George Christian (1927-2002)
Courtesy of the Austin American-Statesman
Established in 2012, the George Christian Scholarship is awarded annually to a University of Texas at Austin student who exemplifies a commitment to news reporting, with preference given to candidates with experience at The Daily Texan.
George Christian came into politics naturally. Born into a family devoted to public service, Christian, in his 75 fruitful years, became a U.S. Marine, a respected journalist, a distinguished graduate of the University of Texas, chief of staff to one governor and press secretary to another, and press secretary to the President of the United States.
Throughout his career, his hallmark was personal and professional integrity. CBS newsman Dan Rather described him as a man “so honest you could shoot dice with him over the telephone.” In 2001, both houses of the Texas Legislature adopted a resolution commending him as a “highly respected professional whose work has consistently demonstrated his commitment to integrity and leadership.”
A fifth-generation Texan, George Eastland Christian was born January 1, 1927, in Austin. He was that year’s New Year’s Baby of Travis County–a good luck omen that boded well for him from minute one until his death on November 27, 2002.
He graduated from Austin High School in 1944 and enlisted at 17 in the U.S. Marine Corps. He served as a rifleman in the Second Marine Division, Fleet Marine Force-Pacific, and was among the first troops to occupy atomic bomb-ravaged Nagasaki, Japan.
After World War II, he attended the University of Texas on the G.I. Bill of Rights and became sports editor of the Daily Texan. His close association with U.T. continued thereafter.
His professional career began with a seven-year stint as capitol correspondent for International News Service under bureau chief Bill Carter. He was recruited by Jake Pickle and Joe Greenhill in 1956 to work on the staff of U.S. Senator Price Daniel. After Daniel became governor, Christian was his press secretary and then chief of staff. He later joined Governor John Connally as press secretary, a post he served at the time Connally was wounded during the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
In 1966, Christian joined the White House staff, working with National Security Advisor Walt Rostow and then succeeding Bill Moyers as President Johnson’s press secretary. He served three turbulent years at the White House during the height of the Cold War, the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, the Vietnam conflict, and some of the nation’s most severe racial crises.
After serving President Lyndon Baines Johnson from 1966 to 1969, Christian began a successful career as a public affairs and political consultant. He also volunteered a large part of his time to fundraising for the University of Texas, historical preservation projects, and many other causes. He remained active in all respects until his death.
He was chosen Outstanding Alumnus of the College of Communication, where he earned his journalism degree; member of the hall of Honor of the College of Natural Sciences; and in 1989 a Distinguished Alumnus of the University of Texas. Recently he served a term as president of the Ex-Students Association.
Christian was a life member of the McDonald Observatory Board and the College of Communication Advisory Council and former chairman of both. He also served on the board of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. In all of these capacities, he was an effective fundraiser for U.T. programs, especially the Hobby-Eberle telescope at McDonald Observatory in the Davis Mountains.
Christian was appointed to the Texas Historical Commission by Governor Dolph Briscoe and reappointed by Governors Mark White and Ann Richards, serving 18 years, including a term as chairman. Governor Rick Perry gave him the Governor’s Award for Historic Preservation. He was also presented the Ruth Lester Award for “lifelong commitment to preserving Texas’ unique heritage,” and was given a lifetime achievement award by the Heritage Society of Austin.
The Paramount Theater, Governor’s Mansion, State Capitol, and recovery of LaSalle’s ship, the Belle, were among the beneficiaries of his volunteer fundraising efforts. Governor Bill Clements appointed him to the first board of Friends of the Governor’s Mansion and Governors George W. Bush and Rick Perry named him to the committee overseeing the historic State Cemetery.
A prolific writer since his teens, Christian wrote hundreds of speeches for public officials, authored a book, “The President Steps Down,” commissioned by Macmillan in 1969, and edited or contributed to a number of others, including “The World of Texas Politics” and “LBJ: The White House Years.” He was guest columnist for the Dallas Morning News for many years and also wrote frequently for the Houston Post and the Houston Chronicle. He was a frequent guest on television, news and history programs, both nationally and in Texas.
Christian was vice chairman of both the Lyndon B. Johnson Foundation and the Bob Bullock State Museum Foundation, was co-founder of the Headliners Foundation, and served on the board of Scott & White Memorial Hospital. He received the Harvey Penick Award for Excellence in the Game of Life from Caritas of Austin, the Stewardship of Texas Values Award from the Texas Lyceum, and the Torch of Liberty Award from the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. In 1998, he was named Texan of the Year by the Texas Legislative Conference.
George Christian had a twinkle in his eyes and a laugh that could ignite everyone in the room to hilarity. He had enough friends to fill a metro-sized phonebook. And he gave the kind of advice and could formulate complex strategies that presidents and corporations were happy to pay for–but he offered it for free as often as not.
The pride he had about his professional accomplishments paled in comparison to the love he felt for his large family–wife Jo Anne Martin Christian; children Elizabeth Christian and husband Bruce Todd, Susan Christian Goulding and husband Michael Goulding, George Scott Christian and wife Betsy Christian, Bruce Christian, John Christian and wife Adina Christian, and Brian Christian and wife Erin Barrett; grandchildren Alexandra Rose, Erin Goulding, Matthew Goulding, Leah Christian, Sarah Christian, Kathryn Christian, George Christian, Amelia Lopez, James Whittemore, Adam Christian and Regan Christian. A good number of the Christian clan went to The University of Texas at one time or another, and all applaud the George Christian Scholarship and celebrate the scholars it supports.
The George Christian Scholarship was created in loving memory by the following donors:
Edwina and Tom Johnson
Jan and Bob Marbut
Patsy and Jack Martin
Sammye and Mike Myers
LouAnn and Larry Temple
Eleanor Butt Crook
Admiral Bobby Inman
McBee Family Foundation
Gay and Shannon Ratliff
Allan Shivers, Jr.
Dillon & Cissie Ferguson
Brian and Jane Greig
Tom L. Johnson
Ellen and Mark Morrison