An association for alumni and supporters of The Daily Texan

Friends of The Daily Texan

An association for alumni and supporters of The Daily Texan

Friends of The Daily Texan

An association for alumni and supporters of The Daily Texan

Friends of The Daily Texan

Contact Information
Friends of The Daily Texan, Inc.
1401 Lavaca St
Austin, TX 78701

[email protected]

38 years in the making, new book chronicles childhoods of famous Texans

For 38 years, a former Texan staffer-turned-author and a co-author colleague have labored to produce what they informally called “The Book,” a collection of interviews and reporting about well-known native Texans.

Next year their book – titled “Growing Up in the Lone Star State, Notable Texans Remember Their Childhoods” – will be published by the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.

The book takes a unique look at how their childhood influenced these notable Texas natives.

With Rex Tillerson, reviewing the family tree.

“The emphasis is exclusively on how they grew up . . . premise being that good, bad, or indifferent your childhood experiences mold you into the adult you eventually become,” said Gaylon Finklea Hecker, who co-authored the book along with Marianne Odom.

There are 47 chapters of edited face-to-face interviews – done over 38 years –  with famous Texans.

“The ‘biggest get’ is probably Rex Tillerson, because his interview was only a couple of months after he left his Secretary of State job and the journalism world was after two seconds with him, and he gave us two hours of delightful good humor, insight, perspective on Texas and the importance of childhoods,” said Hecker. “We went to his cutting horse ranch in Bartonville. His two sisters play piccolo with me in the Longhorn Alumni Band, and one of them kept after him for two and a half years before the time was right for the interview. Having patience paid off in spades.

Interview day with Red McCombs, a great interview and we all had a terrific time together.

“For his edits, instead of making them by hand and sending them to me like all others, he called and we spent 45 minutes going over every word. But the best part (for a journalist anyway)  was that a second phone annoyingly kept ringing in the background. Finally, I said, “Rex, you need to get that?”

“He said, casually, nonchalantly, “Naw, it’s probably just the media. They call all the time. I just don’t pick up.”

Digging through family photos with author Sandra Brown, 81 million books in print.

Hecker said probably the most fun interview was Jaclyn Smith “We went to her mansion on Sunset Boulevard and ate figs and cheese with her as she cried, her heart very tender about her family and young years in Texas,” Hecker said.  “In a couple of weeks, our tearful interview was written about in London’s Daily Mail, saying something like, “She shared her touching childhood stories with friends from Texas and couldn’t help but cry her eyes out.”

Hecker said she and Odom think each interview is their favorite.

“We love each person and think of them as family, since we’ve been thinking about some of them for 38 years! But under “the best,” we like to say Rex, Henry Cisneros, Red McCombs, A.J. Foyt, Rep. Senfronia Thompson, Delbert McClinton, Dr. Lauro Cavazos (born and raised on King Ranch), Jerry LeVias (who broke the color code in the Southwest Conference), Dan Rather (in his CBS office in NYC when he was anchor and managing editor) and Humberto Reyes (bilingual, international cattle auctioneer).

Hecker and Odom met as reporters on the San Antonio Express-News in 1981, where Odom was the fashion editor and Hecker was a feature writer, both in Scene-Lifestyle when all the “first woman ever to . . . ” stories were being written and the ERA was trying to get passed.

Working side by side, just like in the old days at the Express-News; we have always done our best work buddied up close like this; at Hecker’s house for “marathons,” when we work for days on end, don’t sleep or eat much and get tons done and decided.

“Sharing a teeny office, we found that we got more reader comments when she wrote a story about her daddy, a police chief, for Father’s Day, and I wrote about my Granny Finklea, a simple, small-town grandmother, for Grandparent’s Day,” Hecker said.

“That’s how we got the idea that these childhood stories are relevant and relatable to anybody older than 18. Childhood was the theme. Texas was the hook.

“We like to say that we are the poster children for persistence, as it has been 38 years, our professional lives, since the book’s inception. We’ve never given up on our good idea, a fact we like to think could be inspirational for others struggling with long-term projects,” Hecker said.  Joe Armstrong calls us the “Thelma and Louise of Texas Letters.”

Marianne heads the journalism/photography department at San Antonio College. She earned a master’s degree in journalism at East Texas State University.

Marianne Odom and Gaylon Finklea Hecker

Hecker was editor of The Jewish Outlook for almost a decade and recently donated her archive from her work there to the Briscoe Center.

“Despite the distance, we kept our friendship, but admittedly we let life get in the way and our book’s first 28 chapters stayed in a dusty file cabinet for more than two decades, “Hecker said.

“Our first book collaboration was “The Businesses That Built San Antonio,” a coffee-table book also based on oral history interviews,” she said. “It was written for the Texas Sesquicentennial in 1986 and is still quoted as the go-to source for San Antonio business history. We are proud of that fact. “

Visiting our publisher at the Briscoe Center.