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The Texas Blue
Advancing Progressive Ideas

Remembering the Legendary Mr. Holmes

My friend the priest says that if you’re going to take over a new church, you better not follow someone who has been incredibly popular. He says that’s a recipe for failure.

If you think about it, churches aren’t the only places like that. It holds true for just about any organized body.

So I guess Chuck Rosenthal was doomed from the start. During two decades as Harris County District Attorney, his predecessor, Johnny Holmes, had become an honest to goodness legend.

Interestingly, he wasn’t like most modern day “legends” which, for the most part, are media creations that can’t stand up under any degree of scrutiny. Mr. Holmes was the real deal.

When I was assigned by KTRH Radio to cover the courthouse back in 1989, I had of course heard of the famous Johnny Holmes, but that was during my most hardened and cynical journalist phase, and I wasn’t going to fall for his “shtick” like so many of my fellow reporters.

Back then, I sort of enjoyed irritating people with my questions; that usually meant I was doing my job well. But during one of my first interviews of Mr. Holmes (and I always called him Mr. Holmes), I realized that I may have succeeded in irritating him but he then succeeded in making me feel very stupid about what I had asked and the tack I was taking.

I learned early on that Johnny Holmes wasn’t like most people and certainly not like most politicians; he didn’t have a deeply hidden agenda, a great desire for publicity and no desire whatsoever for another office. He was the DA down to his bones — a modern day cowboy with a handle barred moustache, a cop-like mentality and a law degree. If you were going to mess with him, as a reporter or otherwise, you needed to have your ducks in a very straight row.

The Holmes legend kept growing and not because of any concerted effort on his part. He didn’t even have anyone to handle communications in the office. He would just call me or any other reporter back and talk and talk and talk. Never my buddy, never my pal — he didn’t want or try to be — just a fascinating guy with a heck of a lot of information and opinions to share.

In this day and age, we usually only respect those with whom we agree. I’ve always been sort of intrigued because, personally, I didn’t agree with a lot of Mr. Holmes’ opinions but I never respected someone I covered as much or more. I guess it was because there just seemed to be absolutely nothing fake about him.

Chuck Rosenthal very much wanted to be the new Johnny Holmes. He had some of the same physical bearing, the swagger, the big moustache. But certainly he knew him well enough to know the physical appearance was just a small part of the overall man. Then again, maybe not, because as far as what was underneath, one only has to read the e-mails to see very little that was genuine coming from Chuck Rosenthal’s office.

This entire saga would be sad regardless of the predecessor. But given the stark contrast, it’s that much sadder.

(Originally published by Examiner Newspaper Group)

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