Texas honors passing of historian T.R. Fehrenbach
Friday, 20 December 2013 14:41

By Matt Kreisle, Texas Historical Commission

T. R. "Ted" Fehrenbach, an eminent writer of Texas history, was laid to rest Dec. 5 at the State Cemetery in Austin, appropriately surrounded by Texans who shaped that history — from Stephen F. Austin and Albert Sidney Johnston to Barbara Jordan, John Connally, Ann Richards and Bob Bullock.

Within the cemetery, just up Republic Hill from Fehrenbach, you’ll find other notable historians and storytellers — Walter Prescott Webb and J. Frank Dobie, among others. Mr. Fehrenbach shared with them the skill of writing our history with flair, accuracy, and thorough research, then demonstrated a broader passion for Texas history by crossing over to the work of the Texas Historical Commission. He served as a voting member of the commission for 18 years, chaired the panel for four of those years, and was named commissioner emeritus by Gov. Rick Perry in 2001. His 31-year involvement with the state agency for historic preservation ended early on a Sunday, Dec. 1.

Fehrenbach was a colleague and an inspiration both until his death at 88. As a member of the state historical commission, he dedicated a significant part of his life to preserving the history of Texas as well as to writing it. He understood the importance of these parallel pursuits — each supporting the other, both indispensable. Writing history has been carried through the years by eminent academicians, history professors like Webb and Dobie, and by professional authors and dedicated researchers like Fehrenbach (Lone Star: a History of Texas and the Texans) and James Michener (Texas), a Texan late in life buried in Austin and memorialized by cenotaph on Republic Hill. 

Preserving history, on the other hand, has been largely the responsibility of government, saving the places that tell the stories—providing context for Texans to learn of, understand, and enjoy their heritage. Saving that history has been the work of the state historical commission and other agencies—the State Preservation Board, Library and Archives Commission, General Land Office, and Parks and Wildlife Department, among others.

Fehrenbach, as a commissioner, helped implement a legislative directive to preserve and restore the state’s historic county courthouses. He supported efforts to recover LaSalle’s warship, La Belle, sunk by storm in Matagorda Bay circa 1686 — an incredible artifact soon to grace the lobby of the Bullock Museum in Austin.

A San Benito native and longtime San Antonio resident, he worked to ensure preservation of the Alamo and the four 18th century Spanish missions along the San Antonio River. An army veteran of World War II and Korea, Fehrenbach valued the work of the Admiral Nimitz Foundation and the state in developing the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, now a showplace historic site and a tribute to native son Chester Nimitz.

Fehrenbach was proud to continue the work of commissioners like Bob Bullock, Nellie Connally, Ima Hogg, John Ben Shepperd, George Christian, Margaret Hunt Hill, Tobin Armstrong, Mary Moody Northen and Charles Schreiner III — notable Texans who viewed preserving Texas history as a vital function of state government.

Fehrenbach supported the archeologists, architects, and historians that comprise the professional staff of an expert agency. A Texas treasure that will be greatly missed, he knew one can’t just write the history of a unique place, you must work diligently to preserve that history for future generations, to save the real places that tell the real stories of Texas.

Matt Kreisle of Austin, an architect and retired principal with Page Southerland Page, chairs the Texas Historical Commission and is a former president of Preservation Austin.

 

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