An 82-year-old man, childless and ailing, could have had a lonely funeral. That’s not what’s happening today,” said Maury Maverick Jr.’s “sort of double cousin,” lawyer Merrill Maverick Clements, speaking for the family to about 1,200 people who filled O’Neil Ford’s spectacular Trinity University chapel, overflowing into the choir’s balcony, the morning of February first at Maury’s funeral service. Among those present were former U.S. House Speaker Jim Wright, Maury’s former Texas House colleagues Babe Schwartz, Bob Wheeler, Bob Mullen, and Johnny Barnhart, family, friends, the county judge, two former mayors, dissenters he had defended, and strangers who admired his columns in the San Antonio Express-News for 20 years. As Rev. Raymond Judd, Jr., said, “he’d get a kick out of this.”
He died of kidney failure the morning of January 28 after an operation. The writer Jan Jarboe Russell, whom he phoned most mornings at about 8:30 for 30 years, was with him during his final space of lucidity the night before. “He said three things to me clearly,” Jan said. “He said, ‘I’m dying, and I don’t know what to do.’” Jan replied, “None of us knows what to do, Maury. And you’re right, you are dying.” “Should I have had the operation?” he asked. There was no question about that: 15 doctors had concurred. “Yes, you should of, you had to,” Jan said. “Are we at war yet?” he asked her. “No, we’re not,” she said. “Thank God for that,” he said. Earlier he had told her that “if Bush leads us into war, he’s leading us straight into a trap.” For two decades the Express-News, and then the Hearst chain, had stuck with him through tumult and outrage over some of his columns; the Sunday after his funeral his last one appeared. He quoted the U.S. Catholic Bishops opposing a U.S. attack, and he signed off by asking, “What say the leaders of the other religions in San Antonio about a war in Iraq?”
Maury was the son of a great and famous man, Congressman, then Mayor Maury Maverick Sr. of San Antonio, the leader of the Young Turks in the U.S. House who rebelled when Roosevelt abandoned his own New Deal in 1935 and 1936. When young Maury was 6, his father, lying in a bathtub, called his boy over to him and had him put his hands in the severe shrapnel scar he bore in his shoulder from World War I. “Never forget,” the father said to the boy. “This is the price of liberty.” As the boy grew his father charged him: “You have a famous name. Speak up, and help the ribbon clerks.” Sometimes Maury Jr. was tortured with anxiety and fear, but all his life he was true to his father and to the ribbon clerks.
During his career as a lawyer he handled more than 300 cases pro bono; he was the most active lawyer in the country for conscientious objectors in the military service against the Vietnam war. Childless, he had many children. With attorney Lou Linden, Maury established the legal precedent that conscientious objectors could be exempted not only on religious, but also on ethical grounds, as long as they objected to all wars. On that very basis my own son Gary refused to kill in Vietnam. Jan was like a daughter to him. He helped Didi Drabble, now on the Philadelphia Inquirer, get started on her career. He got Cary Clack on as an Express-News columnist; Clack lists among “Maury’s children” poet Naomi Shihab Nye (who rendered beautifully, to the throng for Maury, Frank Dobie’s poem “The Mustangs”), along with attorneys, a businessman, a teacher, and other journalists.
At the chapel Father Bill Davis said that one day he was “walking the 18 holes” at the Brackenridge Park golf course with Maury Jr. when Maury said to him, “Bill, I don’t believe in your God, I’m a pantheist.” Gesturing toward some cardinals flying over them he told the priest, “Those are my cardinals. You’ve got yours.” Maury worshiped at a certain tree along that walk, once he hugged it while I was walking with him, and he greeted the purple martins returning every spring. Davis said, “Maury, with his cardinals and purple martins and all these things, he’s about the closest thing to St. Francis that I’ve really ever met.”
Rev. Claude Black, who preaches on the East Side of San Antonio, said that when he became friends with Maury it was a time when he, a black man, could not attend the University of Texas or use white restrooms or eat in white restaurants, and “If we had not had the same values we could not have been friends.” Black continued: “I knew him as a man who wanted this nation to live up to its promises…. The name is patriot, loyal to the promises of this government…. He was a mediator, a person who heard the cries for justice in the community, and you know that there’s somebody in the community who understands your cry.”
He was buried beside his father and mother at San Jose burial park. The crowd at the green tent sang “Amazing Grace.” A jazz band played, circling them. With his widow Julia and other family arrayed and dancing quietly at the side of the casket, a pretty woman named Carolyn fulfilled his request for the occasion by doing a seemly, but sexy, hoochee-koochee. A male neighbor had heard Maury say he also wanted a stripper at his funeral and, unbeknownst to Julia, had hired one to perform. Dressed flimsily in a black lace outfit, with an improvised black lace face veil mounted in her hair, a softly fleshy young woman only Renoir would regard as voluptuous shimmied and slowly stripped at the casketside and displayed with g-string, her very white derriere. Julia, in fairly good humor, quietly asked anyone with a coat on to throw it over her, but no one did.
When he was lowered into a deep rectangular hole some of us dropped leaves and flowers down on him; Terrellita, his sister, dropped in two cactus pads. We took turns, dropping shovels of dirt from the waiting backhoe. Then the backhoe filled in the hole and men in workclothes smoothed the dirt. In her column the next day Jan Jarboe Russell wrote:
“One morning, many years ago, I awoke in a deep funk, the kind of despair that murders the soul and makes the simplest tasks–making coffee, getting dressed, going to the office–seem impossible.” The telephone rang around 8:30, and Maury said, “Hey, kid, what’s going on in the world?”
“In response,” Jan continued, “I whined. Maverick shut me down cold. ‘Stop bellyaching,’ he said in his bulldog voice. ‘I know things are tough, but I want you to get up off your ass and go do something brave for your country.’” With him gone now, “every day, I’ll shake myself from sleep, go out and try to do something brave for my country. You do the same.”
Ronnie Dugger is the founding editor of the Observer.