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Oveta Culp Hobby

by David Westheimer


At the Houston Post in the Fifties, the Womens Department had an office all its own in a corner of the crowded City Room.  All the women were not segregated there.  Even in those days newspapering was equal opportunity employment and the ladies worked among the men and gave as good as they got.  Just the Womans Page, Garden, Fashion and Society Editors were cordoned off there and the environs were just as austere as the city room.  Except that the Womens Department had an oil painting on the wall and the City Rooms walls were bare of adornment.

The painting was a portrait of a handsome, stern-faced Army bird colonel whose eyes followed you everywhere where you went in the Womens Department.  The colonel was the boss of The Post.


Oveta Culp Hobby.

She got her eagles in World War II as director of the WAC (Womens Army Corp).  General Dwight D. Eisenhower must have been mighty impressed with her because when he became President he picked her to be the first Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare.

She was a cover girl for U.S. News and World Report in 1952, for Business Week in 1953 and for Time  Magazine twice, in 1944 as WACs Colonel Hobby (cover price for Time then was fifteen cents), and in 1953 as Mrs. Secretary Hobby (and the cover price had jumped five cents).

Oveta Culp was born in 1905 in Killeen, a little town in central Texas northwest of Austin, the state capital.  Her father was a state legislator and she was introduced to politics at an early age.  She was only 14 when she went to Austin with him.  At 20 she was parliamentarian of the Texas House.  Governor William P. Hobby was a friend of her father.  When she married him in 1931 he was a newspaper executive.  She joined him in the newspaper business and eventually they became a major force in the Houston media, owning The Houston Post, a radio station and the NBC television affiliate.  They had two children, William Hobby Jr., who later became one of the State's most able lieutenant governors, and before that worked at the Post (where I used to steal cigars out of  his desk, but thats another story), and Jessica, now Jessica Catto.

It was as TV editor of the Post that I got to know her.  Well, not really, but she did say Hello to me when I saw her in the halls at the paper and I knew who she was.  I guess she knew who I was, too, sort of.  She was standing  outside her office one day with an important looking  man and stopped me to introduce me to him.  I dont remember his name but he was a Federal official.

She said, David is one of our best reporters. 

I wondered if she knew that when a TV-connected story needed to be covered the City Editor would muse out loud whether to send Westheimer or a real reporter.

Another time, apparently when he couldnt dig up a real reporter and he had to send me to cover a banquet attended by Mrs. Hobby and other dignitaries, she called me up to the VIP table and again introduced me as one of our best reporters.  Obviously she and the City Editor never exchanged confidences. 

 But the best was yet to come.

 I was at the Posts TV station on Post business and Mrs. Hobby was there, too.  A station photographer needed some help and asked me to hold a floodlight for him to light up the scene a certain way.

 I dont know if I can, I said, but Ill try.

 Mrs. Hobby said in that clear voice of hers, Oh, David, I thought you could do anything.

That gracious lady died at 90 in 1995.

She is missed by many.


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