Bob Strauss, even by Texas standards, was larger than life. He died yesterday at the age of 95 after almost a half century as a fixture in the Democratic Party and in Washington.
Everyone who ever dealt with him has a favorite Strauss story.
In 1974, when he was chairman of the party, I was writing a profile and traveling around the country with him. He was campaigning one night in Louisiana when bad weather caused our scheduled flight back to Washington to be cancelled. Strauss decided to fly to Dallas, his home.
It was late at night, I was the only reporter traveling with him and he insisted, since we were leaving early in the morning, that I stay in his guest room. His wife, Helen, greeted us at about midnight.
At about 5:30 the next morning, I was still asleep, Strauss came bounding through the door with a lavish breakfast tray: "Helen, bring the camera. I'm going to buy this son-of-a-bitch and want to make sure he stays bought."
On the way back we bet $10 on the upcoming Washington Redskins-Dallas Cowboys game. The Redskins won. My profile ran, and it was flattering.
The Democrats that year held the first of several mindless midterm conventions, where party activists could rant. I was covering it and walking down a corridor when the party chairman, followed by a horde of reporters, came heading my way. We met, Strauss pulled out 10 bucks, stuffed it in my pocket, said "That was one hell of a story," and walked on.
He had real accomplishments, serving as party chairman, U.S. trade ambassador, Jimmy Carter's special envoy to the Middle East, and George H.W. Bush's ambassador to Russia. He dished out advice to scores and scores of politicians, mostly Democrats.
The Texas Democratic politics that he grew up in -- with the likes of Lyndon Johnson and John Connally -- were tough. But Bob Strauss brought a joy to politics. He was fun. That's the way it should be.
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