When Ann Richards was 11 years old, she moved from a small town in Texas to San Diego, where she found herself for the first time in a classroom with children of all races, colors, and nationalities. To her surprise, says her character in the stage play “Ann,” “those kids were all exactly like me.” From that moment on, Richards never understood racial prejudice and realized people could live together fairly; they just didn’t always do it. The realization became a personal passion for fairness that shaped a dynamic political career back in Texas. “Life is not fair,” her character says, “but government should be.”
Ann Richards served as governor of Texas from 1991 to 1995. For those of us who aren’t familiar with Richards as a person or as a politician, “Ann” is a gift. A one-woman play written and performed on Broadway by Holland Taylor, “Ann” shows us a strong woman with a sharp wit who left an indelible mark on her state and her country. While she was governor, Richards appointed more women and minorities to state boards and commissions than any of her predecessors had ever done.
Through Taylor’s words, Richards comes alive, regaling the reader or the audience with tales of her childhood molded by a stern mother and a good-old-boy father who assured her she could do anything she wanted to in life. As a young adult in the 1950s, she took on the duties expected of her—caring for her husband and four children—but she also worked to “fix stuff’ in her community and to help other women run for public office. Her first venture as a candidate herself (for county commissioner) was almost an accident. But she won and there was no going back.
“Ann” gives us a wonderfully enlightening and entertaining look at Governor Richards juggling the tasks of her daily life—everything from considering a stay of execution for a condemned man to making sure she has a parade to be in on the Fourth of July to talking with President Bill Clinton about a new approach in Texas for ending the welfare cycle to arranging a vacation with her four children. And always, always with the down-home humor and humanity that became her trademark.
For a special insight into “Ann” and Ann Richards, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is offering an online video chat with author Holland Taylor on April 8 at 7 p.m. ET. The discussion will be open to members of Gillibrand’s Off the Sidelines book club. You can join the book club and get a free download of the script of the play at Off the Sidelines Online Book Club.
I’m definitely planning on being there to learn more about this remarkable woman, and I hope you will, too.