What Mike does, Page 3

 
 

I Jump Ship into a New Ocean

    I cannot remember ever wanting to be a policeman, or a fireman, or a Coca-Cola truck driver during my growing up days.  All I ever wanted to do was be a newspaperman.

    When I entered SMU, I got to be a newspaperman (well, sort of) at a major metropolitan newspaper--the Dallas Times Herald

    I had but two goals as an SMU freshman.  First, to be elected editor of the SMU Campus.  And, second, to get laid.  I achieved both goals, but the second goal had to be first blessed by the preacher.

    After I graduated from SMU, I became an official, bygod newspaperman at the Times-Herald. And as I jumped from this ship to that ship to earn more money, I became better at my craft.  I jumped from ship to ship, but I never left that thrilling ocean of telling people what was happening in the world around them.

    When I got to the Dallas Morning News, I got to tell people, not only what was happening in their world, but what they ought to think about it.   

    None of it was “work” and none of it was a “job.”

    What I did five days (sometimes six) a week was to get up in the morning, get dressed and drive somewhere to have fun.  And when I say, “fun,”  I mean really exciting fun.   

    All of those days were so much fun.  Well...except for Fridays.  Friday was pay day.

Meeting a Giant

    One of my favorite subjects to opine about at the News was local political and civic affairs.  Because of this, I got to meet most (if not all) of the civic and political leaders of Dallas. 

    My most-admired of those leaders was the then Mayor of Dallas, a guy named Erik Jonsson.  Mayor Jonsson was one of the three founders of Texas Instruments and was a true visionary.  He was a big Swede.  A giant of a man with even bigger ideas about what Dallas could be and what he could do to make it what it could be.

    Yet, as big a man as he was, he was a gentle, considerate, generous and soft-spoken fellow.  I often (very privately) referred to him as the Gentle Viking.  He had been raised in a tenement in up-state New York.  He attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, whose motto is:  “Why not change the world.”

    Dallas had (still does) a strong city-manager form of government.  Which means that the city manager, hired by the city council, functions as the President and Chief Executive Officer of Dallas (paid good bucks) and the Dallas City Council functions as a part-time board of directors.  The Mayor, who is elected by a city-wide vote, functions as a member of the part-time board of directors and as its chairman.  As is the case for any corporation, the board of directors made the policy and the CEO-city manager implemented that policy.

    The mayor and city council members were not politicians.  They were usually civic leaders or, at least, well-known Dallasites.  As I recall, their salary (back in the 1960s) for being on the council was $75 a meeting.

    After he retired as President of Texas Instruments, Erik Jonsson ran for Mayor of Dallas and was elected in 1964, shortly after the Kennedy assassination--a tough time to serve as the elected leader of the “City That Killed the President.”

    During his four terms, he revitalized the demoralized Dallas he inherited when he took office.  One of his master strokes was to create a program called “Goals for Dallas.”

    Although Mayor Jonsson was officially a part-time Mayor, he worked at it like a full-time job.  He had moved into a small office suite in a downtown office building and brought with him his long-time secretary/assistant/protector, Nell Johnston.  Nell was a gruff, unsmiling spinster who was married to her job.  Gruff and unsmiling until she came to trust you.

Flattering Invitations

    I began to get calls from Nell, asking me if I had the time to speak on the phone with Mayor Jonsson.  Did I have the time?!  His conversation would always be to compliment me on some column I had written.  Soon, the phone conversations would include an invitation to lunch.  Me?  Lunching with the Mayor and one or two of his big-shot civic leader buddies.  Holy Ego Inflater! 

    Then, in addition to the luncheon invitations, there came invitations to “drop by the office and talk--if you have the time.”  If I had the time?!!  Sitting down to have a one-on-one conversation with this Gentle Viking--a man who had risen from a kid raised in a tenement by an immigrant Mom and Dad to found and lead a company nationally known for its innovation--was stunning for me.

    Our conversations would range from here to there, but mostly were about philosophy of living and the Mayor’s beloved Dallas.

* * *

    The Mayor had a fascinating view of Dallas.  It started with the premise that there was no reason for Dallas to even exist--much less be as big as it was.  Dallas began as a small trading post on the banks of the Trinity River, a river with a water flow so unpredictable that it would never be navigable. 

    So, Dallas would never be a great port city.  It was not located near great deposits of important minerals, nor did it have any sought-after natural resources.  It was not the seat of a great state university (although it did have SMU--a good school), nor was it the home of a nationally known university like a Harvard.

    So...why had Dallas grown to become such a  big a town (not a city, in those days...  just a big town)?  The Mayor’s explanation for Dallas’ growth was that it grew because of the industriousness of its people.

    This industriousness had always been directed to commerce.  Mayor Jonsson wanted to re-direct some of it to Dallas.  Not just Dallas as a city, but also to Dallas as a society.

Bringing In The People

    For years, the behind-the-scenes power in Dallas had been held by a group called the Dallas Citizens’ Council.  This group was comprised of leading businessmen (including the top execs of both Dallas newspapers and television stations).  But it was not just a business-only group.  Its membership also included preachers, execs of major charity groups, heads of hospitals, educators, and a wide variety of high-profile do-gooders.

    This was not a smoke-filled-room, Chicago-type group who exercised power very quietly.  This was a very public group.  If a candidate for any city and county office attained a Citizens’ Council endorsement, he widely proclaimed it and he was elected.  Period.  It was widely known as a group of leaders who wanted to frame Dallas, not for their own personal interests, but for the good of everyone in the city.  Its membership strictly excluded political movers and shakers.

    If you were a member of the Citizens‘ Council, or had been a member, you damn sure wanted it mentioned in your obituary.

* * *

     As one would expect, the great majority of Citizens‘ Council members were older--fifties and sixties.  Although he was a long-time Citizen’s Council member, Mayor Johnson thought that too little effort had been made to bring the average citizen into the planning process for the city’s growth.  He also wanted to identify younger people with the qualities to become leaders of Dallas by involving them in a major civic program.

    For that reason, he started a non-governmental organization named, “Goals for Dallas.”  The organization’s slogan was:  “Goals are ends to be achieved; plans are the means to achieve them.”   

    The organization’s first step would be to identify the problems that Dallas faced in becoming a world-class city.  Paid experts and volunteer city leaders would identify problems in these areas:  The government of the city, The design of the city, Health, Welfare, Transportation, Public Safety, Elementary and secondary education, Higher education, Continuing education, Cultural activities, Recreation and entertainment, The economy of Dallas.

    After the problems had been identified, the experts and city leaders would propose goals aimed at solving the obstacles and improving life in Dallas.

    These goals, and supporting reasons for the goals, were printed in a 310-page paperback book which was widely distributed throughout Dallas. 

    I had been a big supporter of Goals for Dallas, through my signed DMN column, since its inception.  It was a subject that Mayor Johnson often discussed during our private talks.

Jumping Ship

    During one of our talks, it probably would have been in April of 1968, Mayor Jonsson explained to me that, for the first phase of the Goals for Dallas program, they had a Mr. Inside, who coordinated all the myriad of meetings of experts and city leaders and who put together the first Goals for Dallas book--the proposed goals book.

    For the next step, the Mayor told me, he needed a Mr. Outside to organize the citizen neighborhood meetings, publicize them, get them conducted, etc.  And he wanted this Mr. Outside to be Mike Engleman.  The position would pay $16,000 a year.

    Me!  Mike Engleman from Edinburg, Texas!  Me!  And sixteen grand?  For a 29-year-old in 1968 (earning $7,800 at the News), there was little difference between sixteen-thousand-dollars and a bazillion dollars.  It would be a year’s contract, to be extended if necessary.  I told Mayor Jonsson that I wanted to do it, but felt that I owed Dick West the courtesy of asking his advice about the job switch and, also, to stay at the News until Dick could find a replacement for me.

    Dick counseled me to stay at the News because I had a guaranteed future there.  “All he’s offering you is a job for a year.  At the News, nobody ever gets fired,” he told me.

    My first column to appear in the News was published on May 13, 1965.  What turned out to be my last piece appeared on April 17, 1968--just 12 days shy of my 29th birthday.  So, for almost three years, I sat in an office and wrote about opinions and ideas.  Frankly, I was running out of opinions.

    Linda and I had gotten divorced sometime in 1967 (I think...or was it 1968?).  So, I was pretty much free to do whatever in the hell I wanted to do.  And, why not embark on a new Grand Adventure.

    I took the job.


    I learn to fly!  (Click here.)