DJ Stout | Essays

Remembering Ann Richards

Cover of Texas Monthly, art directed by DJ Stout, photographed by Jim Myers, July 1992

In the late spring of 1992, when I was the art director of Texas Monthly magazine, I sat down with the editorial team to brainstorm ideas for an upcoming cover featuring then-Texas governor Ann Richards. She was at the absolute height of her popularity. She had exploded on the national scene as the keynote speaker at the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta, where she was hailed as the brightest star to come from Texas since the rougher-edged LBJ. During that speech she showed her famous sense of humor with her characterization of President George H.W. Bush: "Poor George, he can't help it; he was born with a silver foot in his mouth". After she was elected in 1990, she proved to be a dynamic and much beloved Texas governor. There began to be some speculation that she could potentially be the first woman presidential candidate.

During our cover meeting we were talking about Anne's meteoric rise in popularity and how at that moment she seemed to be truly "riding high." During the discussion it occurred to me that I had just seen an article in the Austin newspaper that included a photo of Ann posing with a motorcycle. In fact, in an earlier newspaper article Anne had stated that she wanted to get a motorcycle license by her 60th birthday. The Harley-Davidson company saw the quote and sent her the motorcycle as a birthday gift. The newspaper snapshot showed her standing tentatively next to the Harley which was one of the smallest models the company makes.

An idea hit me at that moment. I blurted out the line "White Hot Mama," a twist on the phrase "Red Hot Mama." It ended up as the headline for the cover. At the same time, I had an image in my head of Anne, the feisty grandmother governor, decked out in all-white leathers — to match her famous white bouffant hairdo — straddling a hog. Ann Richards on a Harley seemed to me to be the perfect metaphor for capturing her salty wit and irreverent personality. It was an image that summed up all those things that people loved about her.

Our discussion about what the cover should be came to an abrupt end. We had an idea that everyone loved, but now I had to make it happen. I contacted the governor's office and explained the idea to one of her aides, which took some major explaining, but they said they would run it by her and get back to me. Then I went over to the Texas State Capitol where the gifted Harley was on display to the public. The bike was disappointing to me because it was small and it had handpainted script all over it with Anne's name and a Texas flag. It just wasn't the big ol' Harley hog that I had pictured in my mind. Then I heard from Ann's office and the word came back that she was intrigued by the idea enough to give it a go. She would pose for the photograph but the question was timing. Over the next several days I ran several different dates and times by her but in the end she was just too busy because she had been asked to be the chairman of the upcoming Democratic National Convention in New York City.

So Ann had to bow out, but one of her aides told me that she had gotten a kick out of a photo-illustrated Texas Monthly cover I had created during the election a few years prior. That cover featured an image of Ann dancing the two-step with her opponent Clayton Williams. The headline for that cover, which was about the mean-spiritedness of that year's Texas gubernatorial race, was "Dirty Dancing". The image for that cover was not real. We had shot a photograph of two body doubles dancing and then we stripped in stock head shots of Ann and Clayton: not easy to do in the days before Photoshop.

The governor's aide told me that Ann loved the motorcycle idea and she had suggested that we just "fake" the shot again. I was off to the races. We found the perfect white Harley and I hired commercial photographer Jim Myers to shoot the picture in his Dallas studio. I contacted a fashion designer in Smithville, who specialized in leather apparel, to make a customized leather motorcycle outfit, complete with leather fringe of course. Then we hired the same body double that we had used for the "Dirty Dancing" cover to pose as Anne's body again. For many years after that issue of Texas Monthly was published, I would run into Ann Richards at my favorite Mexican food lunch spot in downtown Austin and she would always thank me for giving her such a "sexy body." It had become an icon and a symbol over time of Ann's character and her amazing legacy, even though it wasn't a real photo of her. Years later, on Texas Monthly's 30th anniversary, the readers of the magazine selected that cover of Ann on the Harley as the most memorable and beloved of all the covers that had been created throughout the magazine's existence.

I went to Ann Richard's memorial service yesterday morning. It was one of the most loving and heartfelt memorial services I have ever attended. She touched so many, and it seemed like they were all there to say goodbye. It was oddly uplifting and joyous for a funeral. The speakers joked and people laughed. When they flashed the Texas Monthly cover shot of Anne on that Harley up on the big overhead screen the audience broke into a raucous cheer like they were at a football game. It didn't seem out of place or unseemly at all to me because it was just like the always laughing, indomitable spirit of Ann Richards herself.

Posted in: Media, Photography, Politics

Comments [11]

That's always been one of my favorite TM covers, and interesting to read the story behind getting it done.
Jimmy Ball

Great story.

Another little known, touching story on Ann appeared in last week's New York Times. This TXn always loved her. She'll be missed.
Perhaps this has been one week turd blossom's "happy freedon tricks" haven't included calling her a filthy lesbian. "remember kids, if it's republican, it's moral, since all Christians are moral."

Ann's barbs were always above the belt. A true TXn & patriot.
felix sockwell

I saw Ann speak in San Francisco in the mid 90's and was so impressed with her fantastic wit, gut-felt authenticity and grounding strength. I could not believe that W could have possibly beat her for Governor (agonizing memories that would resurface in 2000, and 2004). This was a woman who was meant to be President! Everyone in the audience wanted her to run, but she wanted to focus on time with her family (completely understandable). It's people like her that make you wish you could eradicate all ills so that she could lead us in her Harley and leathers to a great expression of democracy. May we continue to be inspired by her for generations to come.
Stacey Fischer

Sadly, I had to watch Ann's memorial service on television. Travelling on a long standing appointment, I could not be there in person. When I was elected Chair of the Texas Democratic Party in 2003, a year when many thought George Bush was invincible (what a difference 3 years and honest reporting makes) Ann took the time to sit down and talk politics with/to me. She was brilliant. We are going to miss her but we will always have great memories and stories about someone who really believed in the "New Texas". "Long Live Ann", Charles Soechting, Chair, TDP 2003-2006
Charles Soechting

Hi DJ, I hope you remember me from our days at TX Monthly. Mike sent me your comments and they are every bit as sweet as the speakers yesterday and President Clinton on Sat. I went on Sunday to pay my respects too. The "Ann Covers" were the best. Do we miss those rip-roarin' days when Ann was in charge! Hope all is well with you, best regards, terri (TeDa)
Terri Davis

Hi, DJ (and TeDa!) -- How well I remember publicizing that cover and making sure that everyone knew it was a photo illustration... People took it at face value, though, so to them it didn't matter: it was still Ann through and through and represented her spirit. I still keep a picture in my office from the day we went up to the Capitol to present the issue to her: Ann in the middle holding the cover, Dana Colley Corsello on one side and me on the other. Happy memories. Thanks, Deej, for such an iconic image to help us remember the Governor...TMcD
Terry McDevitt

another slighly more unpleasant reminder of Ann Richards was that she was not a vocal critic of the Texas death penalty law while governor. While campaigning for governor, she was asked if she supported or opposed the death penalty. She said, "I will uphold the laws of the State of Texas." The reporter then asked, "But what would you do if the Legislature passed a bill repealing the death penalty?" to which she replied, "I would faint." (from wikipedia).

In a related matter, today the guardian';s G2 section printed the final statements of a few of those executed in Texas, many under Richards tenure. reguardless of your standings on the death penalty, it makes morbid, chilling reading.


and the site from which the information was sourced


Ann Richards would have never been elected by the state of Texas had she vocally opposed the death penalty. No way. She was liberal to be sure, but a realist. btw- Most Americans favor the death penalty.

If you've ever been to (or lived in) Texas its easy to understand why the rules don't apply to the laws. Yes, they'll kill you with kindness. Then, after you tell them about some article your read in the Guardian you'll be floating in the pond (Katrina style).
felix sockwell

and therein, one imagines, lies the problem...

thats a pretty cool cover, making a female governor look as a sexy motorcycling mom was a great idea :)
design outsourcing

That cover rocked. You really captured her personality.

Lisa Hunter

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