It’s been gr-eight!
by Jessica Rossman and Phaedra Friend
H Texas magazine turns 8 years old this year. It has been a wild and crazy ride for our city since 1995, the year the magazine was launched, with plenty of wild twists and not just a few hairpin turns. Both the city and its magazine have expanded by leaps and bounds.
In 1995, Houstonians celebrated as the Rockets won their second straight National Basketball Association championship. It was also the year that Houstonians stepped on the gas, as highway speed limits reverted from the previously federally mandated 55 mph to the pre-1974 limit of 70. The Houston Post closed its doors after 94 years of publication and then-Mayor Bob Lanier easily won his third and final term in office with 83 percent of the vote. Farther away from home, O.J. Simpson and his slow-moving white Bronco kicked off a year of courtroom antics that culminated in his being acquitted of murder charges. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated following a Tel Aviv peace rally, and President Clinton sent 20,000 U.S. troops to Bosnia.
Here, some famous Houstonians reflect on their city and themselves, then and now, and how they both have changed in nearly a decade.
Retired boxing champion
George Foreman is a world-class champ, both in and out of the ring. According to the champ, though, he started out life as a world-class “juvenile delinquent.” As a teen-ager in 1960s Houston, Foreman admits that he was “heading toward a career in shoplifting.” Then one day, for no particular reason, he took seriously a question posed by a television commercial for President Lyndon B. Johnson’s then-new employment program: “If you want a second chance in life, then the Job Corps is for you.” He’d never heard of President Johnson?’s “job corps” before and frankly didn’t think too highly of jobs in general. But inexplicably, he joined the group. Almost instantly, he redirected his life from alley fighting to world championship boxing. A few years later, he came home from the 1968 Olympics with a gold medal in the heavyweight division.
Over the next five years, he punched his way to a challenge for the world heavyweight title. “Big George” knocked “Smokin’ Joe” Frazier to the canvas six times before a second-round knockout punch made him the world’s newest heavyweight boxing champion. Although his reign only lasted a year, he had made it. He retired from boxing at the ripe old age of 26, after losing the “Rumble in the Jungle” to boxing great Muhammad Ali. But he quickly acquired a new title: ordained minister. The former “juvenile delinquent” started a ministry in North Houston in order to help a new generation of kids who basically reminded him of himself at that age. The only problem was that the “troubled kids” weren’t in church listening to him. They were out on the streets causing trouble. So, he joined them. The boxer-turned-preacher spread the gospel to the sidewalks, preached from street corners and walked door to door. Finally, he realized that he could merge his two devotions. In 1984, with his brother, Roy, Foreman opened the George Foreman Youth; Community Center to help kids work on their right hook as well as their values. Eventually, Foreman went on to capture the heavyweight boxing title again, this time at age 46.
These days, Foreman dedicates his time to the Youth Center’s young athletes, his retail adventures with the tremendously successful George Foreman Grill, his 300-acre ranch in East Texas and his family. And yes, all five Foreman boys really are named George. – J.R.M.
We all know the words to “Legs” and “Sharp Dressed Man,” we recognize the beards and sunglasses and respect the love for blues and devotion to Elvis. Dusty Hill of ZZ Top has remained a rock ‘n roll icon for three decades, surviving years of life on the road and plenty of ups and downs.
Many of you have caught a glimpse of the illustrious Hill courtside at Rockets games. He and his Little Ol’ Band from Texas have been heating up the worldwide music scene for years, giving Texas and Houston a permanent residence in the high-energy world of rock ‘n roll.
Hill has unvaryingly supported Houston. His first return to the big stage after a two-year hiatus was at our very own Rodeo Houston 2002. Commenting on Houston fans, Hill says, “Like the Wizard of Oz – “there’s no place like home.” The fans are the best.”
Houstonians turn out by the thousands to cheer on Hill, his long-bearded comrades and their bluesy style of music. And in return, Hill can be spotted around town returning the favor. He is a huge Houston professional sports fan, cheering on the city’s teams to the end. Hill says, “Witnessing the NBA championships of the Houston Rockets” will forever stay in his mind as his fondest memory of Houston. And he is thrilled by the return of the NFL to Houston. Hill also is thrilled to see what he calls “the resurrection of the downtown area.”
Meanwhile, Hill is experiencing some big changes, as well. “I got married last March, and so many great things are happening with the band,” he says. “Life is good.” – P.F.
Former Texas lieutenant governor
To walk into former Texas Lt. Gov. William P. Hobby’s office is to step right smack into the midst of Texas history. The walls are covered with mementos from our state’s political past, and Hobby can tell you (and he will) exactly what each one means and how it got there.
Hobby, along with his famous family, represents some of the most engaging aspects of our city and state’s political tradition. In fact, three generations of Hobby men have governed Texas in some form. Both his father and grandfather served in the state Legislature, and his father was governor, signing the resolution in 1919 that gave Texas women the right to vote. In 1939, the family acquired a regional newspaper, at which Hobby Sr. had worked in 1895 as a circulation clerk, and called it the Houston Post.
It is this legacy of Houston business and Texas politics that Hobby grew up in and, one could argue, outgrew. He is one of Texas’ larger-than-life characters. He served his country for four years as a naval officer and then served his family’s communications business for 21 years as president of the Post. He was elected to his first term as lieutenant governor in 1972 and was re-elected not fewer than four times.
One need only glance at the walls of Hobby’s office to know that one is in the presence of a real-live Texas legend with a 10-gallon personality to match. Take the almost innocuous looking strip of paper hanging in a plain black frame on one wall. Browned from more than three decades of wear, this is a piece of ticker tape that came off the Associated Press wire at 12:39 p.m. on Nov. 22, 1963. “President Kennedy Shot Today” was all it said or needed to. Hobby recalls standing at the printer in silent disbelief, surrounded by his staff. As managing editor of the paper at the time, Hobby was in charge. All eyes looked to him for guidance in this terrible moment. “I was the boss. I was supposed to know what to do,” he says. “I had no friggin’ idea what to do.” Fortunately, his right-hand man with more than 50 years in the news business did. The man nudged him. “You’re going to run an “Extra,” aren’t you?” the man said, and Hobby’s light bulb went on. “Of course, we’re gonna run an “Extra!” Let’s move!” And so, the last Houston Post Extra hit the streets. – J.R.M.
Beyoncé and Mathew Knowles
Singer and manager/father
Could Houston’s Beyonce Knowles of Destiny’s Child be any hotter?
Just like her hometown, Beyonce is scorching hot and shows no signs off cooling off. With her father and manager, Mathew Knowles, she has launched one of the music industry’s most successful female rhythm and blues groups and is on the verge of becoming a full-blown movie star.
Their company, Music World Entertainment, part of the Columbia Records/Sony Music family of companies, grossed more than $30 million last year, and 2002 promises to be even bigger. Already this year, Beyonce has donned a disco-era afro and become CIA Agent Foxy Cleopatra for her silver screen debut opposite Mike Myers as Austin Powers in “Goldmember.” Mathew, in addition to managing one of the best-selling female vocal groups of all time, manages his own record label, Music World Music, with three artists on the Billboard charts: Destiny’s Child, Michelle Williams and the up-and-coming R&B group, Play.
Most of this whirlwind of success has happened recently. The Knowles, like their hometown, have changed dramatically over the past eight years. 1995 was “a tough, tough year,” says Mathew. Electra Records dropped Destiny’s Child, leaving the aspiring band without a record label. To help the family stay afloat, Mathew was forced to sell their home. But before year’s end, it had all turned around for the family, and the rest is music history.
Mathew says they love Houston and have never thought of leaving the city, even when times were tough. He is optimistic, and says he sees Houston “improving and growing, becoming a more sophisticated, cosmopolitan city.” The Bayou City, he boasts, is “definitely on the right path.” But what has to happen for Houston to become a “real contender, a true international city,” he adds, “is major growth, major cultural growth.” Although the city has come a long way since 1995 when “downtown was the last place you wanted to be at night,” he says Houston needs that “Manhattan feel, the atmosphere of Chicago’s Rush Street.” According to Mathew, it will happen, and it will happen in downtown Houston and nearby midtown. Ultimately, he predicts, “Downtown Houston will be the Mecca for Texas’ cultural nightlife.” – J.R.M.
When Dan Rather reflects upon his former city and how it has changed over the past eight years, he does so from a stunningly global perspective – the perspective of a journalist who has covered the biggest news events in the world during the past several decades.
But he also is able to assess Houston from the perspective of a former Wharton, Texas, resident who moved up U.S. Highway 59 to Houston to go to school and launched what would be an award-winning career in broadcast journalism.
Most of the country recognizes Rather’s familiar face on the “CBS Evening News,” but many Houstonians still do not know that he began his famous career in nearby Huntsville as an Associated Press reporter, later becoming a reporter for the Houston Chronicle in the mid-1950s and news director for KHOU-TV, the CBS affiliate in Houston, prior to joining CBS News. During his 35 years with CBS News, he covered the death of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, every U.S. president from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Bill Clinton and virtually every major international leader of the past three decades. Rather has co-edited “60 Minutes,” anchored and reported for “48 Hours” and, since 1981, served as anchor and managing editor of the “CBS Evening News.”
From a professional perspective, Rather believes that, over the past near-decade, Houston has become “more, much more, of an international center – more diverse in its people and its appeal, more global in its outlook than ever before.” Part of the reason for this, he suggests, is “Houston’s move away from its great dependence (some might say over-dependence) on oil, aerospace and agriculture.” According to Rather, the “hallmark of its character, its signature, has remained a civic and business attitude that says: “Can do.”” Houston’s “can do” attitude remains an almost stubborn constant, through boom or bust.
And Rather remains a true Texan at heart. A Saturday afternoon might find him having lunch at his niece’s café and bakery, Rather Sweet, on Main Street just behind a little garden in Fredericksburg. – J.R.M.
Mary Lou Retton
Olympic gold-medal gymnast
If you were a little girl in the ’80s, chances are you idolized Mary Lou Retton. She was the quintessential “sweetheart” of gymnastics, a fireball of a little girl from Houston who won gold in the 1984 Olympics and, along the way, the hearts of millions throughout the world.
Retton, now 34, came to our city when she was 14 to train with famed women’s gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi and never left. After stealing our hearts at the Los Angeles games, she returned to Houston to find that she had lost hers. She had fallen in love. Retton married Shannon Kelley, and the couple settled here in her adopted city. “I had to stay here, and I just love it,” she says. “I really call Houston home.”
She recalls returning to Houston following her triumph at the Olympics. Fans came out from all over to welcome the champion home. “The city pretty much adopted me,” she says.
Retton is proud to be a Houstonian. She staunchly supports the city’s “commitment to downtown revitalization and the arts” and is pleased to see “great strides in improving our transportation through HOV lanes and rail.”
Quick and witty, nothing gets past this little lady, especially her four little girls. “It’s crazy! They’re so much fun, with so much energy,” she says. Shayla, 7, McKenna, 5, Skyla, 2, and Emma, 4 months, give Retton a true sense of worth. “I love my girls. As a mother, it is the most important job to raise strong, independent ladies, and I feel so blessed to have them.”
Beyond being active in her church and with her children, as well as volunteering as a host for the Children’s Miracle Network, Retton has launched a children’s television program on PBS. “Mary Lou’s Flip-Flop Shop” offers children a live role model on the Saturday morning lineup as an alternative to the multitude of animated characters. “As a mother, I was concerned with what is out there,” she says. Her mission is to “encourage children to make healthy lifestyle choices, both physically and emotionally.” She says it was extremely important to her that the program be produced in Houston, drawing all of its talent for the show from the Bayou City.
A true ambassador to the world, Retton continues to strive for gold, and Houston is the better for it.