Former state Sen. Don Kennard canoed rivers, visited historical places, and worked to protect Texas’ land even before the term “environmentalist” was created.
A history buff, he celebrated the 100th anniversaries of several events, including the last indian raid in Texas.
Kennard, who died March 18 at age 81, ran rivers with former Land Commissioner Bob Armstrong and was a catalyst for preserving Texas natural areas, as a legislator and later. He also was a creative guy.
As a new state senator for Fort Worth, Kennard stood on the podium behind President John F. Kennedy in Fort Worth on Nov. 22, 1963 – flanked by Vice-President Lyndon Johnson, U.S. Sen. Ralph Yarborough, and Gov. John Connally. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas hours later.
Kennard and Senate buddy A.R. “Babe” Schwartz of designated themselves as Texas Senate representatives to Kennedy’s funeral. Kennard somehow commandeered a four-engine Air Force KC-130, Schwartz said, to fly them to Andrews Air Force Base near Washington, D.C., where the president’s plane usually lands.
A limousine picked them up, courtesy of U.S. Rep. Jim Wright, – for whom Kennard earlier had been chief of staff. Kennard’s buddy Larry L. King was Wright’s current chief of staff. King later became a famous author of several books and magazine articles, including a Texas Monthly magazine story that became a musical, “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”
“We went to the church and cemetery with the dignitaries,” Schwartz recalled. “We got out at the curb and someone said ‘Make way for the general.’ Turned out to be (then-French President) Gen. Charles de Gaulle.” Schwartz told the Kennedy funeral story after attending Kennard’s memorial service March 26 and consecration of his ashes at a gravesite in the Texas State Cemetery.
Kennard had picked for his final resting place a plot between the graves of famous Texas historical writers J. Frank Dobie and Walter Prescott Webb. The Kennedy funeral escapade was just one of many things Kennard did during a life that included 10 years in the Texas House of Representatives, followed by 10 years in the Texas Senate.
Perhaps chief among them was Kennard’s successful effort to earmark a penny of the state tax on each pack of cigarettes to benefit Texas state parks. Max Sherman was elected to the Senate in 1970 from Amarillo – eight years after Kennard, who was by then a veteran of 18 years in the Legislature.
“Don took me under his wing,” said Sherman. “He was my mentor and friend.”
Sherman said Kennard proposed the Texas Antiquities Code in 1971, to protect archaeological sites on Texas public lands.
Joe Christie, another Senate buddy who represented El Paso, recalled that Kennard “convinced me to introduce the bill we passed to protect the horny toad.”
After leaving the Senate, Kennard became director of the Natural Areas Surveys with the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas.
Former Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, who presided over the Senate for the last four years of Kennard’s legislative career, compared Kennard to U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, who was legendary for preserving public lands and establishing national parks.