Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Dick Rathgeber, Jane Sibley and Mary Margaret Quadlander

Michael Barnes
mbarnes@statesman.com

Astute social observers blushed at the irony. Developer and benefactor Dick Rathgeber welcomed guests to the Headliners Club to toast his 80th birthday the same night that octogenarian arts advocate Jane Sibley introduced her memoir, “Jane’s Window,” to the general public at BookPeople.

Both backers of worthy Austin causes — Sibley, the arts, Rathgeber, social services — the indomitable pair had locked horns publically over the course of several decades. I’m sure it’s all water under the bridge now. (Sibley had thrown her own book party at the Headliners earlier.)

Attended by a fair chunk of Old West Austin, including business, charity and legal leaders, the birthday bash felt like a folksy church social, especially with Rathgeber warmly greeting guests at the door with his elegant wife Sara Rathgeber.

“I don’t feel 80,” Rathgeber said with his usual hearty wit. “I played tennis this week. Beat some 50-year-olds.”

Over at BookPeople on a night of heavy rain and hail, Sibley shared the podium with Mary Margaret Quadlander, a fifth-generation Austinite and apparel designer who runs the Austin School of Fashion Design. Quadlander spoke eloquently about her book, “Grace Jones of Salado,” a biography — covered previously in this column — of the high-flying fashion retailer who sold top designers’ apparel out of a shop in that tiny Texas town.

Quadlander recalled Jones, a former fashion model, as a social visionary with a sharp eye for design — she bought the young Quadlander’s entire collection after a seven-hour first meeting — but became emotional when she delved into the retailer’s sometimes abominable behavior to her family and others.

Sibley had been a regular customer of Jones’ and accompanied her to Paris runway shows. This descendant of tough West Texas stock didn’t talk much about her 40 or so years heading the Austin Symphony Orchestra or helping to build the Long Center, but rather focused on ranch life.

Her stories are good, polished over many years. “Jane’s Window” covers much of the same biographical territory as my extended profile of Sibley published in December, of course in more detail. There’s no question but that it is the “Word According to Jane,” who has outlived many of the other witnesses to her times.

But not all of them. For instance, bringing up a memorable lunch with me, she recalls that I said: “The symphony needs to pay the musicians more,” leaving out the contextual: “If it really seeks national prominence. It would need to record and tour as well.” (This was the 1990s. Top orchestras did that back then.)

Instead, her response, unspoken at the time, was: “This man does not know one damn thing about financing a symphony.”

She also credits my change of mind about the efficacy of the Long Center project to her own none-too-subtle bullying. “That was the day Mr. Barnes learned which way the wind was blowing,” she writes.

Hardly. I slowly softened my skepticism, shared by most in the arts scene at the time, after absorbing the step-by-step changes in the performance-friendly designs by Stan Haas and Michael Guarino and observing up close the dogged fundraising of Joe Long, Cliff Redd, Ben Bentzin,Rusty Tally and others. I also thoroughly checked out the project’s acoustical and theatrical consultants as well as their previous projects.

History will sort out the facts from the fiction. Meanwhile, Sibley, Quadlander and Rathgeber have contributed mightily — and in different ways — to our local history.

Correction: This version corrects the spelling of Sara Rathgeber.