Former president of Texas State also served as LBJs speech writer
Photo caption: Robert L. Hardesty, former Texas State University president and Lyndon B. Johnson speech writer, passed away at the age of 82.
Robert L. Hardesty, whose career included key positions with President Lyndon B. Johnson, Speaker of the House Carl Albert and Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe and who later became a university president and the highest ranking official of the U. S. Postal Service died Monday in Austin at the age of 82.
Cause of death was congestive heart failure, according to his wife Alice.
Hardesty was born in St. Louis, MO. in 1931, the son of Dr. John F. Hardesty, a prominent ophthalmologist, and Lucille Hetzel Hardesty. He attended Bel Nor School, St. Louis Country Day School, Western Military Academy and The George Washington University where he honed his skills as a writer and developed a lifelong passion for government and politics.
Following his service in the Army, he was a reporter and columnist for Army Times, specializing in military and Congressional affairs.
Hardesty began his career as a writer and ended it as an administrator. He could never escape the call to write speeches for Democratic office holders and government officials around the country. Bob was like a fire horse when it came to writing speeches, said his longtime friend, Tom Johnson. No matter how busy he was, he couldnt say no to a request for some eloquent words.
In 1964 with the presidential campaign between Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater looming, Hardesty became chief speechwriter for Postmaster General John Gronouski, the Democrats principal spokesman.
In the wake of the 1964 Democratic victory, LBJ aide Jack Valenti called Gronouski to ask who was writing his speeches. According to Valenti, he had asked the Democratic National Committee to send to the White House 50 of the best speeches from the Presidential campaign - 42 were written by Hardesty for Gronouski. Before long, Hardesty was in the White House working for the President. He stayed with Johnson writing speeches and working on legislative affairs until the end of LBJs administration (Johnson called him one of the best.) He then moved with his wife Mary and four young children to Austin to edit and help write the former presidents memoirs, The Vantage Point.
In the 1972 presidential race between Richard Nixon and George McGovern, Hardesty received a call from Speaker Carl Albert to orchestrate a House of Representatives Democratic campaign, separate from that of the Democratic National Committee. It was always a matter of pride with Hardesty that even though Nixons victory was one of the greatest landslides in American political history, the House Democrats lost only 13 seats and maintained a majority.
Back in Texas, Hardesty was named press secretary and special assistant to the newly-elected Democratic governor, Dolph Briscoe, serving in that post for three years.
Hardesty was appointed Vice Chancellor for Governmental Affairs at The University of Texas System in 1976. At the same time, he was chosen to serve on the drafting committee for the Democratic National Platform. It was during one of the Platform Committees sessions that Hardesty received a call from the White House informing him that President Ford was sending his nomination to the Senate to fill a Democratic vacancy on the Board of Governors of the United States Postal Service. My God, if they had known what I was doing over there at the Mayflower (Hotel), Hardesty observed later, that nomination never would have seen the light of day! He served three terms as Chairman of the Postal Board of Governors and is credited with strengthening the role of the Governors and bringing fiscal and political stability to the struggling Postal Service. Hardesty was awarded the Postal Services highest honor: the Benjamin Franklin Award.
The year 1981 proved to be the pivotal point of Hardestys career. He was named president of Southwest Texas State University (now called Texas State University), LBJs alma mater. He initiated far-reaching academic reforms, presided over the student body growth from 13,000 to 20,000, built a state-of-the-art library and vastly increased the permanent endowment. In the words of one state leader, Governor Mark White, He took a sleepy, obscure university, brought new prestige to it and put it on the map. Hardestys faithful companion, his Golden Retriever Orloff, was a familiar sight around campus with Hardesty and often accompanied him to his office.
Hardestys university career came to an abrupt halt in 1988 when Republican Gov. Bill Clements ordered several of the regents to fire him for philosophical differences. His firing was appealed to a state district court which overturned it on the grounds it was illegal. Later a Travis County jury ruled that Hardesty had been fired for political reasons. The regents subsequently bestowed on him the title of President Emeritus.
In later years, Hardesty served as a consultant to the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation and other organizations. Bob Hardesty was a valuable friend and trusted advisor to my father and our family, said Lynda Johnson Robb. A masterful storyteller, Bobs lasting legacy can be found in the words he wrote. He penned inspiring speeches for my father when he was President and later Bob shared behind-the-scenes LBJ stories for historians and all of us. Bob will be missed.
Luci Baines Johnson added, Bob was one of the most courageous men we've ever known. His physical heart began to fail him in his 30's, but for 40 years more he soldiered on with a concern for others that was so boundless he proved to have the greatest heart of all. Bob was walking wisdom with a twinkle in his eye, romance in his heart and a dapper suit to boot! He had character in abundance. He had a fierce work ethic, a commitment to truth, good, social justice and his country's welfare. He shared thesequalities with his President, his party, his university, his students, his family and friends with equal unswerving commitment. There is a giant hole in our hearts with his passing."
Asked recently what were the best years of his career, Hardesty replied, They were all the best years. The years with Gronouski were the most fun. The years with LBJ were the most significant with the passage of Medicare, civil rights and education legislation. The years with the Postal Service were the most stimulating personally, having the opportunity to set national policy in a huge federal agency. And the years at Southwest Texas State University were the most exciting since I was able to make such a difference. Ive been blessed many times over.
A quiet man with a wry sense of humor, Hardesty was a gifted mimicker and teller of stories, especially Lyndon Johnson stories. He and fellow speechwriter Harry Middleton recently gave a presentation, LBJ With the Bark Off, to Middletons University of Texas Liberal Arts Honors Program students, which was shown on C-SPAN.
Hardesty loved traveling the world with his Alice, but his favorite city was New Orleans. For many years, he and Alice observed their Mardi Gras ritual of rollicking Friday lunches at Galatoires with a select group of friends.
Hardesty was a past president of the Headliners Club of Austin where he was often seen enjoying martinis with a twist and an onion, good food and stimulating conversation with his many friends. Every relationship Bob had was unique. Those friends will miss the charismatic, dapper man who wore outrageous socks with impeccably tailored suits.
He is survived by his wife, Alice McDonald Hardesty. Bob often said how fortunate he was to have found the love of his life.
He is also survived by his two daughters, Elizabeth Hurst of Houston and Ann Hardesty of Oakland CA; his two sons, Bruce and John Hardesty of Austin; his grandsons, Eric and Alden Hurst of Houston, (Josh Garza of Austin; his step-daughter Dr. Michel McDonald and step-granddaughter Genevieve McDonald of Nashville, TN. He is also survived by his devoted caregiver, Rose Johns, and many loyal friends too numerous to name.
Hardesty was preceded in death by his first wife, Mary Roberts Hardesty, and his beloved brother, Jack Hardesty.
Honorary pallbearers are Joseph A. Califano, Jr., Governor Mark White, Tom Johnson, Larry Temple, Harry Middleton, Mark Miller, Dr. Denise Trauth, Shirley James, Nellie White, Mary Ann Mendoza, Bruce Hardesty, and John Hardesty.
Interment will be at the Texas State Cemetery on Monday, July 15, at 9:00 a.m. A memorial service will be held in the LBJ Presidential Library on the same date at 11:00 a.m.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorials be made to the LBJ Foundation in honor of Robert Hardesty.