When the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History decided to stage an exhibit focused on Walter Cronkite, Ron worked with center staff and Riggs Ward Design to create “Walter Cronkite: Eyewitness to a Century.” Ron’s introductory text set up the exhibit storyline.
“I had a pretty good seat at the parade. I was lucky enough to have been born at the right time to see most of this remarkable century.”
As the 20th century paraded by, Walter Cronkite observed with unapologetic curiosity. Decade by decade, story after story, he honed his reporting skills, adapting to and shaping the tools of mass communication—print, radio, film, and television. Thanks to his watchful eyes, his way with words, and his journalistic professionalism, he used his baritone voice like a soothing instrument to tell multiple generations the unfolding stories of their times.
This exhibit explores those stories, how Cronkite chose to tell them, and why millions decided to trust what he said.
Following the success of the Cronkite exhibit, the Dolph Briscoe Center returned to the Riggs Ward team to re-imagine the exhibits at the Sam Rayburn Museum. Rather than present the traditional chronological biography, Ron suggested a thematic approach organized around Rayburn’s leadership philosophy. Once again, the opening panel for the exhibit explained the theme and its contemporary relevance.
The Leadership of Mr. Sam
Sam Rayburn is one of the 20th century’s most significant political leaders.
First elected to the House of Representatives in 1912, Rayburn served as Speaker of the House of Representatives for a record 17 years.
His leadership as Speaker, Democratic minority leader, and elder statesman coincided with the New Deal, the Second World War, the early years of the Cold War, the emergence of the Civil Rights Movement, and the introduction of John Kennedy’s New Frontier.
His leadership philosophy, honed by decades of public service and re-introduced throughout this exhibit, still offers insights into political success.
Throughout the exhibit, the text uses Rayburn quotations to illustrate his leadership style.
Sam Rayburn practiced “homestyle” politics.
In addition to personal honesty and humility, Rayburn insisted on maintaining close ties to his Texas constituents. “When Congress is in session,” he advised other members of Congress, “your place is [in Washington, D.C.]” But “when Congress is not in session, your place is in your district.”
This commitment to the common folks of rural Texas influenced his insistence that the Democratic Party maintain its status as the “party of the people.”
To Get Along—Go Along
Texas politics taught Rayburn many lessons including how to govern when lawmakers split into powerful factions.
The U. S. Congress, particularly after the 1930s, required leadership that could encourage loyalty, nurture close personal bonds, mediate and build bridges among Republicans, conservative Democrats, and moderate/liberal Democrats.
Rayburn described himself as a “progressive conservative or a conservative progressive,” and refused to allow party affiliation to translate into personal contempt.
His leadership style embraced one of his classic pieces of advice—to get along, at times you had to go along. “You can’t be a leader and ask other people to follow you unless you know how to follow too.”
Poverty is Very Dangerous
The New Deal provided Rayburn with important opportunities to stand up for his own constituents and for rural Americans around the nation.
He aligned the federal government on the side of the poor against large corporations and banks. A regulated economy, he thought, could limit economic stratification and income inequality.
Rayburn spoke plainly: “The people of America must rise or fall together. One segment can’t be poor and needy, while the rest is rich and prosperous.” Born poor, he judged poverty “not only a very sad thing to me, but I think it is very dangerous.”