Love Deeper Than a River: My Life in San Antonio

Love Deeper Than a River: My Life in San Antonio


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Lila Banks Cockrell has been an important voice in San Antonio politics and public life for more than six decades. In Love Deeper Than a River, she recalls her life as a public servant in the city she loves and, as member of the Greatest Generation, recounts how coming of age during Prohibition, the Great Depression, World War II, and the burgeoning civil rights movement influenced her political views and kindled her passion to serve her country and community. Love Deeper Than a River details the era of Cockrell’s life that many San Antonians are familiar with, including her four terms as the first woman mayor of San Antonio, between 1975 and 1991, and her service on countless municipal commissions, civic boards, foundations, and conservancies in the 1990s and into the early twenty-first century. Her life stands as an inspiration for everyone, including new generations of civic leaders.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781595349118
Publisher: Trinity University Press
Publication date: 02/14/2020
Pages: 312
Sales rank: 1,205,081
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Catherine Nixon Cooke is the author of Juan O’Gorman: A Confluence of Civilizations and Powering a City: How Energy and Big Dreams Transformed San Antonio, both published by Trinity University Press; The Thistle and the Rose: Romance, Railroads, and Big Oil in Revolutionary Mexico; and Tom Slick, Mystery Hunter, which is in development as a major motion picture. She is a contributor to two anthologies, They Lived to Tell the Tale: True Stories of Modern Adventure from the Legendary Explorers Club and Adventurous Dreams, Adventurous Lives. She and her husband divide their time between San Antonio, the Texas hill country, and more remote parts of the world where untold stories beckon.

Read an Excerpt

Foreword by Henry Cisneros

In his 1998 book, Tom Brokaw bestowed the sobriquet the “Greatest Generation” on the cohort of Americans who came of age in the years of the Great Depression and World War II. These Americans lived through the crushing economic downturn whose arrival was marked by the frightening stock market crash of 1929, and they demonstrated the grit to fight through the tumult, contraction, uncertainty, and personal sacrifices that characterized the 1930s. The world economy was battered and the instability it caused soon degenerated into global political and security chaos. When the United States was pulled into the global conflagration by Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor and Germany’s blitzkrieg across Europe and Africa, that same generation of Americans put on military uniforms, mastered the requirements of warfare, and fought the Axis powers to the death.

The early 1940s were years of severe hardship at home and painful sacrifices on battlefields abroad. They were years that required courage and commitment to patriotic action. And they evoked in the Greatest Generation not only attributes of character and selflessness, but also, in the aftermath of the war, the confidence and optimism to will the United States into its essential role as the leader of the community of nations in the quest for world peace, economic prosperity, scientific advances, medical breakthroughs, and social progress. Their legacy of postwar engagement includes the United Nations, the Marshall Plan, the security umbrella of the Pax Americana, modern consumer products and services, the interstate highway system, the effective eradication of diseases such as polio and tuberculosis, the space program, and the civil rights laws. These advances and many others are the results of a collective generational effort, but they are also the products of individual commitments and beliefs.

As long as I have known Lila Cockrell, I have thought of her as a quintessential member of the Greatest Generation. Everything about her affirms her love of country and of America’s core values, a sense of duty, and the resolute responsibility of the Greatest Generation. Lila knows America well. Her family roots, her experiences as a child, and her formative years in Fort Worth, New York, San Antonio, and Dallas taught her about different places, people, and public roles. Lila showed from early life the natural intelligence, lively curiosity, and well-placed confidence that would serve her in good stead throughout her life. Family life for Lila in the 1920s and 1930s was a Norman Rockwell tableau of earnestness, manners, studiousness, and growing awareness. She saw in her uncles and stepfather respect for the principles of the law and for the efficacy of public service. She excelled at Southern Methodist University and was prepared to follow in her family’s footsteps of meaningful societal contributions. She realized her own substantial capabilities and began the lifelong process of diplomatically but firmly applying her prodigious capacities in an America where leadership posts were still largely reserved for men.

Lila tells the story of how she met the love of her life, Sid Cockrell, at a YWCA conference in Colorado. She recounts that after seeing him in the post office at Estes Park, she told her roommate that she had just met the man she was going to marry. It was a natural connection of two smart, service-oriented, and attractive young people. Sid had an amiable, easygoing, wholesome, all-American persona. I thought years later when I met him that he would have made a perfectly good stand-in for Jimmy Stewart in a movie role. He was definitely a major reason why Lila would be Lila in the years to come. They had an old-fashioned romance that never ended and was obvious in the mutual admiration and support they gave each other, not to mention the appreciative smiles and sweet nothings they exchanged into their seventies. After that initial meeting they courted from a distance and married in 1942, with the war in Europe and the Pacific well under way. Since Sid was already on active duty, they started married life on the post of Fort Sill, in Oklahoma.

As with many Greatest Generation couples, history intervened and personal plans were interrupted. Each of the newlyweds had officer commissions in the U.S. military, Sid as an army officer and Lila as a navy WAVES officer. Sid served as a member of a general’s staff, including a tour of duty in Iceland, and Lila served in administrative positions in Washington. Both of their lives thereafter were influenced by their leadership responsibilities and by their service to the nation in that time of war.

Like other members of the Greatest Generation, Sid and Lila committed enthusiastically to peacetime pursuits as the war ended. It was a full life: Sid’s career in organizational management in Dallas and San Antonio; the birth of two daughters, Carol and Cathy; household duties, volunteer work, and civic leadership for Lila. In 1963 Lila became the first woman to serve on the San Antonio city council in a city government headed by a strong leader, Mayor Walter McAllister. It was an important time for the city, dominated by the planning and execution of HemisFair 1968. Lila observed and learned the requirements of leadership in a growing city and came to understand the rhythms and complexities of a diverse, multicultured, and historic community.

When she was urged to stand for election as mayor in 1975 and decided to enter the race, it was as if Lila had been preparing her entire life to lead a city that needed her steady and calming leadership. Every strand of confidence, knowledge, experience, and instinct from a lifetime of learning and service, of love and faith, was applied to the task at hand. She was the first woman to be elected mayor of San Antonio and the first woman mayor of a major American city. She was the first mayor directly chosen by the San Antonio electorate—as opposed to being voted in by city council members. And she was exactly what the city needed to bring civility and decorum to an era of implacable divisions, bare-knuckled politics, and swirling resentments.

Lila’s tenure as mayor was a decisive time for San Antonio:

Ji She guided the city toward unprecedented protection of its water supply.

Ji She committed the city to diversified reserves of energy supplies for power generation.

Ji She presided over the transformation of the city’s governance, introducing a new era of single member districts that established representation for San Antonio’s minority populations and disenfranchised neighborhoods.

Ji She advocated for diverse appointments on the city staff and on its key boards and commissions, including mentoring for women as never before.

Ji She supervised an unprecedented commitment to economic development and industrial attraction, in order to create jobs and fair wages and expand the city’s middle class.

Ji She strengthened the role of the mayor’s office in international relationships, particularly with Mexico, and in domestic policy discussions in Washington.

Ji She set an admired example of multifaceted leadership: a tenacious negotiator when necessary, a nuanced peacemaker when appropriate, a formidable political foe when called for, and the city’s articulate and gracious representative always.

I had the privilege of working closely with Lila for the six years that she was mayor. In a literal sense, as the representative of District 1 on the city council, I sat next to Lila on the city council days. As a person elected on her electoral slate in 1975, I often helped assemble the votes for her initiatives. And in the truly contentious citywide struggles of the era—such as aquifer protection, utility rate battles, and single-member districting—we coordinated continuously. It was from these experiences and recollections that I formed my convictions about her core values and her character as those of the Greatest Generation. Those character traits were visible in the daily actions and well-considered decisions of an admirable leader.

In those tumultuous years, our Thursday city council meetings would often be intense, exhausting, and frustrating political marathons lasting almost until midnight. On Friday morning I expected to see Lila exhibiting physical tiredness and emotional soreness from the previous night’s political combat. Instead she was refreshed and unburdened, excited and determined to get the ship back on track. She seemed to have endless reserves of goodwill and determination. Lila Cockrell is the most irrepressibly optimistic, temperamentally steady, and inspirational can-do leader I have ever known, and that includes another world-class optimist with whom I worked, President Bill Clinton.

Frequently public issues present themselves as a solid wall of obstruction: no-win, lose-lose propositions. But Lila would keep searching, probing, listening, and trying. She is perfectly suited by personality to explore as long as it takes to find a sliver of daylight in that wall of darkness. And when she found it, she knew how to expand that sliver into a workable passageway for all of us. As mayor, Lila fought hard for San Antonio; she pushed herself hard for San Antonio. And through it all, she was scrupulously honest and unfailingly fair.

A few years ago, long after her tenure as mayor, and as her prodigious work for the Parks Foundation and her boundless civic contributions could be seen and appreciated, Lila was chosen to receive an award from a civic group for her contributions to the progress of downtown. I was honored to be asked to introduce her and present the award at the Tobin Center. After I finished my remarks from the stage, describing her many accomplishments for downtown, Lila stood up at her table to acknowledge the award. As she did, she lost her footing and fell to the floor. It was clear that she was hurt, so we paused the program and called the city’s emergency medical service. An EMS team arrived quickly and within minutes diagnosed Lila’s injury as a broken bone. They secured her on a gurney for the drive to the hospital. As they prepared to wheel Lila out of the hall, she asked the EMS technicians to stop. She asked for the portable microphone, propped herself up on the gurney with pillows, and proceeded to deliver a gracious, appreciative, and comprehensive speech on the importance of our downtown.

A broken femur could wait; the painkillers could wait. The emergency stabilization of her leg would have to wait. Lila wanted to thank the organizers of the event and to thank her collaborators in creating downtown progress. The audience was witness to a courageous performance by a determined leader with the physical stamina and the iron will to finish what she started. They clapped, whooped, cheered, and whistled as Lila waved goodnight en route to a waiting ambulance. It was a Greatest Generation performance worthy of MacArthur, Patton, or even Churchill.

San Antonio has been fortunate that Lila Cockrell has been our mayor—but more than that, our example, our inspiration, our North Star. Like many other people whose lives Lila has touched, I am grateful. She gave me encouragement and the latitude to pursue initiatives I felt were important to San Antonio. In the years since, I have at times reflected on where a particular approach to a problem came from or why I feel confident in the course of a negotiation, and it usually harkens back to something I learned from Lila Cockrell. Simply stated, she has been one of the most important people in my life. This is certainly true for many others—people she has mentored, women she has inspired, men who have broadened their thinking, young people who have greater opportunities, and hundreds of thousands of residents who live in a better city.

I have had the privilege of working with Lila. For readers who have not had that privilege, this book—the product of Lila’s prodigious memory, of her diligent work with Catherine Nixon Cooke to share her experiences, and most importantly, of her public life of accomplishments—will uplift you with inspiration and provide you a healthy dose of Lila’s trademark optimistic approach to life.

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