Tuesday, June 26, 2012

"It's Gene Autry!" National, Texas Parks Advocate George Bristol Shares His Favorite State Park Memory

George Bristol, author of On Politics and Parks (Texas A&M University Press, 2012), is known for his love of nature and his successful political career. Bristol’s passion for national parks and the great outdoors led to his involvement in the National Park Foundation and National Park Service. After spearheading efforts to elevate the image of the National Park Service and helping to establish a successful fundraising strategy for the NPF, Bristol carried his ideas over to his home state of Texas. His efforts played an important role in the Texas Legislature's 2007 vote to double the operating budget for state parks.

Bristol has received several awards, including the 2009 Pugsley Medal, honoring champions of parks and conservation and a leadership award from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. On Politics and Parks offers intriguing peeks at behind-the-scenes events in Washington, Austin and elsewhere, as well as a captivating personal memoir.

TAMU Press: What was your inspiration for writing a memoir? 

George Bristol: The inspiration for the book really came from three sources:

1. My mother, Lottie Bristol, was a devoted outdoors person. After my father's death in 1946, even in those times when we didn't have a car, she made sure we got out to natural and historic sites around Texas. Many were state parks and historic sites.

Later, when the opportunity came for me to work in Glacier National Park, she had no hesitancy of putting me on a train to parts unknown so that I could experience, in depth, the awesome wonders of that crown jewel among America's Best Idea.

2. Following the discovery of my father's billfold that was in his possession at the time of his death, I felt compelled to relate my memories surrounding its contents. This led toward other avenues of memories and history that I wanted to share with my family, particularly with my grandchildren who would not otherwise have written knowledge of our families and the times they shared.

3. Dick and Joanne Bartlett of Dallas and Fort Davis set up a wonder writer-in-residence program in the Davis Mountains. I was able to spend two months there in splendid isolation, pulling all the separate parts of my most interesting life together, until I had fashioned a work, to my satisfaction, of how I got to the purpose of my life work: park and conservation advocacy. 

TAMU Press: What is your favorite memory or park experience? 

 GB: After my father's death in 1946 we lived in Beeville, Texas, a small South Texas town. True to form my mother took us to nearby Goliad to the state park and historic sites. After

touring the fort and mission we were walking toward the parking lot, when we spied a tall figure in full movie cowboy regalia.

We thought it was our hero, Gene Autry. We ran toward the man, yelling, "It's Gene Autry! It's Gene!" We threw our arms around his legs and continue to exclaim that it was Gene. He laughed and then gently bent over and explained that he was not Gene Autry, but rather Monte Hale, a good friend of Autry's and a fellow cowboy star.

That was good enough for us. Forty years later I would have Monte Hale confirm that story to family and friends in the pretense of.........Gene Autry.

By: Madeline Loving

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