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The Broad Shoulders of a Good Man By James Presley Lalo Solis, long an important force in San Antonio politics, died on June 11 at the age of 86. The following is excerpted from an eulogy delivered by his friend James Presley, now of Texarkana. Ed. San Antonio ACONSTANT THEME in Lalo Solis’s life and career was his deep interest in the betterment of people all people and his lifelong participation in politics was keyed to that abiding interest. He had a genuine, profound feeling for “the little man” and you didn’t have to be around him long to realize this empathy. The first time I ever saw Lalo Solis, I learned this. It was in 1958 at a political convention in Austin. I was a young Ph.D. student at the University of Texas, 28 years old, and Lalo that year would be twice my age, at 56 slightly older than I am now. I didn’t know his name, but I couldn’t miss him as he worked his way along the convention floor. A stout, greying, olive-complexioned man in his middle fifties with the shoulders of a stevedore, he stood out in that milling throng of business suits and white collars. Deliberately, he moved from group to group, from person to person, doggedly buttonholing delegates. A frown furrowed his brows into ridges. Sweat dampened his blue shirt at the armpits. His prominent Indian nose and rock-like jaw jutted forward as if carved from the granite on Mount Rushmore. His face symbolized intensity. Lalo and others had gone to that convention hoping to gain an endorsement for Henry B. Gonzalez, then in the state senate, in his race for governor that summer. But Henry’s was a controversial name at that time, for reasons that today may seem archaic to a younger generation. He had filibustered against a series of segregation bills in the Texas Senate, and in 1958 that was not only a first, it had brought down the wrath of many Texans. Henry was of Mexican descent. And he was a Catholic. Well, the issue in Austin that day finally boiled down to whether Henry would even be permitted to speak at the convention. That morning Henry had just gotten into town from Ralls, out on the Plains, and finally in the afternoon, as the hot late May sun cast long shadows outside the auditorium, he was invited to address the delegates for fifteen minutes. Henry made a passionate, moving appeal that snapped the, by then, listless delegates to their feet. I think it was the best speech I ever heard Henry Gonzalez make, maybe the best speech I’ve ever heard. In the next day’s San Antonio Light, there was a picture of Henry’s being carried triumphantly through the tumult. If you go look up that picture, you’ll see that one of the broad shoulders Henry rode on belonged to Lalo. Lalo’s day had climaxed successfully because Henry’s had. That was how Lalo was always there, reliable, hardworking, letting others take the limelight he labored to prepare. I went to that convention to observe. I left as an enthusiast, and I came to know Lalo and Henry , well that summer because I joined the campaign and rode all over this huge state of Texas, as Henry’s press man, general jack-of-all-trades, and sometime driver. I had many long conversations with Lalo, and we were soon fast friends. He told me one day that summer, “A lot of guys some big shots take one look at me, especially when I’m wearing my khakis, and they say, ‘Well1-1, what’s this guy? He’s just a truck driver!’ and they don’t think I know what I’m talking about. And that’s right I do drive a truck. But lots of times I’ve been right, when they weren’t.” Lalo Solis was one of the true, unsung heroes of American politics. I soon learned that our long, tiring summer was only a chapter for Lalo in a larger, personal, continuing one-man campaign for a world free of discrimination. He had been, for a long time, doing something about prejudice in his own way, which he felt was the American way through politics. The practice of politics, he knew, was too important to democracy for any American to ignore. “Politics are good, if you play ’em clean,” he told me. He insisted on “playing ’em clean” while at the same time being a tough competitor. Maury Maverick, Sr. , once called him “my conscience.” Starting in politics in the 1930’s, Lalo waited twenty years for his first victory as a campaign manager, when Henry Gonzalez won a seat on San Antonio’s city council in 1953. Their friendship had begun a few years before when Gonzalez, a night school teacher, and Lalo, a truck driver for the school system, met during a coffee break. “I told him,” remembered Lalo, “if he ever had a friend running for public office, to let me know and I would help him. A few days later he told. me he had filed for the state legislature. He asked me to be his campaign manager. `Why don’t you get someone who knows more about it?’ I asked him. But he said he wanted me and I told him I would do my best. So we started and we campaigned from that night to the runoff without missing a single day. He had an old sedan and we spent $300 in all for the race, including the $100 filing fee.” Even in defeat, the Gonzalez-Solis team had won, for Gonzalez became the first candidate of Mexican descent to reach the runoff in a local legislative election. It was the optimistic prelude to a series of successful Soils-coached campaigns. Soon his candidate for county commissioner, Albert Pena, Jr., was in the courthouse. Gonzalez went on to become the first Texas state senator of Mexican descent and, in 1961, the first such man in Texas to become a Congressman. Race, culture, creed, education, bank account meant nothing to Lalo in judging a man. “Will he keep his word? Can you trust him?” he wanted to know. He THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17