as well as famed astronaut Neil Armstrong. Kay Crooker and Council Member Ernest McGowen were both amazing people who touched the City in unique ways.
Former Council Member Ernest McGowen was a most gracious, kind and patient leader. When I read the Chronicle story, my eyes stung with tears but I was also saddened by the simple platitudes put forth for this great leader. I realize that few people in power today or the bright young reporters ever had a chance to work with him as a Council Member.
In my younger years, I spent time on the staff of a Mayor and many years campaigning for Council Members. Ernest McGowen was one of the first generation of African-American leaders. He approached problems with a graciousness that brought people together to solve their differences. While some have focused on “he passed this Ordinance or that Ordinance”, I would say his impact was much greater. His ability to bridge communities was his greatest strength. It’s not such a tangible skill or one that is recognized upon one’s passing. But through the 1980’s, as Houston struggled to live together peacefully with our ever-changing demographics, Ernest McGowen could be counted on to unite people for what was right and to cross the vast bridges that existed between communities. I know of few greater contributions to society.
Kay Crooker also passed away this week. She was much less well-known to the multitudes of Houstonians but one of those rare people who worked tirelessly to make the City better, without recognition. Her southern charm belied her “steel magnolia” nature. In a time when developers controlled the city with unlimited power and reach, Mrs. Crooker organized neighborhoods and helped redefine deed restrictions. Her efforts resulted in the preservation of many distinct neighborhoods across the city. She would go anywhere and help any one who asked to preserve their community. By founding the Houston Homeowners Association, she gave voice to the residents of the City.
As a member of the Planning Commission for more than 25 years, Mrs. Crooker always spoke up for the impact a variance or permit might have on “the neighbors”. The amazing thing about her was her extremely polite, patient and gracious manner. She was so nice that it was very hard to tell her no, if you disagreed. I watched many a aggressive developer wilt under her charm. She also dedicated herself to beautifying Houston. When she and former Council Member Eleanor Tinsley joined forces, there was little that could be done to stop them.
The blend of Kay Crooker and Ernest McGowen working together helped to make improvements in underserved neighborhoods across the City. Two amazing contributors to the City we know today.
Lastly, Neil Armstrong. While not currently a Houstonian, he certainly lived here for many years. He was America’s hero and few would consider him “unsung”. He will forever be the “first man to walk on the moon”. His walk across that moon helped to put Houston on the global map and has helped us to retain our image as an innovative city, unafraid to go forward.
Paying my respects…………