Bob Eckhardt’s stocks in trade are a prodigious Texas hat and one of the thickest drawls known to man. Once, when he was campaigning in one of Houston’s big supermarkets, a friend stopped him and asked, “Eckhardt, why the hell do you wear that dirty old hat?” Eckhardt replied, “A fellow with a hat like that and a drawl like this couldn’t be a radical.”
— “Eckhardt of Harris County” by Willie Morris, TO 6/15/62
If the people’s interests are to be protected they must be represented by politicians who are not primarily loyal to the major oil companies or any other organization of the few to control the many, no matter how honest that organization may be and no matter how honest that politician says he may be.
—Bob Eckhardt to Harris County Democrats, 1956
Shortly before going to press, we learned that Texas Observer founding supporter, former state legislator and U.S. Representative, liberal stalwart, cartoonist and bicycle enthusiast Robert Christian “Bob” Eckhardt had passed away. In recent years he was such a familiar sight at Barton Springs pool that we rarely stopped to think about his achievements on dry land: making Texas beaches public, representing labor organizations, fighting for school equity, and co-sponsoring the Toxic Substances Act that established the Superfund program. (And only by digging through old copies of the Observer did we discover that he had been one of the founders of the Young Gentlemen’s Coffee Colloquium and Yacht Club at the University of Texas in the 1930s.) Early on he understood the primary struggle in politics to be that between the corporate interests and the public interest—but the self-described New Deal pragmatist wore that struggle lightly. “The liberal candidate may not win, but the conservative candidate has got to become more liberal,” he said in 1962. “The drift of humane society is in that direction.”