In Memoriam

Remembering Maury Maverick, Jr.

Maury was the only person I’ve ever known who made being cantankerous a virtue. Maury looked at the world from an oblique angle. You could see it in the way he stood, one hand in his pocket, his head cocked to the side as if to say you can’t see things right if you’re looking at the world straight on. In fact, Maury had one of the most expressive heads I’ve ever seen. Sometimes it looked like it weighed him down—with the weight of the world inside, as when he’d be sitting at a table and put his head down and wag it back and forth like a cudgel while muttering about the forces of darkness and what they were doing to our democracy.

Maury was a study in contradictions. He was a proud Marine veteran of World War II with a Quaker’s soul. He was devoted to Tom Paine, Jefferson, and Madison and believed deeply and passionately in this country as an idea but was so let down by it in practice. He cussed like the ex-Marine, trial lawyer son of Maury Maverick Sr. would, but was a Zen Buddhist when he communed with nature, birds, dogs, and trees. He constantly and proudly referred to his Maverick heritage but carried the burden of his father’s fame and expectations to his grave. (He often told the story of visiting his father on his deathbed, who told Maury, “Well at least you didn’t turn out to be as big a horse’s ass as Elliot Roosevelt.”)

He was someone who cared deeply about people but had a hard time communicating and could never make small talk. So you’d often get bluster or gruffness or criticism. I’d get calls at the Observer—and for some stretches it was after every issue—where I’d pick up the phone and the voice would say, “Maury Maverick. You know you might be right about everything you say, but your stories are too damn long.” I took that to mean that he liked the stories. And he thought they were too damn long. He was probably right.

Then there was his sense of humor and that glint in his eye—even when it didn’t work too well for seeing. He could be playful. He wouldn’t let you get away with anything. He’d say something to try to rouse a response, say something on the edge of appropriate as a way of checking your pulse. For instance, Maury helped me apply for conscientious objector status. I’d had a rabbi who wouldn’t write a letter of support. Fortunately, the temple’s religious director, Milton Bendiner, wrote a good letter about war, peace, and the concept of Shalom on my behalf.

Maury constantly reminded me of how lucky I was to have four years of a college deferment before being called in the draft. As I was walking out of his office, after we’d completed the process, he called me back to give me one more message: “Now don’t go out there and fly bombers for those Israelis.” He couldn’t resist saying that.

Maury was a people’s hero. He’d stand up for you if you were ordinary folk whose rights were beat to shreds. He’d take on the toughest fights. He fought for civil rights and civil liberties in the days of Jim Crow and Joe McCarthy. He fought the Red Scare as a member of the Texas Legislature. He successfully defended Texas Communist Party Secretary John Stanford’s rights against search and seizure. He showed the U.S. Supreme Court, including Justice Hugo Black, that among the items seized were the writings of Pope John XXIII and those of Justice Black. You know he enjoyed that. He talked about the wounds from those battles like they were old war wounds. But you also knew they took their toll. As Ronnie writes, Maury probably represented more conscientious objectors during the Vietnam War than anyone in the country. And most of them were farm boys or boys from the inner city who’d only begun to think about war once they were already in the service. Maury worked to get them out. That was a hard row to hoe.

Back in the early ’80s, I’d heard that the legendary Emma Tenayuca had returned to San Antonio. I wondered if I could interview her for the Observer. Since she’d been run out of town for her politics four decades earlier, she kept a low profile. There was only one way to meet her. I talked to Maury and he set it up. He told her I was “good people.” When I was finally able to meet and interview her, she told me it was only because Maury had said I would be okay. He was the only person in San Antonio she trusted outside of her family. Maury was good people.

And he built a network of good people and urged them on. He never gave up, never thought the fight wasn’t worth waging. Until his dying day, and beyond in his last column, he engaged the world to make it better.

On the day Maury died, Dave Richards wrote his friends: “It is by no means clear to me that we will see another like him in our lifetime—the only thing I suppose is he didn’t have to listen to Bush’s state of the Union or hear the results of the Israeli elections. Peace and Freedom are precious commodities.”

Geoff Rips is a former Observer editor.

Geoff Rips is a novelist and a former editor of The Texas Observer.

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Published at 12:00 am CST