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Mayors brighten History Center luncheon with political humor

Michael Barnes, Out & About

Staff Writer
Austin 360

In three short years, it has become a tradition. The Angelina Eberly Luncheon benefits the small but growing Austin History Center Association, the nonprofit group that nourishes the city's historical archives. Not unlike the matching Heritage Society of Austin's luncheon, it filled the upper lobby of the Driskill Hotel last week with tables of dignitaries, including all but one current Austin city council member.

Mayors, too, were thick on the ground, including Mayor Lee Leffingwell and three past city captains — Ron Mullen (1983-1985), Lee Cooke (1988-1991) and Kirk Watson (1997-2001) — who were saluted humorously at the end of the lunch. Three others — Frank Cooksey (1985-1988), Bruce Todd (1991-1997) and Gus Garcia (2001-2003) — were also present.

Recently deceased association president Nancy Price Bowman was honored. After way too many public thanks and recognitions, the three saluted ex-mayors took the stage, sitting on ornate throne-like chairs with Downtown Austin Alliance director Charlie Betts, who could have been mayor at some point if he had chosen to run. Betts — who must be tickled by all the talk about a medical school, teaching hospital, affordable housing and the Waller Creek project in downtown's neglected northeast sector — stuck to questions that elicited funny mayoral memories. Odd political coalitions, failed and successful public projects and, especially, angry citizens made for anecdotes that could have lasted all afternoon.

Avolunteer extraordinaire,Sue McFarland,died last week. She was, among other things, a tireless theater usher who greeted everyone to Bass Concert Hall, Paramount Theatre, Zach Theatre and other venues as if to a family reunion. There were months in the 1990s when I chatted with her four times a week. She'd warmly take my hand in two of hers to say: "I read your story!" It didn't matter which story. Just that McFarland always meant it.

I learned from her obituary, published Sunday, that she grew up on San Antonio's south side, once worked for the World Bank and ranched near Victoria and San Angelo. How did I not know these things? So typical of McFarland that, no matter how many questions you'd ask her, she'd turn the conversation quickly back to you. A great soul.

mbarnes@statesman.com