Today Former Congressman Jack Brooks is being buried but his legacy will live on. If you are unfamiliar with the Congressman, the New York Times did a good 101 on his bio, personality and style, but this post is more personal. My first “real job” in college was working for now retired Congressman Nick Lampson in the Jack Brooks Federal Building in downtown Beaumont, my hometown. This was the same Congressional seat Brooks had occupied some years before until 1994 when Republicans first began their domination over Texas. Brooks had served Southeast Texas in Congress for 42 years making him one of the longest serving members ever.
Coincidentally, on the day of his death while in Washington, DC, I was asked who my political inspiration was. It was a question I hadn't really mulled over before but its impossible not to give Jack Brooks top consideration. He not only grew up in my hometown but went to my alma mater (in fact he sponsored the bill that made Lamar University a 4 year institution), and he represented Jefferson County in the state legislature, a seat now held by my father. All these facts would be useless trivia if he hadn't also had an impressively progressive stint in Congress. He represented timeless values that made Texans proud to call themselves Democrats. He supported civil rights, voting rights, organized labor and gun rights – even though the latter subject is credited with his ultimate demise. He is also an indispensable character of US history representing a time when Texans with strong personalities dominated American politics (see also, House Speaker Sam Rayburn and Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson).
In his retirement he could be found at local political events, many thrown in his honor but he always seemed happy to oblige. I remember the very day I saw him as more than a mere former congressman but a national treasure. It was a typical fundraiser but he was giving his 1st person account of the Kennedy assassination and his experience on Air Force One as LBJ was being sworn in as President. I was young but I knew then that he contained an indispensable wealth of institutional knowledge. During my last personal visit with the Congressman many years later and maybe a year ago, he assured me that he was working on his memoirs. It was something that greatly relieved me, because as gracious as he was in accommodating questions there was no way short of a book one could appreciate the life he lived and the influence his character had on the progress of his Southeast Texas district and the nation as a whole. Brooks not only refused to sign the Southern Manifesto (10th Amendment argument against racial integration) but signed and helped craft Civil Rights legislation. He also helped LBJ with his Great Society Programs, the Americans with Disability Act, and was a strong supporter of NASA.
The name Jack Brooks will be remembered in many ways, a Federal Courthouse in Beaumont, the regional airport of Southeast Texas, a park in Galveston, a statue on the campus of Lamar University (complete with cigar), but we would be remiss to not honor him with our own renewed commitment to social progress, expanding opportunities for the less fortunate and manifesting our nation's true destiny – liberty and Justice for all.
A memorial service is being held today at Lamar University's Montagne Center in Beaumont.