When December of the old year surrendered to January of the new one, media folks in the Metroplex faced the daunting task of condensing the contributions of a public servant to “fit” newspaper columns and radio/TV news slots. Media could but “hit the high spots” of this true Christian statesman.
The death of Tom Vandergriff, a beloved figure for more than a half century and a respected patriarch for decades, triggered immediate tributes. They flowed from both the high and mighty and from brethren who fit into the “least of these” category.
One friend observed that Vandergriff’s life of 84 years was marked by “more public service than most others could record in centuries. His was a life of triumphant highlights only dreamed of by others.” Indeed, “lowlights” were few and far between.
A rare “lowlight” concerned his runner-up “finish” for a news reporting position with a Los Angeles radio station soon after receiving a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Southern California.
Dejected momentarily, he returned to Arlington where he was elected “boy mayor” at age 25. He hit the ground running, maintaining an unbelievable pace until retiring as Tarrant County Judge in 2006 at age 80.
Oh, a bit more about the radio job he didn’t get. It went to the late Chet Huntley—the one who exchanged “good nights” to close evening newscasts with co-anchor David Brinkley. Huntley in New York City and Brinkley in Washington were giants in TV news for NBC from 1956 to 1970.
Vandergriff led efforts to bring major league baseball, the General Motors plant and Six Flags Over Texas to Arlington and was a leader in numerous humanitarian causes. The visionary worked tirelessly to change Arlington from the “hyphen” between Fort Worth and Dallas to exclamation points.
He served one term in Congress and was an executive with the automobile firm founded by his father. Hundreds of civic audiences applauded his lectern presentations. They howled at his classic “car-selling story” about a customer who made a virtual steal. Unbeknownst to Tom and his dad, the crafty customer moved back and forth, getting lower and lower bids from each Vandergriff.
Tom was a member of First United Methodist Church, but adherents of all faiths gathered at his massive memorial service held at the University of Texas at Arlington, an institution he championed for decades.
Someone said that ever so rarely we come across folks that on their dying day, that’s all they really need to do. The extraordinary Tom Vandergriff was one.
Dr. Newbury is a speaker and author in the Metroplex. Send inquiries/comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone: 817-447-3872; Web site: www.speakerdoc.com.