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Message from Executive Director Don Carleton

December 2013

On the morning of Nov. 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy made what was probably the last telephone call of a life cut short. Who did he call? A family member? An international statesman? A powerful congressman or governor?

He called John Nance Garner and wished him a happy birthday. What made the 95-year-old Texan important enough to receive such a call from Kennedy? The answer lies in a strand of our national narrative that has been largely forgotten.

T.R. Fehrenbach; photo by Jennifer Whitney.
Photo by Mary Beth Bueno

Garner represented Uvalde in Congress for 30 years before becoming the nation's vice president under Franklin D. Roosevelt. He transformed the vice presidency into a powerful executive office and was responsible for shepherding through much of Roosevelt's early New Deal legislation.

Historians who wish to understand the roots of modern American government, as well as the controversy surrounding its reach, should look to Garner's life and legacy. With that in mind, the Briscoe Center was proud to reopen the Briscoe-Garner Museum in Uvalde last week.

The museum has been closed for almost three years. We've endured foundation issues, construction delays, and even a fire. I'm proud to say that all these challenges have been overcome, the first floor exhibits related to Garner have been restored, and the building successfully renovated.

Furthermore, a whole new exhibit space has been created on the second floor. Early in the spring, we will begin planning to fill that space with exhibits dedicated to the life of Gov. Dolph Briscoe, as well as a space for special touring exhibits.

Reviving the historical legacy of towering figures like Garner and Briscoe is part of the center's mission to foster exploration of our nation's past. We do this by collecting, preserving, and making available historical evidence. In this sense history is a cause, not merely a topic of interest or academic pursuit. An informed knowledge of history is essential to the good health of a democracy.

As 2013 draws to a close I want to remind you of our Campaign to Make History, which aims to modernize and update the center's 42-year-old public service area in Sid Richardson Hall, creating a place that is truly worthy of its world-class collections and programs. At present, the center has raised just over half of the needed $6.5 million.

In particular, I am grateful to Dr. Paul Burns, Mark McLaughlin, the University Co-op, and the Stillwater Foundation for generous donations. Due to the outpouring of support for this project, we've raised the funds needed to begin the exterior signage portion. Look for construction to begin in early 2014!

However, we still have a long way to go. Gifts can be funded with stock transfers and IRA rollovers (extended through Dec. 31, 2013) as well as cash. Naming opportunities are also still available. For more information please contact Lisa Avra, our associate director and chief development officer, at 512- 495-4696 or l.avra@austin.utexas.edu.

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