Honoring the Anti-Hud

Over the last few days, as I have struggled to deal with the reality of the death of Bob Barton Jr. – longtime friend, former boss, mentor — I am repeatedly reminded of a scene from the movie, Hud, in which the grandfather expresses his frustration with Hud, his son.
You will recall that the old man had criticized Hud, telling him, that he didn’t give a damn about other people, that he value and respected nothing.  BobBarton4-5copy
“You live just for yourself,” he told him. “And that makes you not fit to live with.”
When Bannon, his grandson, attempted to defend Hud, the grandfather ruefully observed, “Little by little, the look of our country changes because of the men we admire.”
In reading the many tributes to Bob, on Facebook and other forums, I have marveled at how certain words keep being used over and over again.
Hero. Mentor. Giant. Icon. Great man. Good man. A huge, positive influence.
I marvel too at the number of people who have sought to find a way to pay tribute to this giant of a man. It warms my heart because it tells me that, at least in this little corner of Texas, our country has not changed at all, and it has not changed because so many have demonstrated that we admire men like Robert Clark Barton Jr.
In looking up to Bob, we have proclaimed to the world that we admire decency, fairness, justice, kindness, tolerance, and a good and generous heart. In short, what we admire about Bob are the qualities that defined him as an unrepentant liberal.
Whether he intended to or not, in giving the world Hud, Larry McMurtry introduced to us a new breed of the modern American man, a breed that is, regrettably, admired by way too many. He introduced a man who is defined by greed and selfishness and who values and respects nothing other than wealth and power, for their own sake. They are men not fit to live with.
Fortunately, there remain among us still men – and women — like Bob Barton Jr., who every day they walk on this earth remind us that greatness can be found, not in wealth and power, but in goodness.
In a sense, Bob was the anti-Hud. Unlike Hud, Bob gave a damn about people. Unlike Hud, Bob valued and respected many things, chief among them the notion that there is a basic decency and goodness in the souls of all people, and that those souls demand respect.
And, unlike Hud, Bob did not live only for himself. He lived for his community and his country.
There are some who will argue that, for Bob, politics was an end in itself, that he never lost the appetite for politics for the simple reason that he enjoyed it, as a spectator sport. But the truth is that Bob saw politics as a means to something else, as a way to improve our world and to improve the lives of people.
To Bob, the true appeal of politics — and newspapering — was that, if done right, and for the right reasons, both can help right what is wrong in our communities and in our country. Both can make life better for more people. Both can begin to erase the dark stain of injustice and prejudice of all kinds.
Unlike some of us who over the years have let cynicism creep into our existence, Bob truly believed to the very end that change and a better society are possible through the efforts of those who have the courage to take a stand.
Those of you who remember The Hays County Citizen might recall that it prominently displayed on its opinion pages the motto, “Independent in all things, neutral in none.”
That was an appropriate motto for that crusading newspaper, but it was also a fitting motto for Bob himself — with one exception, for he was not completely independent: he remained inextricably and unabashedly bound to the concepts of truth, equality and fairness.
I worked with and for Bob for a number of years, and I was his friend for many more. I learned much from him. He did not teach me how to write, but he gave me the freedom to make the mistakes that taught me how not to write. I had the privilege of also getting to know and working with Tutta and Jeff and David, and I have learned from them also. In politics, I rejoiced and celebrated with Bob when our side won, and I commiserated with him when it didn’t.
A few weeks before he died, I spent several hours discussing with Bob, David and Jeff, how we would proceed with Bob’s long-planned “unauthorized, opinionated and unsanitized” history of Hays County.
In an outline of the book that he had prepared, Bob described the book as “an uncensored history,” explaining that it would be the story “of many individual lives, each having been precious to the people who lived them.”
In a very big way, that was what defined Bob: his undying belief in the preciousness of the lives of the people with whom he shared this corner of the world. And that made Bob a person very much fit to live with – even now.

About juanzqui7

Former Texas reporter, columnist and editorial writer.
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One Response to Honoring the Anti-Hud

  1. sandra grizzle says:

    Your words are so very true. Thank you for saying them. sandra grizzle

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