September 30, 2012


Happy Birthday to an American Warrior, Basketball Star, Lawyer,
Husband and Greatest Father Ever Who's Entering 10th Decade


The general election is rapidly approaching - and one of the most neurotic and unpredictable political seasons in Texas history will be coming to an end in less than six weeks when the ballots are cast in November. Texas legislators already are primping and jockeying for a regular session that convenes two months after the votes have been certified and the rosters etched in stone - and the pool of possibilities for the 2014 statewide races is deeper and murkier than it's ever been at this stage of the game.

So this might seem like the perfect place to paint a broad and sweeping picture of where we are now based on the events of the past year and what we might expect in the Texas political universe in the foreseeable future. But that will have to wait because there are certain things in this world that are more important than politics and what we do for a living and how we entertain ourselves when we work and play.

With the exception of faith - perhaps - the number one priority in life is family. That's why I'm using this time and space to wish my dad a happy birthday.

William Edward Hailey - a retired San Antonio attorney who everyone calls Bill - was born in Houston, Texas on September 30, 1922. Come Sunday, he will have been on this Earth for 90 years.

That's 90 wonderful years - to be more specific - even though some were more challenging than others. I've been around for almost two-thirds of that time - and while I've been blessed with the ability to make a living stringing words into sentences and paragraphs - I can say without the slightest exaggeration that the greatest writer in the world could never find the words to describe how much I love my father and how proud I am of him. It would be impossible to adequately convey how much I appreciate everything that Dad has done for me and my younger brother Joel and for everyone else who's had the good fortune to know this incredible man during the past nine decades. Dad has been good friends with just about everyone he's met as far as I can remember - everyone at Trinity Baptist Church where he and my mother started taking us in the late 1950s, every client at his law firm, everybody he's ever played golf with, every waiter at every restaurant where he's dined - you get the picture. One conversation is all it ever takes for him to win you over. My Dad has been a beacon of love - and he's shared that love with unlimited generosity during the past nine decades.

So there's no use wasting a lot of time trying to put my feelings about my father into print. Superlatives condensed to text are simply understatements in this man's case. But I can give you a sample of the highlights in the long life of Bill.

Dad was born and raised in the Bayou City where he and his family had to move into a poorer part of town when he was a little kid during the Great Depression. He attended San Jacinto High School, where he would become one of the greatest basketball players that anyone had ever seen in a city that had many. With a prodding from his father, William Henry Hailey, my father chose Baylor University over the hometown Rice Owls when he had numerous basketball scholarship offers as a teenager. Dad was a star running back on the high school football game back in the days when they had leather helmets with no face protection - and he broke his nose several times on the gridiron. While most of his hair would fall out when he was still a young man, you'd never know about the fractured nose simply by looking at him.

Dad was one of the Bears' two leading scorers during his first two seasons on the BU varsity basketball team - but his college experience took a significant detour after the attack on Pearl Harbor that inspired him to enter pilot training school as a commissioned officer in the Army Air Corps. Dad found himself flying missions over Germany in World War II as a bomber pilot in as a 19-year-old. Almost 90,000 fellow Americans died doing their jobs as bomber crew members during this particular chapter in our nation's history. My father saw quite a few of them get shot down out of the sky - and while his plane was hit with enemy fire on multiple occasions - the good Lord always guided his team safely back to the base where they were stationed in England on each of these occasions. He'd like to think that no one ever died as a result of the bombs he dropped on bridges and other strategic targets where people may or may not have been. But he knows that probably wasn't the case. The one thing that's for sure is that my father has been opposed to every war in which America has engaged since he returned from the second and last big one.

Dad was back in Waco in 1946 when Baylor won the Southwest Conference championship in basketball with him and two fellow senior starters who'd been off at war themselves during the previous two years. Dad, who's curly dark blonde hair was thinning considerably at that point, made several all-SWC teams before the Bears lost to eventual national champ Oklahoma A&M University, which is known now as Oklahoma State, in the NCAA tournament. The amazing story about the Baylor team that year - with three war veterans and two freshmen who'd play in the NCAA finals two years later - has been chronicled in newspapers around the state during the Bears' recent resurgence that includes BU's first post-season appearance since 1950 and two elite-eight games in the past four years. The reporters on these stories about found their ways to my father, who's given them some of the most poignant and clever quotes they've ever parlayed into ink.

Dad coached the freshmen team at Baylor before graduating from law school and moving to Amarillo where he met my mother, Eleanor Mansfield, fell in love, got married and conceived yours truly before relocating to San Antonio where I would be born. Mom, who suffered a fatal stroke 11 years ago, played the piano at the church for 30 years or so while Dad was a deacon. But he wasn't the kind of deacon who spent a lot of time passing the plate. He was the kind who preferred to be at the back door welcoming parishioners and discussing developments in college and pro sports from the previous week. Our pastor, the great Buckner Fanning, didn't mind that Dad was ignoring the sermons because Dad was one of his all-time best friends.

Now here's a spoiler alert for all my Republican friends and readers. My Dad was raised by parents who were very conservative and usually voted for the GOP nominees on the national ticket back in the day when all of the elected officials in Texas were still Democrats. But Dad has been a Democratic diehard as far back as I can recall - and I never really knew if his political allegiance was a function of the war or the economic hardships that his family experienced in the earl years or what. He'd met Lyndon Johnson and John Connally - but he was a huge fan of Hubert Humphrey and highly disappointed when it became clear that the legendary Minnesota senator would never be president.

But almost all of my father's friends have been died-in-the-wool Republicans who've put up with his liberal leanings because they love the guy so darn much.

Dad married his current wife Ann after my mother passed away in New Mexico, where they would spend the summers at our family home in Angel Fire. While Dad and Ann have lived up there in the Rocky Mountains every summer since their marriage in 2002, he's been hinting that he won't be going back next year because it's been getting harder to get around. Dad had been a church basketball star in his 50s - and he was always running after work or playing tennis or doing some kind of exercise when I was a kid and long after I'd gone off to live my adult life. But the knees have given out - and while he can maneuver through his condo on the edge of Alamo Heights without the walker he's had for the past couple of years - he doesn't feel as secure going without it out in the world where it hurts more to fall on the concrete than on the thick carpet at home. You can tell that he finds his increasingly restricted immobility very frustrating - but he's more likely to crack a joke about it than to ever utter a word of complaint.

My dad's wife has a son-in-law who happens to be award-winning Associated Press photographer Eric Gay - and he summed it up nicely recently when he observed that Bill Hailey has many strengths but none greater than the gift of caring for everyone whose lives he's touched. I'll second that.

Some of you might think I'm a bit prejudiced here - but I can say without a doubt in my mind that my dad is the greatest man that ever lived. Period.

Happy Birthday, Dad. I love you and thank you with all my heart.

Mike Hailey's column appears regularly in Capitol Inside


Mike Hailey presents state politics with a personal touch. He's the only Texas Capitol journalist who's been to the dark side and back - having worked for two major newspaper bureaus before signing on as press secretary for Bob Bullock - the most powerful and legendary political leader of his time in the state. Hailey's Comment, which is published in Capitol Inside on a regular basis, is a direct reflection of that experience.

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09-17-12: Senate Crossroads

09-10-12: Unlikely Bedfellows

09-04-12: Hope Springs

08-30-12: Remap Reject

08-27-12: Weathering Tampa

08-22-12: Castro vs. Cruz

08-13-12: Map Casualties

08-06-12: Dewhurst Dilemmas

07-30-12: Texas Tea Spill

07-26-12: Skeleton Parade

07-19-12: Fast Track Ethics

07-16-12: Pollstergeist

07-09-12: Bench Battle

07-02-12: Right Choices

06-25-12: Off Broadway

06-18-12: PAC Name Reform

06-10-12: Game On

06-02-12: Springboard to Nowhere

05-25-12: Dirt Storm

05-19-12: Texans for Great Things

05-15-12: Residential Intent

05-06-12: Birds of a Feather

04-28-12: Revisionist History

04-19-12: Born Again Dems

04-14-12: No Foul No Harm

04-10-12: Remap Repercussions

04-03-12: Mixed Signals

03-29-12: May Speaker Election

03-21-12: Budget Ballet

03-15-12: Dems for Mitt for Now

03-09-12: Personnel Moves

02-26-12: Consummate Pro

02-21-12: Cherry Tree Challenge

02-16-12: High Jump

02-12-12: Tactics Tiff

02-05-12: Nudge Theory

01-26-12: Damage Control

01-22-12: Split Decision

01-19-12: Coming Home

01-13-12: Trading Places

01-06-12: Expectation Adjustment

01-03-12: Decision Time

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