James Jarrell Pickle

 
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J.J. Pickle Portrait

Who is J. J. Pickle?

James Jarrell Pickle (born October 11, 1913), also known as J.J. 'Jake' Pickle, was a United States Representative from the 10th congressional district of Texas from 1963 to 1995.

Pickle was born in Big Spring, Texas. He was a proud Eagle Scout. He attended the public schools in Big Spring and received his B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin where he was the student body president as a senior and a member of the 1934 Southwest Conference championship swimming team. He served in the United States Navy for three and a half years (1938-1941).

Pickle was elected as a Democrat to the Eighty-eighth Congress, by special election, to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of United States Representative Homer Thornberry, He was reelected to the fifteen succeeding Congresses (December 21, 1963-January 3, 1995) before retiring.

He had a "Jake Pickle" Day dedicated to him in Roscoe, Texas in March, 1995.

Read the House Resolution No. 363 below for more information on this great public servant. Mr. Pickle passed away in June of 2005. See the "In Memory" page below for a great article that ran that month in the Austin American Statesman.

H.R. No. 363 RESOLUTION

WHEREAS, On March 18, 1995, the residents of Roscoe will celebrate J. J. "Jake" Pickle Day in honor of their beloved native son, who recently retired from the U.S. House of Representatives after more than three decades of exemplary service to the citizens of Central Texas; and

WHEREAS, James Jarrell Pickle was born in Roscoe on October 1-7 11, 1913, to J. B. and Mary Pickle; as a young man he attended The University of Texas at Austin, where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1938 and served as student body president, demonstrating the integrity and fairness that would be his trademarks in later life;

WHEREAS, Soon after graduation, this exceptional Texan worked as an area director of the National Youth Administration until 1941; answering his nation's call to arms during World War II, he enlisted in the United States Navy and fought with honor and distinction in nine battles of the Pacific Campaign; and

WHEREAS, After his return to civilian life, he joined with a group of fellow veterans to establish KVET radio station in Austin and later built a successful career in advertising and public relations; and

WHEREAS, He began his long and distinguished record of public service in 1957, when he was named executive director of the Texas State Democratic Executive Committee, a position he held for three years; in 1961, this outstanding individual was appointed to the Texas Employment Commission by Governor Price Daniel; and

WHEREAS, He was elected to the United States Congress in 1963, where he served the citizens of District 10 with courage and compassion for 31 years; and

WHEREAS, During his 16 terms in the house of representatives, Congressman Pickle was a stalwart supporter of rural health care funding, social security reform, and pension system reform; this fine Texan played a key role in national trade, tax, and health care legislation as a member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, and he also served as chairman of the Social Security Subcommittee and the Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee; and

WHEREAS, He was instrumental in making Austin an international center for high-technology research and development and recently was recognized for those efforts by The University of Texas at Austin, which renamed a world-class research facility in his honor; Congressman Pickle also took action to protect Austin's unique natural heritage and its many endangered species, securing funds for the Balcones National Wildlife Refuge, helping to establish flood control and soil conservation programs, and supporting alternative energy research; and

WHEREAS, In addition to his impressive record as a public servant, Jake Pickle is a devoted family man who enjoys a successful marriage with his wife of many years, Beryl, and who takes great pride in the accomplishments of his three children, Peggy, Dick, and Graham; and

WHEREAS, The accomplishments of this remarkable lawmaker have improved and enriched the lives of citizens throughout the State of Texas and are indeed deserving of special recognition and thanks; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the House of Representatives of the 74th Texas Legislature hereby join with the residents of Roscoe in commending J. J. "Jake" Pickle for his 31 years of exemplary service to Texas as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and extend to him and to his wife, Beryl, warmest best wishes for a happy retirement; and, be it further

RESOLVED, That an official copy of this resolution be prepared for Congressman Pickle as an expression of highest esteem by the Texas House of Representatives.

J.j. Pickle Portrait 2

In Memory - J.J. 'JAKE' PICKLE: 1913-2005

The people's politician

Gentleman Jake was Austin 's congressman for 31 years. Picture of Mr. & Mrs. Pickle in 1963 as they left for Washington - courtesy of Austin American Statesman

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Jake Pickle loved politics, from the handshake hellos to the knock-down fights.

He loved Austin , the adopted hometown he represented for 31 years in Congress.

And he loved telling a good story, especially when he was the punch line.

Pickle's story came to an end Saturday morning, 91 years after his birth in the West Texas town of Roscoe , and after a 14-year fight with prostate cancer and a four-year battle with lymphoma. He had spent the past month confined to his Austin home, still entertaining guests until recently, and that's where he quietly died, in his own bed, with his wife, Beryl, nearby.

"He had a formidable will," daughter Peggy Pickle said. "Every time somebody said the situation looked bad and there was a certain number of months (left), he just hunkered down and decided he wasn't going to die."

Pickle, who caught the political bug as a Depression-era student at the University of Texas , years before he became a protege of Lyndon Baines Johnson, never lost the down-home courtliness that earned him the nickname "Gentleman Jake."

On Pickle's first day in Washington as a newly elected House member, President Johnson sent a limousine to greet him at the airport with a surprise invitation to sleep at the White House. Pickle sent the limo back, explaining he had already lined up accommodations with a friend.

"I was raised in West Texas . If you accept an invitation, you're gonna do it, you know. So I did it," Pickle explained later.

Pickle was involved in politics, either professionally or peripherally, from the day he was elected UT student president in 1937 until the day he left Congress in 1995. In between he earned a reputation as a prodigious worker, a politician with a common touch and one of the true characters in Congress -- the guy who tossed thousands of "squeaky pickle" rubber toys in countless area parades.

"He always delivered as best he could. He was indefatigable," said Roy Butler, who worked on every one of Pickle's congressional campaigns, then worked with the congressman as Austin 's mayor from 1971 to 1975.

"You'd walk down the halls up there in Congress with him, and of course he knew every single soul," Butler said. "He walked at a great stride and with great energy. He always had a smile, always had his hand out, always had a kind word for everybody."

Pickle chose to retire after winning 16 elections to the U.S. House, often losing weight during fast-paced campaigns that exhausted volunteers one-third his age. Anybody who questioned Pickle's hard-charging style received a terse reminder that the campaign graveyard is full of overconfident politicians.

His home phone number was always listed, and he returned from Washington most weekends to answer calls. The nonstop Braniff flight from Washington to Austin was nicknamed the Pickle Express, and the man who called himself a natural ham worked the aisle as if each plane was his personal political rally.

"Other than the long commute to and from Washington and, starting in the 1980s, the increasing partisanship of Congress, there was little I didn't like about being Congressman Pickle," he said in his 1997 book, "Jake," which he co-wrote with Peggy Pickle. "Despite the stress, long hours and the lack of personal and financial privacy, members of Congress are given a truly fabulous perk: the opportunity to get things done."

Best, proudest votes

Pickle said his greatest accomplishment was the 1983 Social Security reform bill, which he guided as chairman of the Social Security subcommittee to rescue the program from insolvency by raising the retirement age to 67, raising the tax rate and taxing benefits.

But his proudest vote was for the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He was one of only six Southern representatives to vote aye. On the job only two months but determined to vote his conscience, Pickle figured he had guaranteed himself a one-term career, because Old Confederacy sentiments still reigned in Central Texas.

Pickle recalled returning to his hotel at 2 a.m. after meeting some friends for late-night drinks to soften the gloomy mood. The hotel operator stopped him in the lobby and demanded that he call the White House. President Johnson, she whispered in a shaking voice, had called personally looking for him. Several times.

Despite the late hour, Johnson came to the phone and admitted that he had failed to vote for several civil rights bills so he could wait for a more auspicious time.

"I just couldn't bring myself to do it," Pickle recalled Johnson saying. "But you did today. On your first big vote in Congress. And I just said to myself that I wasn't going to let this night go by until I had called you and told you personally that your president is proud of you."

That was one of Pickle's favorite stories -- he had hours of them -- and it usually ended the same way. "Pretty heady stuff for a young man," he would say, choking up.

To the end of his life, Pickle always referred to himself as a "Johnson boy."

"There is a hole in our family's heart with the loss of Jake Pickle," former first lady Lady Bird Johnson said in a statement. "He was a master storyteller, a can-do public servant, and a most loyal friend this family ever had.

"They simply don't make better citizens or friends than Jake. Four generations of Johnsons will always be his forever fans," she said.

By the time he retired, Pickle was the third-ranking Democrat on the influential Ways and Means Committee -- leaving just before Republicans claimed majority control of the U.S. House.

Back in Austin , Pickle settled into an emeritus role. He refused to pick a successor, who ended up being Democrat Lloyd Doggett. He passed the time with friends (usually at the now-closed Holiday House restaurant), made the occasional speech and delivered many a eulogy for a fallen friend.

"He really set the standard for accessibility and integrity in office," Doggett said. "I saw just an incredible adaptability to a changing city and a changing constituency."

One thing never changed. Everywhere he went, Pickle continued to work the crowd, listening to people talk about their lives and asking what he could do to help.

At Westminster Manor, a life-care facility where the Pickles lived, Jake would take forever to walk through the dining hall.

"He would find out who was doing what, ask what they needed," said Luci Baines Johnson, daughter of the former president. "You just wanted to say, 'Jake, you're not running for anything anymore.' But he was always running for how to be a friend for those in need."

With Pickle blind in one eye and often fighting vertigo, Butler frequently served as his taxi service -- with Jake still calling him Mayor Wonderful. Like others who drove Pickle, Butler would extract a promise before agreeing to drive.

"I used to tell him, 'Now Jake, I am not going to take you unless you agree that when it's time to leave, you'll leave. I am not going to stand around anymore while you work the crowd,' " Butler said. "He truly loved people. If you went to a restaurant, he would stop at every table."

A rascal at heart

James Jarrell Pickle was born in 1913, the fourth of five children. Mischievous by nature, he was 4 when he earned his nickname while his family was acting out a drama for entertainment. His character, Jake, was a rascal; the name stuck.

Pickle began a love affair with the University of Texas when he arrived in Austin in 1932 with hopes of becoming a lawyer. The Great Depression was in full swing, and Pickle lived in Little Campus, the "poor boy's dorm" that was the former Texas Asylum for the Blind. He delivered milk supplied by a Manor farmer, clearing about a penny a bottle -- enough for one good meal a day.

For his junior year, Pickle moved up to a job as night watchman at the Capitol, delighting in riding a bicycle over the newly laid terrazzo floor -- until the skid marks were discovered and he was fired (only to be rehired when a Lubbock state senator lobbied on his behalf).

Pickle enjoyed moderate success on UT wrestling and swim teams, but law school proved a bit tougher. He failed a few classes and lost interest in a legal career.

He filled his extra time with a run for student president, defeating future U.S. Rep. Bob Eckhardt with help from future Texas Gov. John Connally. (Pickle would manage Connally's successful campaign for UT president the next year.)

"This university opened the doors of the world for me, and I love it dearly," Pickle said in a 2001 interview. And he repaid that debt by directing millions of dollars to the university for research, technology and educational programs. Pickle also steered money toward the new Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and to Sematech, a consortium of semiconductor companies that helped transform Austin into a high-tech mecca.

It was Connally who introduced Pickle to perhaps the greatest influence on his political life, Lyndon Johnson, who was then the congressman representing Austin and the rest of the 10th District.

Pickle would send Johnson weekly reports from the district, which he traveled extensively for his Depression-era job with the National Youth Administration. But he wouldn't meet LBJ until a year later during a trip to Washington to discuss a local highway project. It was a memorable meeting. Called into Johnson's apartment through an open door, Pickle found LBJ holding court on the toilet, pajama bottoms at his ankles.

It was vintage Johnson.

"He was always testing you. He was always testing his power," Pickle wrote later.

Regardless of LBJ's quirks, Pickle joined Johnson's re-election campaign in 1941 -- gathering 30,000 signatures "urging" LBJ to run even though he was serving in World War II -- then helped Lady Bird run the congressional office.

In 1942, Pickle joined the war, serving in the Navy as one of the "90-day wonders," officers who were trained quickly for a rapidly expanding military. With a 10-day leave before shipping out, Ensign Pickle returned to Austin to marry Ella Nora Critz, known to all as Sugar.

Pickle served on the USS St. Louis, which was torpedoed but didn't sink, and the USS Miami, a light cruiser that also was torpedoed without sinking.

Daughter Peggy was on the way when Lt. Pickle returned to Austin in 1945. With Connally and eight other veterans -- and with help from LBJ, who needed his "boys" in positions of authority back in Austin -- Pickle established the city's third radio station. All were veterans, so KVET was born, and still exists.

The radio business couldn't pay enough, so Pickle co-founded a public relations company in Austin . He also scratched his political itch by joining the State Democratic Executive Committee as organizational secretary, putting him in the era's version of Texas-style partisan politics -- liberal Democrats versus conservative Democrats, with divisions as nasty and volatile as Democrat versus Republican today. Pickle was on the conservative side and became known as the party's hatchet man for helping two governors ruthlessly purge liberals from the party's executive committee in the 1950s.

Though Pickle would reform his rough-and-tumble image, a quip from the time personifies his place in politics: "Do you know Jake Pickle?" Answer: "No, but I suspect him."

Sugar died in 1952 of breast cancer. Left with his 6-year-old daughter Peggy, Pickle filled the void with work, running campaigns that revealed a love and skill for politics.

He would remarry in 1960, wedding Beryl Bolton McCarroll, a widow with two sons. (They celebrated their 44th anniversary Dec. 17.)

Life took another turn in 1963, when U.S. Rep. Homer Thornberry, D-Austin, resigned his House seat to become a federal judge. Pickle campaigned so hard for the seat that he lost 40 pounds, won the special election on his third anniversary with Beryl and was called to Washington early by Johnson, who had assumed office the month before, in the wake of President Kennedy's assassination.

Johnson wanted his protege to accumulate seniority on incoming freshmen, so Pickle was sworn in on Christmas Eve and quickly cast his first vote, supporting Johnson's sale of wheat to the Soviet Union .

Pickle caught on quickly to the ways of Congress, aided by his ties to LBJ and his political savvy.

He also became one of the institution's characters, tooling around Washington in a 1959 Chrysler New Yorker with massive tail fins. It was dubbed the White Shark. The car's engine once caught fire in the circular driveway of the White House while Pickle was inside the mansion; Secret Service agents doused the blaze.

Pickle's annual venison chili giveaway on Texas Independence Day or San Jacinto Day grew so popular it almost capsized under its own weight. By the time Pickle left office, his staff was rustling up 300 pounds of deer meat -- enough for about 1,500 bowls cooked with three-alarm heat, because no way could Yankees take the four-alarm Texan variety.

But the private side of Pickle was equally larger than life.

Every Christmas morning, Pickle would conspire to arrive home via a different form of transportation, sporting plaid pants, a striped shirt and a Santa coat and beard. Once he arrived on a 1930s-era firetruck. Then there was a Bentley, a donkey and a motorcycle with Beryl in the sidecar.

"He would have gifts in his pouch and drive up with them to great fanfare," granddaughter Bergan Casey said.

The family, a blending of offspring from Sugar and Beryl, was fully united, Casey said.

"He took a great interest in what the kids and grandkids were doing, how they were doing in school, what trips they were taking," she said. "Even when he was in Congress, he always made a point to come to my high school activities and all the important milestones in my life. I don't think a lot of politicians would choose to do that.

"Family was as important as his constituency was, and believe me, they were important because we got dragged to a lot of those events," Casey said, laughing and fighting tears at the same time.