Friday, May 08, 2009

Jane Ely 1940 - 2009

Longtime newspaper reporter Jane Ely, a steely-eyed, salty-tongued political insider whose telephone calls could make elected office holders tremble, died Monday of lung-related illness. She was 69.

Ely, the younger daughter of Fort Worth banker and cattle broker William Ely, began her Houston journalism career in the mid-1960s as a police reporter for the Houston Post. She remained with that publication, working as a political writer and assistant city editor, until joining the Houston Chronicle in 1988.

At the Chronicle, Ely first covered national politics, then joined the editorial page staff as a columnist. She retired in August 2004.

"She was sharp as a tack, hard as nails and as subtle as a ball peen hammer," said former Chronicle editorial page editor Frank Michel. "She was just what you want in somebody like that."

I met Ms. Ely only briefly, and only recently -- on election night last November, at Beverly Kaufman's office to observe the election returns. She was quite gregarious although barely ambulatory. I would love to have heard some of her stories. Here's more from a few who did ...

Margaret Downing:

By the time I joined the Post in 1980, Ely was legendary not only for her political writing that brought her into regular contact with politicians and officials at all the levels of power, but for her ability to tell a story to a listening audience, either around a city desk, or at a bar after work. ...

(Harris County tax assessor/collector's office employee Fred) King remembers one of her best ones, from a few years spent sitting next to her at the Post.

"Jane, a candidate and a pilot were in a small plane hopping around the state to campaign stops. Always late, of course, the politician wanted to get to some spot despite the weather.

"The weather started tossing them around. The politician was either in the back seat or too sick to help or both. Jane got some clothing from a suitcase and kept the windshield clean enough for the pilot to see. The INSIDE of the windshield. The pilot was sick and hurling on the windshield."

As King puts it: "Then and always, Jane was fearless."

Democratic activist Carl Whitmarsh, as shared with his e-mail list:

I think one of my great memories of Jane was back during the general election of 1978 when John Hill and Bill Clements were running against each other for Governor. I was ED of the County Party and the Hill headquarters were next door to us at 2016 Main. That year was absolutely wild for any number of reasons, but this one morning I look up from my desk and here comes John Hill followed by the press contingent which included Jane. Clements had just thrown a rubber chicken down on a banquet table at Hill and everyone was aghast. She stopped by and grabbed a piece of candy -- just long enough for me to make some sort of wise crack about this sealing the election for Hill. Jane stood straight up and looked down on me thru her blackhorned rim glasses and said "Toots, I wouldn't count on that. I think the folk are buying what Clements is selling". I thought I would fall over since everybody and their dog still thought Hill was a cinch and we hadn't elected a Republican Governor since reconstruction. On election night, Jane proved to be one of the few who picked right as we all know the results. The morning after when you lose is not a pretty sight, but here the press and State Party Chair Billy Goldberg come thru the office on their way to a post election news conference in the Press Club and Jane just stood there and said ...You'll learn to listen to the old girl.

And GLBT activist Ray King (also from Whitmarsh's listserv):

...and do not forget that it was Jane Ely whose column (titled: "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?") in The Houston Post gave us advanced warning that Anita Bryant was appearing at the Texas Bar Association Banquet. That gave us enough time to organize the event that changed our lives more than any other. When I described what happened here the next day to Harvey Milk, he wanted to bring her to San Fransisco. It is in the movie.

Zippity Doo Da also has a take.

The final edition has been put to bed, Ms. Ely. They're waiting for you at the bar, with a full shot glass at your place.

Here's to you.

No comments: