By Callie Metler-Smith
The United States may have lost a great politician, lawyer, and ambassador last Wednesday March 19th, but the passing of Robert Schwartz Strauss marked for the people of Stamford, Texas, the loss of a longtime supporter of the town, alumni and friend. Strauss came to Stamford in elementary school when his parents, Charles and Edith Strauss, Jewish immigrants from Germany moved to Stamford where they opened a general store. Strauss attended school at Stamford and graduated from SHS in 1935.
He went on to get his law degree from the University of Texas, serving as an undergraduate as a volunteer for Lyndon B. Johnson’s first congressional campaign. Upon graduation he started his career as a special agent of the FBI. In January of 1945 he started a private law practice and help found a firm that went on to be known as Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer, and Feld. The law firm has offices in Texas, Washington, and Brussels, Belgium.
In 1962, he began to become more involved in politics, becoming one of the top fundraisers for the 1962 governor campaign of John Connally, a friend of his from college. Connally in turn appointed Strauss to the National Democratic Committee in 1968.
His go-getter attitude served him well and he quickly made an impression in Washington. He was known for two things: the Strauss Specialty which he called, “the art of making things happen instead of just tilting at windmills” and a sign he had kept on his desk that said, "It CAN be done." In 1972 it looked like he might run for Senate, but instead he decided to focus his efforts on the interworking of the Democratic Party, becoming the Democratic National Committee Chairman.
On September 24, 1973 Stamford welcomed “Bobby” home as he came to speak at the Stamford Chamber of Commerce Banquet. Over 800 Stamford residents packed the banquet hall to hear him speak. He held a press conference before the event in Stamford. In the Tuesday morning edition of the September 26, 1973 edition of the Abilene Reporter News, Strauss says of his Stamford press conference, “I was asked to stop in Abilene and see the press. But I wouldn’t have thought of it. I didn’t want to dilute this. I didn’t want to come to anyplace else.” The article goes on to tell how special he was to the community. “He may go by Robert Strauss in the national news stories, but Monday night, after he was introduced by Rep. Omar Burleson of Anson, after he heard the reminiscence by Mrs. Inez Rollins, he was just plain Bobby.” According to the article the town of Stamford put banners up all down W. McHarg and E. Hamilton Street welcoming him home. In a letter addressed to Fareed Hassen on October 16, 1973. Strauss says of the night, “Even though belatedly, I wanted to tell you how wonderful it was being in Stamford. I guess I never had such a night and I know it could never be repeated. Thank you for everything.”
Strauss continued his tenure as Chairman of the Democratic Committee until 1976, and in 1977 served as the Special Trade Representative in President Jimmy Carter’s Cabinet. During that time he oversaw the Tokyo round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations and oversaw the passage of the Trade Act of 1979 through Congress. Following that, President Carter asked him to represent him at the Middle East Peace Negotiations. As a result of his service to President Carter, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1981. This award is the highest civilian award in the United States.
According to letters between Stamford Mayor Ike Hudson and Robert Strauss, he continued to remain involved with helping promote Stamford industry and many times expressed interest in the goings on back home.
In 1984, July 4th was designated at “Robert Strauss Day” and he came home to serve as the official Parade Marshal for the TCR parade. Strauss said of the opportunity, “I am very flattered and proud that you have requested my presence in Stamford.”
During the 90s he served as a director of Archer-Daniels, Midland Corporation, MCA, Inc., Memorex-Telex, General Instrument Corporation and Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation.
Strauss was appointed by President Bush as the Ambassador to the Soviet Union in 1991 and he continued to serve as the Ambassador to Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. He was quoted in a March 16, 1992 article in the Abilene Reporter News as saying this about the fall of the wall, “The Russians lost the Cold War. We in the West have not yet won the peace. The ideas of freedom and democracy are still on trial.” Strauss had a deep respect for Russian President Boris Yeltsin and described him as strong, popular, tough, and sensitive. He described the Soviet people as proud.
On March 19, 1992, Robert Strauss was honored in New Braunfels at the 26th Annual Texas Legislative Conference as the Texan of the Year. He was preceded in this honor by other notable Texans such as Lady Bird Johnson, George Bush, and Phil Gramm.
Kathryn McGarr wrote a book in 2011 titled “The Whole Damn Deal: Robert Strauss and the Art of Politics” that is available to order at Noteworthy Bookstore. The first chapter of the book is titled “Early Years in Stamford, Texas."
On March 19, 2014, Strauss died at his home in Washington D.C. He was 95 years old. Strauss was preceded in death by his wife, Helen. He is survived by his three children.
The following statements were said of Strauss’s passing:
"He is absolutely the most amazing politician. He is everybody's friend and, if he chooses, could sell you the paper off your own wall." – Barbara Bush
“Bob was one of the greatest leaders the Democratic Party ever had, yet presidents of both parties relied on his advice, his instincts and his passion for public service - not to mention his well-honed sense of humor." – President Barack Obama
"Bob Strauss may have cut his teeth in the brass knuckle and highly partisan political fields of Texas politics, but he counseled several presidents of the United States of both parties — and like the others, I valued his advice highly." - George H.W. Bush
Publisher’s Note: A special thanks to Fareed Hassen for copies of personal correspondence between Stamford officials and Robert Strauss as well as many news clippings of Strauss through the years.