Jack Brooks was best known as a Congressman and powerful committee chairman. But for those who knew him personally or professionally throughout the years, Brooks may be more memorable for his talents as a story teller. The stories often had similar themes: They were about people in need, people who asked for help, or individuals whose plight came to the attention of Congressman Brooks. The stories centered on conflicts, debates, and sometimes bitter political fights. Yet, with a twinkle in his eyes, most of Jack Brooks' stories concluded with the same phrase, "he's for me now..." Jack Brooks, the curmudgeon who never relented, was ironically the softhearted man whose passion was to bring people together to help those in need. The life of Congressman Jack Brooks has been one defined by his consistent ability to bring people together in order to build a better life both for the people he represented, and our nation as a whole.
Brooks grew up poor in Beaumont Texas during the worst days of the Great Depression. His mother, Grace, in order to raise three children as a widow, taught people how to cook in their own homes using the then new and innovative electric stoves. His childhood formed the basis of his empathy for all people regardless of their socio-economic status. Too small to be a golf caddy, he taught himself to type in order to land a job as a junior reporter at the Beaumont Enterprise. There he did his best to report on people's lives in his community, using as many proper names as possible. He had understood, being paid by the typed inch, that the editor would not cut people's names.
He first served his nation as a Marine in the Pacific theatre of World War II. He experienced the horror of war in Guadalcanal and Tarawa. He was also one of those marines whose life was likely sparred when Truman brought the war to a close through the use of the atomic bomb. Like many of his generation, he returned home determined to contribute to the growth of his newly emergent super-power nation.
Brooks entered politics with his election to the Texas Legislature, while at the same time attending the University of Texas Law School. There he drafted the legislation that would elevate his beloved Lamar University from a two-year college to a full four-year college. Over the years, Brooks often recounted the story of this, his first legislative achievement. He took pride in the fact that Lamar now serves the community with a growing world-renowned educational reputation.
In just his second term as a U.S. Congressman, having been elected a few years earlier at the age of 29, Jack Brooks made a principled stand against racism through his refusal to sign the infamous 'Southern Manifesto'. A notorious document that sought to prevent racial integration.
After President Kennedy's assassination, Brooks worked with his good friend and fellow Texan, Lyndon Johnson to pass the Great Society programs including, Medicare, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. As a tribute to the hard work and support of his good friend Jack Brooks, President Johnson came to Schlessingers' Nursing Home in Beaumont to deliver the very first Medicare Benefits check.
Always a tough crusader for fairness and good government, Brooks passed legislation that has been invaluable to the development of the United States. Using the knowledge and skills he learned from his mentor, the famous Speaker of the House, Sam Rayburn, Brooks established important regulations regarding oversight in the construction of public buildings, and created a market for computers and software by opening up the Government account to competitive public bidding. He frequently brought the corrupt or wasteful to justice using the light of public scrutiny. One of the more notable examples was when his staff drafted the initial Articles of Impeachment of President Richard M. Nixon in an effort to set a fire under the Special Committee investigating the Watergate matter. President Jimmy Carter thought enough of Brooks that he flew down to dedicate the Jack Brooks Federal Building in downtown Beaumont. Later, Brooks made use of his keen knowledge of the levers of power in Washington and played an instrumental role in passing President Bill Clinton's historic Crime Bill. Brooks never tired of working for the public good.
Cementing his place in the history of the U.S. House of Representatives, upon ascending to the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee in 1989, Brooks became the first person in history to chair two full committees in succession. Such was the respect commanded by Brooks that for most of his time in Congress he was known simply as 'The Chairman'.
In addition to serving the United States as a whole, Brooks never forgot that he represented the people of Southeast Texas. As an honor to his mentor, Brooks enacted legislation creating the Sam Rayburn Dam and Reservoir, which provides a constant supply of water to his district supporting both population and economic growth. He built the seawall that to this day has protected Galveston from multiple hurricanes, as well as the system of dykes and levees that protected Mid and South Jefferson County from flooding even when larger cities like New Orleans were swamped. Over the years, some have wondered why, upon looking at a map, that Interstate 10 bends so acutely as to run through Beaumont. On that specific point, the record remains quiet. Similarly, some have wondered why, given that NASA launches rockets from Florida and then lands them in California, is NASA's mission control center in Houston Texas, and furthermore, why is it named after Brooks' close friend Lyndon Johnson. 'Houston, no problem here'.
Part of the secret as to why Jack Brooks was so effective as a legislator is that even in the most partisan of times he remained close friends with fellow Democrats and Republicans alike. Brooks stuck to his principles as well as his friends, like Former Speaker and life-long friend Jim Wright. One of Brooks' colleagues, his good friend across the aisle, Bob Dole, was heard to succinctly characterize The Chairman with the following four words: Brooks' word is good. Time and time again he persuaded other members of Congress to accept his point-of-view through reason, facts, and country good sense. Brooks was so good at this that even people who start with an opposing perspective usually come around, allowing Brooks to close many of his famous stories with the refrain, "he's for me now." Today we're all for The Chairman.
Perhaps the most poignant observation about Jack Brooks was voiced by his grandson, when he said that, "most people read history, but Granddaddy lived it."
Congressman Brooks is survived by his wife of 52 years, Charlotte Brooks, sister Marie Manry, daughter and son-in-law Kate and Rod Carroll, their children Matthew and Brooke, daughter Kim Brooks, son and daughter-in-law Jeb and Janice Brooks, as well as numerous nieces and nephews.
The family has requested that, in lieu of flowers or other gifts that donations be made to any of the following organizations supported by Chairman Brooks:
P.O. Box 11500
Beaumont, TX 77710
Texas Food Bank
3845 S. Martin Luther
King Jr. Parkway
Beaumont, TX 77705
Some Other Place, Inc.
P.O. Box 0843
Beaumont, TX 77704
A memorial service will be held at 2:00 p.m., Sunday, December 9, 2012 at the Montagne Center on the campus of Lamar University under the direction of Levingston Funeral Home in Groves.
A visitation for family and friends will begin at 1:00 p.m. until service time.
Published in Houston Chronicle on Dec. 8, 2012