August 1, 2016
Good afternoon and thank you for being here as we remember the brave members of our University of Texas community who were here on another Monday fifty years ago today.
As we begin, I would like to recognize distinguished members in the audience, including U.S. Congressman Lloyd Doggett, University of Texas System Regent Brenda Pejovich and State Representatives Donna Howard and Elliott Naishtat. And I welcome staff members from the office of State Senator Kirk Watson, who has authored a Senate proclamation honoring the law enforcement officers who risked their lives to protect our campus on the day of the shootings August 1, 1966.
We come together to remember that tragic day in the history of our cherished university. We come together to memorialize the 17 lives lost. And we come together — students, professors, staff members, community members and friends — to honor the survivors whose lives were forever altered fifty years ago.
I have gotten to know many of you over the past year and I understand that “half a century” feels as if it were yesterday; that there will never be relief from the pain; and that the scars you live with have also scarred this great university.
My hope is today’s remembrance can play at least a small role in helping you — and helping us — heal.
In Julius Caesar, Shakespeare wrote: “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.”
With the memorial we dedicate today, we remember the good, the innocent, and the heroic.
And there are many stories of heroism from that first day in August when gunshots rang from the Tower.
The names of many heroes have been lost to time: students and staff who risked their lives to move shooting victims to safety; doctors and medical professionals who raced to Brackenridge Hospital to tend those with bullet wounds; citizens who donated blood; and the Austin police officers, Travis County Deputies, State Troopers, Texas Rangers and Secret Service agents who rushed toward danger to protect others. Many of these heroes neither wanted nor sought recognition.
But, some of the heroes have been preserved by history. They include seven police officers who ascended the Tower to end the rampage. Among them were Officer Jerry Day (pause), Houston McCoy and George Shepard, who have since passed away.
And I am grateful that four brave officers are with us today. Please join me in thanking them for not only being heroes fifty years ago, but for lifetimes of service, as I ask them to stand:
- Phillip Conner
- Ramiro “Ray” Martinez
- Harold Moe
- Milton Shoquist
I also want to recognize the family of Officer Billy Speed, who was killed after hearing the shots and running towards the Tower to help protect this campus.
There were others: 33 shooting victims who battled back from their wounds and carried on with their lives, some of whom are with us today.
And then there were those who did not survive that fateful day.
Behind me stands a permanent memorial that honors the 17 victims.
The memorial replaces one installed in 1999 when this area was renamed the Tower Garden in honor of the shooting victims. This new memorial — and today’s remembrance — is long, long overdue.
Fifty years ago, society responded to violent tragedy differently. Healing was thought to occur “when we moved on.” Survivors did not receive the support they needed. The campus did not fully grieve before trying to return to normal. In the ensuing decades, there was an instinct to shield the university by not associating it with a singular crime, to not allow tragedy to define the Tower, this central symbol of the institution.
I have read that there is a proverb from ancient India that says, “before we can see properly we must first shed our tears to clear the way.” I hope our community can collectively begin to shed those tears by remembering the tragedy of August 1, 1966. That we can grieve publicly for the lives ended and honor the survivors and heroes who helped save them.
Over the past two years, many people have worked to make this remembrance possible. I thank Associate Vice President Erica Saenz of UT’s Division for Diversity and Community Engagement, and Jim Bryce of Austin, who was a student on campus that day. Jim has been dedicated to making sure we all remember what happened, including as co-chairperson of the committee that assisted in organizing this memorial.
I thank Rodney Molitor, president of Cook-Walden Funeral Homes, for gifting this beautiful monument. Cook-Walden was one of several funeral homes that took on the grim duty of sending ambulances to transport the dead and the wounded, and the late Mr. Walden was on these grounds that day.
Finally, I want to thank a very special survivor who will speak in a moment and will then be followed by Congressman and former UT Student Government President, the Honorable Lloyd Doggett.
Claire Wilson James lost so much on August 1, 1966. Claire was shot while walking across the Main Mall and lost her unborn son. The next bullet took the life of her boyfriend Thomas Eckman. Claire is the embodiment of the resiliency of the human spirit and an inspiration to me. On this day she is even more, as she has served, with Jim Bryce, as co-chairperson of the Texas Tower Memorial Committee.
Claire, it is a profound honor to welcome you and ask that you share your thoughts with us.
As we close this remembrance, I want to be sure everyone knows that grief counselors from the university’s Employee Assistance Program are available in the Tower Garden to assist you in any way they can.
The survivors, and relatives of the victims and law enforcement officers who served on that Monday fifty years ago, are invited to gather in the Eastwood Room of the Texas Union. Our staff members are available to assist with directions to the union.
The Colombian novelist and journalist Gabriel García Márquez, whose archives are housed here at The University of Texas, wrote that, “the heart's memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past.”
We will never eliminate the memory of the horror that consumed this campus on August 1, 1966. Nor should we try. But by focusing on the good — on the stories of the heroes and lives of the survivors here with us this afternoon — we can finally begin to remember and endure our burden of the past.
Thank you for joining us. I invite you to stand as the bagpiper brings our program to a close.