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Scotty Sayers haunts the Texas State Cemetery

The sports agent and Austin stalwart helps preserve the Texas State Cemetery's distinguished history

Staff Writer
Austin 360

This Halloween week, Scotty Sayers will haunt the Texas State Cemetery.

Actually, the (living) sports agent and chairman of the State Cemetery Committee does so often. He has wandered among the ancient oaks, gray cenotaphs and uniform markers for the war dead since the 1970s, when, as a lowly tour guide at the Texas Capitol, he took out-of-town visitors to the then-untended graveyard.

"An official might say: ‘Entertain these people all day,' Sayers recalls. "What am I going to do with them all day? I brought them here. Nobody knew about it back then. People thought it was just another cemetery. They didn't know its place in Texas history, unless they stumbled onto it. There was no office; nobody was on site. So we had to learn about the people buried here and talk about them."

A major renovation in the 1990s under the watchful eye of late Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock — who insisted that the cemetery's big state flag fly high enough for Bullock to see it from the Capitol — changed all that. Now, a (pretty convincing) stream runs through it. And a state highway. Not a myth: Wily Bullock designated the cemetery's central lane as a highway to leverage federal funds for the major renovation.

On Sunday, country singer Larry Gatlin will sing during a revival of the cemetery's fundraising picnic tradition. Just in time, University of Texas Press has released "Texas State Cemetery" by Jason Walkerand Will Erwin, with help from super-editor Helen Thompson. It was published by the Friends of the Texas State Cemetery, which, in Sayers' words: "takes care of special projects that our modest state budget won't pay for."

Sayers' day job is serving as business manager for Austin golfing legend Ben Crenshaw. Yet many of his enthusiasms — Austin High School Loyal Forever alumni club, West Austin Youth Association and Save MUNY, in addition to the cemetery — grew out of his historical ties to the city and the state.

Sayers, 59, is the son of late state Rep. Scott Sayers of Fort Worth and Nancy DeGraffenreid Sayers, who later married Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes (Scotty Sayers briefly lived in the official quarters inside the Capitol) and former state Rep. Bill Abington. His father and mother were close to late Gov. John Connally and his wife, Nellie Connally. Among Sayers' best friends growing up was the governor's son, Mark Connally.

Although Sayers was born in Fort Worth, his family's political life brought him to Austin as a toddler. He explored the halls of the Stephen F. Austin Hotel, where his father stayed during sessions. "It was a kind of adventure," he says. The family moved here full-time in 1962. When his father died in 1968, his mother was named by Gov. Connally to lead what is now the Texas Workforce Commission, making her one of the first female heads of a major state agency.

Sayers attended a trifecta of old Austin schools: Casis Elementary, O. Henry Junior High and Austin High. He met his wife, Julie Ferguson Sayers, a fourth-generation Austinite, at O. Henry and they started dating at Austin High. Daughters, Samanthaand Charisse, who still live in Austin, attended the historical trifecta, as well.

Adding to maroon spirit, Julie and Scotty are co-directors of Loyal Forever.

"Even when we attended Austin High, the school was already so steeped in tradition," he says. "It felt like a kinship. The alumni bonds were strong throughout the city. Austin High was rich in sports and educational traditions. Some teachers had spent all their whole careers there. And there was the magnificent old architecture (at the midtown campus now occupied by Austin Community College). Maybe I remember it better than it was, but it has carried me throughout my life."

Sayers rattles off alumni data: 44,000 graduates during the 130-year history of Austin High. Of those, 14,000 are still living. Among those inducted into the school's Hall of Honor are Jake Pickle, Cactus Pryor, Liz Carpenter, Zachary Scott, Harvey Penickand Don Baylor.

Sayers met Crenshaw at Casis. They blazed a playful trail between their Tarrytown homes on Townes Lane and Bridle Path. Their dads were attorneys and friends, and Crenshaw's father coached their baseball team.

"I can remember during one of my first Little League practices, Ben and his dad in the corner of the stands after a nine-hole Casis Open tourney at MUNY," Sayers says. "‘Oh, how did you do in the tournament?' ‘I won.' I think he won by 20 shots. He had been playing for a while at age 11."

Although they attended UT together, the friends' paths didn't cross often because Crenshaw was playing golf and Sayers was working at the Capitol. After studying government and business, and working with Banks Miller and George Christian at their public relations firm, Sayers switched majors to PR in journalism school. After graduation, he strayed into Dallas real estate, then he and Julie purchased the Texas State Directory Press, the almanac of Texas government, which brought them back to Austin permanently in 1982.

In 1984, Crenshaw won his first Masters tournament and his life got even busier with corporate endorsements and other things athletes do. The golfer had been with International Management Group (IMG), but grew tired of being one of many players in their portfolio. Sayers took him on in 1985.

"We keep the business aspect and the friendship aspect apart," Sayers says. "We follow some basic ground rules: Respect for family time, for instance. I think we changed things in the golf business. Most of those players with significant status now have their own agents."

He shares offices at 18th and Nueces streets with Julie and helps Crenshaw and Bill Coore with the Coore & Crenshaw golf course architecture business. He stays out, however, of the design process. "You can't design a golf course by committee," he jokes.

Sayers returned to the cemetery when Gov. Rick Perry offered him a space on a state board. Sayers chose his old stomping grounds.

Now with a budget of $500,000 and eight employees, the cemetery is a genuine tourist attraction, a magnet for 20,000 students of Texas history each year and a cool place for contemplation.

Along the way, Sayers has comforted many a loved one of a Texas leader or cultural figure. One mourner for whom he nurtured a particular fondness was Nellie Connally.

"She was like a second mom to me," he says. "We'd sit here next to the governor's monument. She'd smile and say: ‘Now after I'm gone, you take care of my plot.' "

Loyally, he does.

mbarnes@statesman.com