Austin lawyer Creekmore Fath, a liberal lion when Democrats dominated Texas politics, died Thursday of heart failure. He was 93.
Fath, who was born in Oklahoma, finished high school in Austin where his debate partner was budding humorist John Henry Faulk. Fath then attended the University of Texas, where, he later boasted, he beat out future Gov. John Connally for the lead in a play.
As a student, he likewise befriended Gov. James Allred, later reporting: "I'd put my feet up on the governor's desk and talk politics time and time again."
Fath also shared a friendship with future U.S. Rep. Bob Eckhardt, who became his law partner.
Fath and Eckhardt were among liberals who aligned in the 1950s against Democratic Gov. Allan Shivers , whose support of Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican, for president divided party loyalists. Political scientist Gary Keith wrote that others in the bloc included Ralph Yarborough, feminism activist Minnie Fisher Cunningham and Frankie Randolph, the first publisher of The Texas Observer.
During the era, San Antonio's Maury Maverick presented Fath with a certificate dubbing him Democrat No. 1 for his commitment.
In his 20s, Fath accepted a post in Washington intent on supporting President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. He ended up assisting Roosevelt directly after daring to ask the first lady to testify before a select congressional committee studying the drift of destitute Americans from state to state. Eleanor Roosevelt agreed to appear after Fath came to tea at the White House.
According to a University of Texas publication, President Roosevelt said Fath "has the best political judgment of anyone his age in Washington."
Fath returned to Austin in 1948 and ran for Congress ; he and his wife, Adele, stumped in a car with a canoe strapped on top. Fath's slogan: "He Paddles His Own Canoe."
Fath was involved in many campaigns, including Yarborough's runs for governor and the U.S. Senate, and President Jimmy Carter's win of Texas in 1976.
Fath twice helmed gubernatorial primary campaigns for Frances "Sissy" Farenthold. In her 1972 run, Farenthold surprisingly outpaced then-Gov. Preston Smith and then-Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, making a runoff against Dolph Briscoe of Uvalde, who ultimately prevailed.
Fath's wide-ranging contacts helped Farenthold get lift-off.
"He could pick up the phone and call I don't care what county it was, he'd know somebody there. There would have been no campaign without Creekmore," Farenthold said Thursday.
Fath, whose wife preceded him in death, accumulated tens of thousands of books - including many books on presidential campaigns - and wrote two books on Yarborough and a 1940 report on economic conditions in the state. He also built a sweeping collection of Thomas Hart Benton lithographs, which he started by spending $5 from his first law client's payment; the purchase is "I Got a Gal on Sourwood Mountain."
W. Gardner Selby, American-Statesman Staff, firstname.lastname@example.org; 445-3644
Published in Austin American-Statesman from June 25 to June 30, 2009