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Lucie Todd

INTERVIEWERS: David Todd (DT) and David Weisman (DW)
DATE: February 25, 2008
LOCATION: Columbus, Texas
TRANSCRIBERS: Melanie Weisbecker and Robin Johnson
REELS: 2408, 2409

Please note that the recording includes roughly 60 seconds of color bars and sound tone for technical settings at the outset of the recordings. Numbers mark the time codes for the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” refers to various off-camera conversation or background noise, unrelated to the interview.

DT: My name is David Todd. I’m here for the Conservation History Association of Texas. We are in Columbus, Texas and it is February 25, 2008 and we have the good fortune to be talking to Lucie Todd. And she is a volunteer and rancher and philanthropist based in Houston who’s been involved with a—a number of environmental groups and efforts over the years. I wanted to thank you for taking the time to talk to us.
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LT: You’re welcome.
DT: I thought we might start this with maybe some visiting about your family because I think there’s been a long, multi-generational interest in things that are green and things that are outdoors. And I thought perhaps your might talk about your grandfather Joseph Stephen Cullinan and his interest in the outdoors and how he might have exposed his children including your mother, Margaret Wray in—in the outdoors and conservation effort.
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LT: Yes, I didn’t know my grandfather that long but he was not only an early Texas oil pioneer but he was an ardent cons—conservationist. And he had many interests in this field. He took his children to visit many national parks and they hiked and rode horseback through them and he taught them the wonders of the world and how to—important it was to preserve nature. He was also a big dog lover and bird lover. And he fed the birds in—at his home in Shadyside and became involved with the National Audubon Society in the twenties when…
DT: When we broke earlier, we were talking about your grandfather, Joseph Stephen Cullinan and his interest in the outdoors and his particular involvement with the National Audubon Society which at the time I think was called the National Association of Audubon Societies. Could you tell us what you—you were starting to say?
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LT: Well I understand that the president of National Audubon was concerned about the birds on Vingt ‘t’un Island which has since sunk into the Gulf. And they were doing inventory of the birds and J.S. was very interested in the project and was helping them at that time. That’s what I know.
DT: And that would have been in the 1920’s or thirties?
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LT: In the 1920’s and then he was also involved with the Outdoor Nature Club in Houston which was the first environmental group in Houston or maybe even in Texas. And he helped those people get started and it’s still going. And my mother and Aunt Nina Cullinan gave some land which they called the Big Thicket and—in honor of their brother who died just after World War—War I and it’s—it’s a collection of people who study mushrooms and shells and birds and many other things. And I think that the Houston Audubon Society stemmed off out of it, the Ornitho—Ornithological Group. Is that right? And Houston Audubon is now very active volunteer—mostly volunteer group that are covering all, not just birds but all matter of environmental issues. They’re very active and one of my favorite groups.
DT: You also mentioned that J.S., as he’s sometimes called, liked dogs.
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LT: Yes.
DT: And—and I understand that his son-in-law, your father, Andrew Jackson Wray, was also a pet lover and was active with that effort to try and protect some of their—their lives.
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LT: Yes, he was—he ran the SPCA in Houston for many, many years and it’s still going strong. And he—he loved dogs, so did my mother, so do I, so do my children and it’s been in our lives for a long time.
DT: I—I think another interesting strain is—is that—that your mother and your father shared an interest in land protection which led them to buy a piece of property in—in the late 1940’s, I think 1949 and to start a cow operation there. Can you ta—talk a little bit about what that meant to them and—and subsequently to you?
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LT: Yes, it was very important to them. And the piece of land they bought was somewhat degraded and they spent a lot of time trying to improve the pastures and take care of it and it is still with us. And me and my children are very actively involved in sustainable ranching. And what else?
DT: Well, that’s good. Would—maybe you can tell us what you mean by, you know, some of the efforts that they used back in the 1950’s, I mean just to give a little context. I guess this—this piece of land had been farmed for cotton and—and watermelons and basically was farmed and grazed out by the time…
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LT: Correct.
DT: Your father bought it. And then the drought hit of the 1950’s which lasted for (inaudible).
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LT: Correct. Right after they bought it, the—the worst drought ever, seven year drought hit and they had to irrigate the pastures. And so they dug canals and had wells filling the canals and then they pi—piped it around. It was very hard work. And they managed to survive, although a lot of the ancient live oaks finally succumbed to this drought and then got oak wilt. And we’ve lost a great number of trees and there’s not much you can do about it. My son, David, has planted a lot of trees of different species and most of them are—are surviving. But guess what? The live oak does better than anything else. And this town is called the—the town of live oaks and live folks. And there’s still some beautiful trees, they’re three or four hundred years old around the town of Columbus.
DT: While we’re talking about the—the cattle ranch, my understanding is that in the—the 1950’s shortly after they bought this Columbus track, they found another parcel that they liked a great deal somewhat north and east of a small town called Borden that was on the Colorado River which they thought was very beautiful. And—and after they bought this place, I think called the Grace Place, they learned of an agency called the LCRA [Lower Colorado River Authority]. I was curious what those letters might mean to you.
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LT: (Laughs) Well, they proposed, I think it was the Corps of Engineers, proposed a very ill-conceived dam on the Colorado which would have flooded all the beautiful pecan bottoms there. And the other side from our piece of property was relatively flat so it would have made a—just a big mud puddle and wouldn’t have accomplished much of anything. So my mother and father went to Washington, first time my mother had ever been on an airplane, to testify before some committee in Washington. And they managed to stop the dam but lo and behold and—that was in the early sixties—twenty years later, this same dam was proposed again in the early eighties. And that’s when my son David and I and Jim Blackburn who had been a professor of David’s, got together with the local ranchers who were extremely
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upset about this and they were very, very helpful. We raised some money to hire Jim and went to Washington again, correct? And Reagan finally de-authorized the dam. But here it is another—some years later and they’re still talking about dams and reservoirs. And I hope it doesn’t happen.
DT: I guess another interesting kind of intersection between the land and cattle operation you have and the government and environmental issues is—is the interstate highway system. Maybe you can tell us a little bit about your experience with IH 10.
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LT: (Laughs) Well, my father was very upset in the seventies when they proposed to build I-10. And—and it should have gone in another…
DT: When we were speaking earlier, I’d asked you about the major highway that goes through Houston to San Antonio and out to El Paso, Interstate Highway 10 which was, I guess, proposed in the 1960’s and then built in—and subsequently you were trying to tell me about the reaction from your father when this was proposed.
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LT: Yes, he—he was upset because this, as it turned out it was going right through our property and they said well they would put a tunnel under I-10 and the cows could walk back and forth to the other piece of property through this tunnel, this dark tunnel which was, of course, ridiculous. But the I-10 should not have been in that place in the first place because it was more expensive but it was a political decision by a man in town who was involved with the LCRA. And so I-10 is there. And then later 71—Highway 71 also cut through us. So we now have three little pieces of property around that intersection. And what—what else did you want to know?
DT: No, I think that—I think that’s the gist of it, that there are these political influences that affect where the state and federal government gets its money and its infrastructure.
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LT: Well in the first place the Southern Pacific Railroad had tracks from Los Angeles to the east coast. And they let that go which would have satisfied—would have taken a lot of cars off the road. This—it could have been a computer—a commuter train. But it was, you know, I guess the car manufacturers wanted all these highways and today they are full and trucks are barreling down the highway. I can hear the noise—my house is a mile away from the freeway but when the north wind’s blowing, I can hear it like it was in my bedroom. And George Archibald, who is coming today, was leaving Houston and an hour and twenty minutes later, he called me and said he was only a mile out of Houston because there was a wreck in Katy which is thirty miles away, and that was backed up into the downtown Houston. So, more and more highways don’t seem to solve many problems as far as I’m
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concerned. And big energy user—users and all these trucks that are plying the roads now sharing space with little passenger cars seems to be absurd because all of that freight could have been on the railroad but it’s not. And…
DT: And this railroad that you’re speaking of parallels…
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LT: Yes.
DT: The right-of-ways…
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LT: Yes.
DT: Parallel I-10. So it isn’t a very logical route. Well, while we’re talking about the—the ranch, I thought we might talk about some of the vegetation issues, I want to put it broadly. When your father first bought this place with your mother in the 1940’s and then into the fifties as you added other tracts, you were entering into this seven year drought. And your father and your mother decided to try to restore the land which, at that point, had been farmed and there was very little vegetation on it. And what did they decide to do to (inaudible)?
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LT: Well, my—my father sent Charlie Kearney, who was the manager of the land, to Georgia because there was a new grass called coastal Ber—Bermuda. And we were the first to introduce it in Colorado County. And coastal Bermuda has very deep roots so they did it to stabilize the soil. And now, this is fifty some years later, it is thought that coastal Bermuda is a—a desert as far as other creatures are concerned. And now people don’t think it’s good at all. But at the time, it was supposed to be the new wonder grass.
DT: So it sounds like the challenge in the fifties was simply to, as you say, stabilize the soil, try and anchor it with the root system from the Bermuda grass. But I guess fifty years later, we’re thinking of other challenges which might include things like biodiversity. And…
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LT: Right.
DT: How do we try to react to that opportunity?
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LT: Well, we have one subject that David and I are both—both very keen on which is dung beetles. And I used to see dung beetles all over the place and suddenly I realized I never saw dung beetles. So when the cow goes poop, it stays there for weeks, months because the dung beetles aren’t there to—to chop it up and bury it as fertilizer. And we found out the reason why is that the ranchers were worming all their cattle instead of just ones that looked sick. So they were just automatically doing this and of course the worm chemical has also killed the dung beetles so that is very sad to me. Was there another subject you wanted?
DT: Well, I guess the second thing was that—that over the last three years or so, you’ve been investing in trying to actually replant native grasses and can you talk a little about that?
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LT: Yes. We’re very interested in native grasses and David Todd, my son, in particular. And so we’re trying that but it’s pretty slow going and eventually, we hope that it will bring back a diversity of creatures that are—are happy in the native grass.
DT: I guess there are also some management things that you’ve done on the ranch with cross fencing and rotation of grazing. Can you talk a little bit about how that might affect the—the land and the grass here?
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LT: Yes. We—when we went to rotational grazing—well it used to be that people had a piece of property and the cows just wandered all over whenever they wanted to. And we got interested in this rotational grazing and as it turned out, it was a win-win for everybody because they fed less hay, the cows moved more easily because—Donald drives through with the truck and they come running to the truck and follow him to the next pasture because they know there will be some more green grass over there. So that was one thing.
DT: Okay.
DT: These lands that—that you own are about seventy to eighty-five miles west of Houston and, you know, a booming town of over four and a half million people now. And—and gradually a lot of the open lands out here are being subdivided for people to—to live. And—and I was hoping that you might be able to tell us a little bit about your efforts to keep some of these rather large parcels intact so that you can protect the habitat and open space for as long as possible.
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LT: Correct because many of the bigger tracts around here have been sold to developers and divided up into little five, ten, twenty acre tracts which doesn’t work very well for wildlife. So we’re trying to hold together the—we have five different tracts and we’re trying to hold together the two bigger ones so that the critters out there have some contiguous space. But I was going to go back a little bit to when I had very little to do with the ranch un—until my father died. And he—on his death bed he said, Lucie you’re going to have to sell the land to pay the taxes. And I thought, ugh, well maybe I ought to get involved in this. And so my choice was either sell it or learn how to run it and I’d had absolutely no experience at all. But I’d become friends with Billy Bob Strunk. This was twenty-six years ago, almost thir—or maybe almost thirty. And I thought, well he’s a cute, young guy and he
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knows everything there is to know about cattle. So I thought, you know, I like this place and I walked around here a lot. And when my parents were dying and—and all sorts of terrible things were going on, I sort of tried to solve my problems while walking the pastures. And it—it pretty much worked and I became more and more interested in how to run a ranch. And at the same time, I was divorcing and I thought, well here’s a new challenge and it has certainly proved a challenge but a very stimulating, interesting one. So that’s what I’m still doing and doing rather well, I must say.
DT: What—maybe you can talk just a little bit about some of the reasons that you enjoy being out at the ranch, maybe some of the wildlife, some of the birds that—that you’ve got here—the cranes, the bluebirds, the martins.
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LT: Well, just little things like yesterday I looked at my mountain laurel tree which has been struggling for a very long time because this isn’t really its habitat and I thought it’s blooming, it’s beautiful! So I got very excited and then the purple martins came back a couple of weeks ago and that was exciting. The sandhill cranes are still here and they make the most beautiful, eerie sound that my mother loved and I do too. And the geese fly over and we have a friend who comes out here and monitors the birds and writes down what he saw when and it’s just amazing how many wonderful things are here if you’re looking for them.
DT: You touched on this earlier that—that your father told you that you should sell the ranch, that—that you weren’t prepared to handle the cattle, I guess was the presumption and that there was also going to be death taxes that were going to be due on…
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LT: Exactly.
DT: Tran—transferring this land down to the next generation, to your generation. Maybe you can talk a little bit about how you managed to save the land and also do some philanthropic work at the same time.
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LT: It was very interesting. My father died with a very traditional will and that a friend of his at Baker Botts had put together and it was—fortunately he had transferred much of the land to my mother before, well before he died. So when he died, I went to Tommy Eubank in—at Baker Botts and I said Tom, we’ve got to do something to save this land. And my mother was, at that point, eighty-three—eighty-one—eighty-three and so you—you’ve got to think of something that you can put—do a will for her that will try to save the land. So they put together, with us as guinea pigs really, the most incredible, interlocking trust and—and businesses and, I don’t know, it’s very complicated. But it resulted in not paying any taxes when my mother died because they had set up a Charitable Lead Foundation and—Charitable
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Lead Annuity Trust, and it—and instead of paying taxes, we gave away about the same amount as the taxes would have been over a period of fifteen years. So we were all free and clear and it was—it was amazing. And I’ve tried to do the same thing in—in my estate planning. Hers was the Wray Trust—Margaret Cullinan Wray Trust, mine is Magnolia which is much smaller but it will accomplish good goals.
DT: What sort of philanthropy has the Wray Charitable Trust and the Magnolia Charitable Trust focused on?
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LT: Well mostly environmental things, although my daughter is in the art world and she was a little upset about that. But there’s such a need and there’s so few people doing it that every bit counts. And we focused on a lot of grassroots groups that, you know, 500 dollars, 1,000 dollars means a great deal to them. And the very large groups, we’ve given to some of those but they need us less than—than the others.
DT: Maybe you can mention a few of the—the groups that you’ve been, I guess, most engaged in and—and involved in. I think some that come to mind are Houston Audubon Society, International Crane Foundation, The Peregrine Fund and—and maybe tell us why those groups and individuals were involved (inaudible).
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LT: Well, those are—are bird groups and in many cases, a bird is a symbol of a healthy habitat or as George Archibald’s Crane Foundation is the—the sy—crane is a symbol revered by many people around the world but it’s—it’s also—it means that the habitat for them is healthy, if it is. I think cranes are endangered. But—and Peter Jenny with the Peregrine Fund is the same thing. Audubon and Hous—National Audubon and Houston Audubon use birds, in this case, the egret as the symbol of hap—happy habitat for all birds and creatures.
DT: Beyond the—the philanthropy, the money that you’ve given to non-profit groups, you’ve also been involved sort of on the other side of the table to actually raising money and try to raise attention for conservation efforts. And one of those that comes to mind is Houston Audubon and a program called Audubon Adventures and I was hoping you could tell us about that effort.
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LT: Yeah, Peter Berle who was head of National Audubon at the time, asked me to a board meeting in Costa Rica and I think it was because that we had given another Audubon employee, Jesse Grantham, some money for a boat. He needed a boat because he was monitoring birds on islands in the Gulf. And anyway, I was allowed to come to this meeting and it—it was a great experience, everybody was so nice. And we piled through Costa Rica and the cloud forests and with a guy who discovered it. And Marshal and I became friends, Marshal Case, who was the education director of National Audubon, and he said we need to add Houston to a series of programs that he had, you know, in various places all over the United States. And he had put together a little news sheet and it covered geography and
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spelling and math and numerous things besides en—the environmental issues. And his idea was to give a copy of this to each student and especially in the fourth grade—that’s apparently a sort of a critical juncture. So Marshal came to town and we went to HISD and talked to the head of the science department and she said no, we can’t just do a pilot program. You need to give it to all the fourth—fourth graders in Houston, Texas and I forget how many of thousands there were. So to do this, we had to raise some money and we—we were struggling and we went to Shell Oil and all the foundations and scraped together 350,000 dollars at the end of this. It was the hardest work I’ve ever done to—and—and the little newsletter only costs like a dollar a year and—for these students. And they were very proud of their little news sheets. The hard part was the—the schools, public schools, are so overwhelmed
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with privately funded projects that the delivery system is very poor. And the teachers need to have orientation meetings and learn how to do this because many of them don’t understand what they’re talking about in terms of the environment. So it—it didn’t go as well as we had hoped. But it’s still surviving and there’s certain teachers that—that really use it and approve of it. And that was a very, very interesting experience.
DT: Maybe this would be a good segue to talk about some of your other efforts in education that have to do with the environment. And I thought maybe we could turn the wheels of time back to the late 1960’s and a group called Citizens Who Care and The Citizens’ Environmental Coalition which it spawned. Can you talk about that whole effort?
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LT: Yeah, a bunch of ladies got together sort of led by Terry Hershey and we had monthly meetings and each person was supposed to talk about a certain issue that concerned them and the billboards or bike paths or whatevers. And I learned a lot by that. It was fascinating. And so then Terry had this idea of setting up the Citizens’ Environmental Coalition and we did. And this was an umbrella for all green groups, even some that are not so green but there were some industry people in there, and they’re still going. And my son, David, got them started on an email newsletter and then they put out a brochure every year with a list of all the groups and the contact numbers and it’s been very good.
DT: Something else that I think you’ve been active with, I guess this was mostly in the early 1970’s, was called the Women’s Institute and it was an effort to educate women in particular, although men were welcome, about not just environmental issues but scientific in—interests and art history and so on. And you were a leader in that effort. What—what did that involve?
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LT: Well, at—at the time they were offering art history and philosophy, two popular subjects for women that are, you know, middle-aged women. And I got in there and started auditing courses at the University of Houston and Rice, finding interesting speakers on a variety of subjects and we greatly expanded their course offerings. And I—I’ve got some scientists in there, geology, astronomy, cosmology, lots of things that they were never exposed to before and it—it worked quite well.
DT: It sounds like you were trying to inoculate a lot of these sort of traditional groups with a little bit of exposure to the bigger world. And I think another group that you were active with in that same sense was the Houston Garden Club which, I guess, was a traditional landscaping organization but you tried to import a little bit of extra information.
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LT: Well I was Conservation Chairman one year for The Houston Garden Club which it started out as a small group of women who really got out and dug in the dirt and were some wonderful characters. But by the time I was involved, it was getting more and more social. So when I was Conservation Chairman, the National Garden Club of America would send lots and lots of paperwork. And I remember lying in the bathtub reading through these long, tedious, you know, surveys of things and information sheets and trying to distill it into a very, very short talk before the ladies at the Garden Club. But I became so discouraged that they—this was—must have been in the seventies—that they didn’t seem to understand or—or act on these
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things. They are much, much better now but they still do a lot of flower arranging and that’s good and planting bulbs at museums. And it’s—it’s wonderful what they do. It just doesn’t happen to be my slant on it.
DT: Fair enough. You talked about trying to educate other people but I think it’d be interesting to know about how you educate yourself. And I think a lot of the lessons that you learned were through travel and travel from a young age going to Rocky Mountain National Park with your family. But then, you know, moving forward in years to places much more exotic and—and distant.
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LT: Well that—my grandfather traveled a lot in the days when it was trains, period. And he exposed, especially his daughters to many national parks and they were just getting started, you know, being set aside. And he showed them how wonderful these places were. And then he went to Estes Park, Colorado in the twenties when it was a sleepy, little village at the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. And it became a family tradition that ma—many happy summers spent, you know, just hiking and—and bird watching and just enjoying that beautiful place. And now it’s very, very crowded and it’s quite different. But I think few people get out and really see nature anymore what—what with computers and video games and things like
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that. They don’t have the time or interest and I think there’s—if—if people aren’t exposed to the out of doors and the wonders around them they don’t appreciate them and realize that they’re in peril.
DT: Well, maybe you can take us on some of the—the trips that you enjoyed the most or that opened your eyes to something that was new and foreign to you and maybe gave you some sort of environmental lesson as well.
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LT: Well, I think I—I’ve been—I’ve traveled extensively since I was divorced. Before that, we went to Europe and saw cathedrals and—and such as that. And oh, what do you call those things we saw in Brittany?
DT: (Inaudible)
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LT: (inaudible), yeah (inaudible) yeah. And that was all great but it was mostly buildings because my husband was an architect. So after the divorce, I decided I’m going to see nature and I—I did with a vengeance. And went to India, China, oh where else—Bhutan, which is a very environmentally conscious kingdom sandwiched in next to Tibet. And when we went there, they had never had television, it was just coming in. This was in ’99 and so I don’t know whether the country is—is getting ruined now or not, but they’re building big hotels and things like that. I went there with George Archibald and that was really a wonderful experience. And where else have I been? Madagascar, the Seychelles. Prompt me (laughs).
DT: No I think that actually covers the gamut.
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LT: Well, Australia.
DT: I guess parts of South America.
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LT: Yeah, we went to Machu Picchu and other places there, Mexico. Many of these places you see really, really poor people and that—that bothers me when you see affluence on the other side. A case in point is in India, we were staying in a pretty fancy hotel and I would watch these Indian ladies come in dripping with emeralds and diamonds and things. And as they entered the hotel, they were sort of stepping over prostitute bodies, prostrate bodies that of these very, very poor people. It was—it was a shocker. And we went to Nepal and Africa. What else? There’s some other places in there (laughs).
DT: No, well I—that’s pretty extensive. And I guess part of what you learned was—was about the place but it was also about the—the people as you mentioned, I mean, both were good and for bad. You mentioned the—the population problems (inaudible).
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LT: Yes, the overpopulation impairs the habitat and that’s what it all—all pretty much boils down to except now with climate change and water issues, you know, there are new—new things that are going to be affecting us.
DT: And I—I guess part of these trips also, you know, aside from looking at people, you know, broad range that thousands of folks have lived there, millions of people. You also had some—people were actually with your group who were—who were guides and experts and naturalists that are pretty extraordinary and—were there some of them that you recall?
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LT: I—I always was very careful in choosing trips to be sure that there were very informed people that they were not just cruise boats. And I’ve been on trips with Merlin Tuttle catching bats (laughs) and went with Marshal Case and a group of people to Trinidad to watch the turtles come on shore in the moonlight. That was very extraordinary. And I’ve traveled with Sagram, they have excellent trips and Victor Emanuel with the bird trips. I went to Antarctica with him and that was—well we were seeing the glaciers calve then and a man on the boat pointed to a particular glacier and he said I was here last year and it was X feet from here and—and this year it’s—it’s melted back so many feet. And, you know, so—and that was almost—that was ten years ago. So climate change is nothing new but it’s accelerating where they can measure it year by year rather than decade by decade or in hundreds of years.
DT: Well, this might be a good chance to talk about how your—your work with philanthropy or—or with the ranch or with volunteer organizations and then most recently, I guess within the last fifteen, twenty years in travel to pretty exotic places, how you—you started to get a sense of what’s going on and really global environmental problems and some which are very complex. And I—I’ve heard you often say it’s difficult to get a good grasp of how complicated and interconnected things are. Could you talk about that?
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LT: That’s—that’s I think the real problem. Why people don’t understand environmental issues is because they’re so complex. You do X and then that happens, then Y occurs. And it’s not a simple black and white issue. And I think there are very few people who see the big picture. And I try to support those people and learn from them because it—it’s terribly complicated and people don’t realize. I mean, right now they—everybody got on the ethanol bandwagon. Well, it is not energy efficient. They cut down forests to plant corn. Then there’s a shortage of corn for people and animals and it doesn’t make any sense at all. But somebody gets this idea and they all jump on the bandwagon because they don’t see—it’s not a black and white issue. And some of the people, few people that do are George Archibald and Jesse Grantham and Marshal Case and I think David Todd.
DT: So it sounds like a lot of folks have trouble seeing what the root causes are and they maybe focus more on the symptoms or they see one problem but they ignore another problem that’s related.
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LT: Right. They put band aids on symptoms rather than getting to the core of what the problem is.
DT: What do you think some of the core environmental challenges are?
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LT: Well, there are too many people and now Bill Gates is providing sh—medical care, shots and that sort of thing to improve the health of—of people in poor countries. But they need to be educated, especially the women, not to have so many children. They had too many children because they—many of them would die and they needed some to work. But if you’re going to medically improve their health, then the education ought to go along with it to say you don’t need eight children, you need two or something like that.
DT: And I guess you’ve often said too that it’s—it’s partly population but it’s also consumption that, you know, there are so many toys and gadgets and gizmos that—that people now assume to be part of a normal life and that that sort of adds to all the environmental impact.
00:46:20 – 2408
LT: Well, it does because people are spectators rather than active par—participants. And people don’t go off wandering through the woods. Some of my favorite people be—began to be naturalists when they were little boys and they would wander in the woods behind their house and—and play with the st—in the stream or look at a frog or something, you—you know. They weren’t watched over every minute, they weren’t in canned activities every minute and the—they learned this deep appreciation for the world outside when they were little boys. But now children are—have to be supervised very carefully. They’re overloaded with TAKS [Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills], tests and that sort of thing and—and—computer games and sports. And they seldom have, you know, any contact with—with nature.
DT: This is (inaudible) you didn’t—you sort of see it as—as maybe having two problems. That consumption not only is you’re requiring lots more resources out of the environment and creating lots more garbage. But the second problem, I guess, what you’re saying is that—that kids, in particular, maybe people in general are being distracted from the natural world and spending way too much time in the virtual world or material world just absorbed with these video games and so on. Is that what you’re getting at?
00:48:03 – 2408
LT: Yeah. Right and I—I think curiosity and exploring are seldom possible for children nowadays. It—they have to be watched carefully so that they don’t get kidnapped or into drugs or something and they aren’t allowed to just run free and dig in the mud or watch ants as E.O. Wilson did (laughs). It’s—it’s a fascinating world out there but it’s—you have to discover it for yourself, it doesn’t come in a video game.
DT: You talked about some of the travels you’d had and—and some of the joys that—that you’ve had right here in Columbus, Texas on your land here. I guess enjoying watching the ants or watching the cranes. Could you tell us maybe what is your favorite place or your favorite activity in the outdoors that sort of brings you back in touch with why you care so much about nature?
00:49:14 – 2408
LT: Well, it’s sort of hard to say. I think when you’re running a ranch, you—you can see when something gets done. Like they’re building a new fence and you can see the finished fence, it looks really great. But so many ideas are very abstract and people are tied at their desk doing paperwork or computer work and they don’t have time to—I—I really enjoy seeing something done out there in the pasture. Had our first little calf yesterday and, you know, there’s some kind of excitement all the time. And a lot of hard work goes into it as well.
DT: And what would you say is your favorite place? It sounds like you’re talking about activities and things that you do. But say you wanted to go to a particular place and not do anything.
00:50:20 – 2408
LT: Well…
DT: Where would you go?
00:50:21 – 2408
LT: That’s the thing is I’m so happy that I’ve traveled as much as I have and seen as much as I have. And many of the places I’ve been, you can’t go anymore because of political strife or something like that. I mean Kashmir was one of my favorite places on a houseboat in Kashmir in the sixties and you can’t go there. And there are numerous places. I went to Iran, I went in the Lascaux caves in—in France and these places aren’t open anymore so I really feel I—I was lucky enough to—to hit it at the right time. Oh, my favorite place, well, as we speak it’s the ranch because it’s—it’s mine and ours and I just love, you know, being here. And Houston has gotten so enormously big and so noisy. It’s just leaf blowers and alarms and—and—and chainsaws and all these things that sometimes I can’t even talk on the
00:51:34 – 2408
phone without hearing this stuff going on outside, sirens. So, as we know, I’ve been retreating more and more to the ranch. I go into Houston a couple days a week and run around handling business and then take off again because my dogs are much happier here as well.
DT: Well (inaudible)…
00:52:01 – 2408
LT: And they would be in the—in my lap right now if—if it weren’t for hm hm, um hm.
DT: Well, you’ve learned a great deal o—over the years and…
00:52:15 – 2408
LT: Common sense.
DT: Common sense is one of those things and I was wondering if you could explain what common sense means to you and if there are other important ideas that—that you’ve taken to heart that you hope others will, particularly involving environmental themes.
00:52:32 – 2408
LT: Well, what Emily Todd just reminded me this morning, do the things you fear to do and the death of fear is certain, and I embarked on trying to do that some years ago because I was sort of scared of a lot of things and it gets easier and easier the more you do it. And I admire people who take unpopular stands for the greater good because that’s hard. I mean my grandfather stood up against the Ku Klux Klan at a time when they were very powerful. And so in—in any field when somebody will stand up for what they believe, I think that’s very important. And as my children know, C.S., common sense is way the mo—most important thing. It’s surprising to me how few people have it, right?
DT: Right. And what would you give as an example of common sense and then as total foolishness? So we could adopt a person of (inaudible).
00:53:51 – 2408
LT: Well, I’m very much a realist and a romantic (laughs) and—and—and you need a little romance just to get excited about things that are important. And you need to be realistic and know what will work and what won’t work. And you can’t be too naïve as to keep hoping when there’s a slim chance that this will—will happen. I think our politicians in Washington are lacking in common sense and it makes me so sad because I want to believe in the leadership of this country. But it’s—there are no statesmen anymore, they’re just politicians. And really good people who have a good grasp of what’s right and wrong, they’re not going to subject themselves to the—the tortures of running for office.
DT: So I guess if—if I’m hearing you right, your advice would be to—to do the things you fear to do, even environmental things, that are pretty daunting and complicated and persevere. Is that—despite the…
00:55:13 – 2408
LT: Persevere (laughs).
DT: The people with low common sense or no common sense?
00:55:20 – 2408
LT: Well, people do ridiculous things because they’re not—you have to listen to your head and your heart. And I—I get just a gut feeling this is good or that is bad. And if you don’t have that deep gut feeling, you know, you—I don’t know, you have to be passionate about what you believe and it comes—it doesn’t come from the left side of your brain. It comes from the right side. And if you’re not plugged into music or cell phones or something, you can listen to your brain talk and you can hear the wind through the trees and you can hear the splash of water and such as that. Oh, and you can keep petting your dog because that’s very good for your blood pressure.
DT: Well, good. Well, I hope that you stay in touch with your dogs and with (inaudible).
00:56:21 – 2408
LT: Oh, and by the way my best dogs have been rescued dogs that were so happy to find a better home. And they’re beautiful golden retrievers and they come from the Golden Beginnings, Golden Retriever Rescue Group and they go out rain or shine, they’re picking up lost dogs or abandoned dogs. So I want to put in a plug for them.
DT: Well, thank you for showing kindness to dogs and to the world in general. And I was curious, is there anything else you want to add before we end this?
00:57:02 – 2408
LT: I’m sure there could be but I’m getting hungry.
DW: My name’s David, that makes this easier.
00:57:12 – 2408
LT: (Laughs) and you’re a hoot.
DW: No, I don’t know about that. You are a hoot and this is the question I have. We’ve met some people who seem to know you from the past. Terry Hershey and Ann Hamilton? Ann Hamilton. Now according to the earlier part in the interview some time, it seems around the late sixties, early seventies, issues start to get involved. And I know Terry Hershey mentioned something about a Parks Group in Houston, Park People and Ann Hamilton mentioned. But more than any specific story, here is the late sixties, were you aware at the time that, I mean you were busy, you had a ranch to run, things to do, the whole…
00:57:52 – 2408
LT: Not then.
DW: Not then. So were you aware of the whole sort of Earth Day kind of thing? How did that filter in? I mean normally you could have been running in a circle, I don’t know with country club women and doing that kind of thing (inaudible).
00:58:04 – 2408
LT: Never like that (laughs).
DW: So how…
00:58:07 – 2408
LT: I—I think the first Earth Day was in 1970, wasn’t it? And what’s his name that started it Denni—hmm?
DW: Well, it was Gaylord Nelson.
00:58:18 – 2408
LT: No, Dennis Hayes. And yes, I remember being very much aware of Earth Day. And I still, here at the ranch, give an Earth Day party almost every year.
DW: So how is it that you and Terry Hershey at a time when—now this—we’re talking Houston and it’s Texas and it’s a very rough neck, oil, macho culture. How is it that a bunch of women manage to make such a big stink? Did you run into sort of that glass wall?
00:58:49 – 2408
LT: Well, let me tell you one thing. There have always been many more powerful women than men in Houston, Texas. There—it—there’s a history of very vibrant, strong minded women. And behind every successful man there’s usually one of these pushing him along (laughs.) No, there’ve been the—the tycoons of the oil industry and all that but they usually had a strong woman back there. And they made a lot of bluster, but the women actually did the work.
DW: Now here come a group of women who may be opposing what these oil industry tycoon guys want to do. So how tough was it made for you to try and battle those forces?
00:59:39 – 2408
LT: Well, it’s never been easy. I mean the fight goes on and I get very discouraged because I see people of my ilk who don’t understand it at all. And people have teased me all my life because I wanted to save the whales or whatever. And they think it’s funny and I don’t think it’s funny. I just think maybe we’re—we’re turning the tide now. You’re seeing more green this or that but it’s awfully late. I mean, we—we don’t have much time to—the climate change is terrifying. And they were talking about it twenty some years ago. They had valid proof and nothing has happened. So, no I like men a lot but (laughs). It’s not the—it’s the women and maybe it’s because they’re the mothers of the world that they care what—what their children are going to be facing and the men are taking care of important problems in the office.
DW: Well, when you started your work back at the—in let’s say the early seventies, was it hard to get the attention of these people because they thought it was just a bunch of women complaining?
01:01:03 – 2408
LT: Yeah, it was the women. It wasn’t men. I think that’s why my grandfather in retro—retrospect is such an interesting character because he was aware of these things in—in the tens and twenties. And being in the oil business, he was, you know, he was trying to put some sort of controls over or—over oil to keep it from being en—environmentally dangerous.
DT: The conservation (?)?
01:01:38 – 2408
LT: Yeah. I think he was a very unusual person and he was a self taught person. He had to stop going to school at thirteen to help his mother raise the rest of the family. And he came from nothing and he was very generous to the world and was—he was a curious man. I think everybody needs to be curious and—and brave to—to understand these things that are very, very complicated. And he was no weenie or wimp (laughs). But he—he never was a hunter and, you know, Texas is made up of hunters (laughs). Nor was my father for that matter. I think I got a little…
[End of Reel 2408]
DW: Let’s pick up a little bit with the story that we were discussing about times here in Texas during the Great Depression. And how the way people lived then might have been indicative of both state of the environment that was surrounding them. I know you didn’t have the dust bowl down here per se but it was bad all over. And what kind of consciousness comes out of having to make do, I mean, it was sort of—sort of like pioneer times, wasn’t it?
00:00:28 – 2409
LT: Yes, I—I think we’re—we’re awfully spoiled today. In fact, I think my period of being on this earth is probably the golden age. I think it was—I think I’m very lucky. But my parents and grandparents were very much influenced by the Great Depression and two World Wars, all of which involved sacrifice and rationing. And I remember saving a Kleenex, I loved Kleenex and we would be very careful about not using too much Kleenex. We would take the foil off of gum wrappers and wad it up into little balls to—for the war effort. We ra—sugar was rationed, rubber, gas, of course, and I think that had a big impact on people that they encouraged thrift and being—and not wasting things and a sense of patriotism. It was a very difficult time
00:01:38 – 2409
and I, you know, I didn’t personally live through it really that much, although I was a depression baby. But the people around me did and they were very cautious about any kind of waste or—and they were just thrifty and careful. And the world today is just, you know, throw it away, buy a new one. And things were so much better made then, you know, from toasters to refrigerators to—I understand that people that collect old refrigerators because they were some sort of collectors’ item (laughs). And the thing is the—the appliances today are—are—don’t have nearly the metal in them and aren’t nearly as put together, can’t be fixed, throw it away. So I—I think it was an influence on my early life living with people who were thrifty.
DW: Not only thrifty but was it your grandfather you mentioned or your father who had a run in with the Ku Klux Klan?
00:02:49 – 2409
LT: My grandfather slept with a pistol under his pillow because he stood up to them. And, you know, he—he wasn’t afraid of them and they were very strong then.
DW: Well, take (?) because I’m from the east coast in New York and this wasn’t really an issue for us back then. Put us here in Texas and what decade would this be? I mean we—are we talking about people who still believed in the Reconstructionist period and hasn’t changed their ways yet?
00:03:17 – 2409
LT: You know it was for—before my time so I don’t actually know what—I would say in the twenties. My grandfather also did another interesting thing. He—he—they—everybody lived downtown, in downtown Houston, and Main Street was just a dirt road out and Rice University had just started and Mr. Herman owned all this land that’s Herman Park which is now—now also the medical center. And my grandfather bought this piece of property out there on this dirt road (laughs) and laid out—and it was a s—really a swamp and no tr—trees to speak of and he laid out these lots and sold the lots to his friends, planted trees all through this place and up and down Main Street and they’re here today. And then Rice grew and the medical center grew and
00:04:20 – 2409
the—the art museum was part of what he worked on. And so he—he was improving the land, shall we say, back then.
DW: And these issues of race, again, that occurred because I know social justice and environmental justice, maybe one comes out of the other sort of a shared thing.
00:04:47 – 2409
LT: Right, but I think it—he built his house in 1919 and I think the Klan was right after that. I—but I don’t know for sure.
DW: Now it comes to depression in the 1930’s and then you mentioned World War II. One of the outgrowths of World War II was, of course, the discovery of DDT as a control. Now you just mentioned that there was a lot of swamps. Did they begin to use DDT, do you recall, here in the Houston area?
00:05:14 – 2409
LT: Here? I don’t know, I don’t know. But that book of Rachel Carson was just electrifying to all of us. My aunt got on her podium and started giving speeches about pesticides (laughs) very scary. People didn’t—didn’t really think about it.
DW: Another question about this and again, I’m going back to—because the way Terry Hershey told the story, it sounded like there was some pretty wild times back then trying to get in to deal with backroom politics of Houston and knowing people on city councils and things like that. And that was what my question was, you know, here come a—a group of women empowered to do this and I think nothing says old boy network more than the skyline of downtown Houston. So what was it like to try to push your way into this old boy network?
00:06:08 – 2409
LT: Well, I was pretty shy back then. Terry was the one leading the way and I was just an accomplice in the backroom.
DW: You don’t recall any particularly…
00:06:22 – 2409
LT: No, she was the one that—that got George Bush who was then a Rep—Rep to stop the concrete in Buffalo Bayou and, you know, they concreted all the rest of the bayous and they’re really ugly. But—and it doesn’t help flooding that much because it just throws it downstream.
DW: Well, you’ve seen a lot of obviously natural disasters, floodings. Houston has had its share of hurricanes, floods. Maybe you can talk a little about—I mean you were pretty much grown up at the time of the drought of 1956.
00:077:20 – 2409
LT: ’55, ’54?
DT: I think it was ’51 through ’58.
00:07:08 – 2409
LT: Something like that, yeah.
DW: What was it—what was it like to watch the landscape disappear around—I mean how did you deal with this—this drought?
00:07:16 – 2409
LT: I was not much involved. I was off at school or, you know, I had very little to do with the ranch until my father died. So I wasn’t around here that much to notice what was going on.
DW: And what things would you be doing if the climate were to change more drastically as it may in the next few years? What kind of plans are you putting in place now? Are you…
00:07:47 – 2409
LT: No, just hope (laughs).
DW: Well there’s always hope.
00:07:51 – 2409
LT: Hope springs eternal. I don’t—you know it’s an interesting thing here it’s seventy miles west of Houston. It often tends to be ten degrees cooler here than in Houston and I’m assuming because of all the concrete in Houston and the pavement and the buildings and all that. And we don’t get as much rain as Houston either. And it’s the pollution though sometimes comes out here. You can just see this line on the horizon from the—the wind comes from the east, it’s bad because it blows over the refineries through Houston and even as far as here. It smells bad, too.
DW: So given your choice, you’d rather spend time in the—in the country than the—you don’t…
00:08:47 – 2409
LT: I would and I don’t have to dress up and I have some nice friends and go to the health club and what else? And—and primarily the dogs are much happier so…
DT: I guess the only thing that I have to ask you is—is you have some granddaughters who are fun to pet like the—the dogs. And I—and I’d be curious what your message to them would be about all these experiences you—talking about how you feel this great connection not only to your grandfather and to your parents and to the land but also to, you know, what comes afterwards whether it’s the ranch in Columbus or your grandchildren? What—what sort of message would you want to give to them about why you’ve done what you’ve done and why they should care equally?
00:09:56 – 2409
LT: Well I desperately hope that they do care. Their lives are—are so consumed with school work and sports and things that they don’t get here as often as I would hope. But I—we have worked very hard, three generations of us now, on this place and I desperately hope that they will want to continue and have an appreciation of how lucky we are that we have a piece of land as Billy Bob says, land there’s no more of it, which is true. I mean, people are coming out and buying little—little pieces and parcels and building little houses and—but something on this scale is rather unusual around this area and we’re, you know, Columbus is probably the next to—to be built up like Katy and Brookshire, Sealy. Columbus is the next stop and we’re right in the intersection—road to Austin, San Antonio and Houston so we’re
00:11:08 – 2409
boxed in in this small area on a fairly big piece of land. And I think it’s very important to not let it get sold and ticky tacky, you know, what are those trailer things and—and keep it, you know, continue the work of generations before. I—I have a great sense of heritage and I don’t think I just popped onto this planet. I look back at, you know, both sides of my family and my father’s family were here very early on. One of his relatives was—were the first white couple to be married in Coryell County, he used to tell me, I mean they were just Indians there. And then my mother’s—well, when my grandfather came down in 1898, right—right before
00:12:10 – 2409
Spindletop, and so it goes back, you know, pretty far on—on both sides. And I think Texas is a very special place besides having everything that bites (laughs) and is poisonous. I just—I feel a great kinship with Texas and whenever I go all these countries, I’m proud to say I’m a Texan and people are proud to hear it. It’s a very special place.
DT: Well I—I think you made a good explanation of why this place and this state mean a great deal to you and the legacy of your—your family (inaudible).
00:12:56 – 2409
LT: You know they both came—both sides came from nothing and did well and that counts for a lot, I think. That they had the perseverance and the ambition to—to be good people and—and, you know, and conquer the world so to speak in the nicest sort of way. I mean they—there’s a lot of just nice, good valued people that were kind to others and generous in their—their outlook and I’m quite proud of that so…
DT: And—and just I guess more broadly, is there something you could—you could say to sort of sum up not just what’s been going on in Texas and with your—our family. But in a larger sense about caring for the environment, caring for nature, and caring basically for the future. Why is this important to you and why should it matter to those who come after you?
00:14:11 – 2409
LT: I’m going to digress a bit. The world and—and America is always sort of a linear thing and, you know, everybody thinks in straight lines—it’s going to get better and better and better and better and I’m going to make a higher and higher salary or I’m going to have more and more stuff. But I’m thinking more like the Chinese, I believe, think in cycles. The ranch people for sure think in cycles. It’s the bottom of the cow market, it’s the middle of the cow market, it’s the down—you know, it’s—everything is a circle and the—the year is a circle and I think that things aren’t going to get better and better and better and better (laughs) necessar—automatically because there will be ups and downs and all. The Chinese symbol for crisis is danger overlaid by opportunity and I think that is a pretty valid thought.
DT: What happens when we have more opportunity than danger?
00:15:25 – 2409
LT: Well, I—I get very depressed about the world my grandchildren will live in because there are more and more people, there’s less and less nice people, more and more problems. You know, what’s been going on in Washington now, this stupid war, and it’s just—it just drains the spirit to think that any intelligent person could get us involved in that. But I guess I’m not supposed to say anything nasty so I won’t.
DW: But you seem to have seen it come before like you say there’s a cycle I mean…
00:16:03 – 2409
LT: Yes.
DW: There was a morning in 1962, when as far as we know between Kennedy and Khrushchev, they could have gotten hot tempers and ended everything as we know it now. Somehow we made it through that. And then there were two World Wars before that that you mentioned and somehow we managed to do that without obliterating everything so there must be some recessive gene for survival that keeps them going.
00:16:27 – 2409
LT: (Laughs) Perhaps. Well, it’s going to take a lot of hard work and common sense to avoid these issues. And I—I think it’s—it’s—the world has just become more complicated all the time. And, you know, it’s just—my parents’ generation, they danced and they partied and they had a good time and they were very involved in civic affairs but they had a light heartedness about them. And now everybody’s so serious and—you see what I mean?
DT: I think I do. So maybe the lesson is have common sense.
00:17:13 – 2409
LT: Laugh a lot.
DT: Be lighthearted. Watch out for the dangers and take advantage of the opportunities.
00:17:19 – 2409
LT: Yes, yes that’s it.
DW: And I think (Inaudible)
00:17:23 – 2409
LT: And—and gig—giggle a lot. Stay around people who make you happy.
DT: And pet your dog.
00:17:28 – 2409
LT: And pet your dog.
DT: Alright.
DW: Alright.
[End of Reel 2409]
[End of Interview with Lucie Todd]