|Barbara Ruth Wright Staff|
Barbara Staff (2010)
August 26, 1924 |
Cleburne, Johnson County
|Residence||Plano, Collin County, Texas|
|Alma mater||Southern Methodist University|
Ronald W. Reagan Texas co-chairman, 1976
|Spouse(s)||William Stewart Staff (deceased)|
Susan S. Causey
Staff was born in Cleburne in Johnson County, a suburb of Fort Worth, to Robert Floyd Wright and the former Hazel Bishop. She graduated from the former Crozier Technical High School, earlier known as Dallas Technical High School in Dallas, and studied at the University of North Texas in Denton and finally received her Bachelor of Arts from Southern Methodist University in University Park in Dallas County. She and her husband, businessman William Stewart Staff (1919–1995), native of Washington and formerly of Illinois, had two daughters, Susan S. Causey (born c. 1952, wife of Paul Franklin Causey) of Grapevine, Texas, and Barbara Ellen Kimberly (1945–1990) of Bastrop, Texas, the wife of a Baptist pastor.[original research?]
In 1970, Staff took a political science course at the University of North Texas and became "furious ... with my radical liberal professor. I didn't think things were as bad as he was touting them to be." Thereafter, Staff became heavily involved in conservative politics and Republican women's activities. She worked in the campaigns of U.S. Representative James M. Collins of Dallas, whose political career ended in 1982, when he lost a bid for the U.S. Senate to Democrat Lloyd M. Bentsen. She also served as a volunteer in Collins' office, which she described as "quite a training ground. After you've worked in that office, you're equipped to do anything."
Working to nominate Reagan
Staff was the president of a group called the Council of Republican Women's Clubs of Dallas County, from which position she launched a successful membership program known as "I Believe." In December 1975, Staff, Angelo, and Barnhart attended the two-day Southern Republican Conference in Austin, hosted by state party chairman Ray Hutchison of Dallas. Sitting U.S. President Gerald R. Ford, Jr., himself absent from the gathering, was represented by his first campaign manager, former U.S. Representative Howard "Bo" Callaway, Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller, U.S. Senator John G. Tower of Texas, and two Cabinet secretaries Earl Butz and William E. Simon. Also present at the conference was the uncommitted John B. Connally, Jr., the former Democratic governor of Texas who switched parties in 1973. Connally had been expected to enter the 1976 race as a dark horse contender, but he did not run until 1980, when he was compelled to withdraw after losing the South Carolina primary.
Staff accused President Ford of having "deviated from the conservative mold and had surrounded himself with liberal advisors." Staff said that "Ford has deviated more and more from Republican party principles while Reagan stands up for those principles. ... I don't know if it's as much Ford's fault as it is the advisors he has surrounded himself with."
In 1976, Staff was named the co-chairman of the Reagan primary campaign for the North Texas region, as the former governor of California challenged President Ford, the favorite of establishment Republicans, including Senator Tower. The two other co-chairmen were Ernest Angelo, an oilman and then the mayor of Midland, who successfully organized West Texas, and Ray Barnhart, a former member of the Texas House of Representatives from Pasadena in the Greater Houston area, who handled the southern portion of the state. Barnhart later was director of the Federal Highway Administration in the Reagan presidential administration. Ultimately, Reagan won all of the ninety-six delegates at stake in the primary held on May 1, 1976, and four other at-large delegates at the state convention. Reagan also gained the support of state Senator Betty Andujar, a Republican from Fort Worth. The Reaganites gathered ten times the number of signatures needed to put the Reagan delegate choices on the primary ballot.
Staff and John N. Leedom, a businessman and later a Republican member of the Texas State Senate from Dallas and Rockwall counties, headed the Reagan delegate candidates in U.S. House District 3, represented by James Collins. One of the four Ford delegate choices in District 3 was future U.S. Representatived and the mayor of Dallas, Steve Bartlett. Leedom led the race with 41,911 votes; Staff followed with 39,030 ballots, and Bartlett trailed with 21,580. Staff recalls the 1976 primary race as a battle between the "establishment" Ford forces and the grassroots insurgents, whom she calls "the volunteers," mostly women. At the time Staff was a member of the large First Baptist Church in downtown Dallas, whose pastor was the nationally known W.A. Criswell. Staff spoke before various groups with the Reagan message. Years later, she recalled the Reagan volunteers as the most dedicated that she had ever encountered in the political arena.
1976 convention highlights
Staff was a delegate to the national convention in Kansas City, Missouri, having given up a trip to Jamaica with her husband's business. Ford secured a close nomination vote over Reagan, who then returned in 1980 to capture the presidency by defeating Jimmy Carter, the man who had beaten Ford in the 1976 general election.
Staff recalls that Ford delegates were openly hostile to the Reaganites and even pelted them with toilet paper. Staff said that the behavior of the Ford delegates made it difficult for her to support the Ford-Dole ticket, which lost a close race to Jimmy Carter of Georgia and Walter F. Mondale of Minnesota, the last Democratic presidential ticket to win the electoral votes of Texas. "You may just see a big apathetic heartbreak take over. I would say at this point most people here are not going to work for Ford. I don't know what we are going to do to heal the wounds."
Ray Barnhart criticized First Lady Betty Ford for having "danced a jig" with singer Tony Orlando when Nancy Davis Reagan made her entrance to the convention hall; Staff termed Mrs. Ford's behavior "a low, cheap shot" to divert attention from the Reagan campaign. Staff claimed that the Ford managers at the convention deliberately made it inconvenient for the Reaganites. "As far as the seating in the arena, the Texas delegation barely got in. They had us stuck way over to the side where the presiding officer couldn't even see us if we wanted to get recognition. . . . " Gwen Pharo of Dallas agreed with Staff about the "shabby treatment" of the Texas delegation by the Ford backers would undoubtedly mean a lack of enthusiasm for the fall campaign.
Staff took an informal survey of the Texas delegates and found few Reaganites favored Reagan becoming Ford's vice-presidential choice to replace Nelson Rockefeller: "The delegates really don't want to see him in that spot, but I sure don't want him to go home and start rocking on his front porch.". Staff said that a fifth of the Texas delegates would want Reagan in the vice-presidential spot, but more than a fourth favored Connally in the secondary position. There was little support of Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee and no mention of the eventual choice, Robert Dole, she said.
Staff recalled that Senator John Tower spent much of his time at the convention with the Mississippi delegation, which swung to Ford near the end of the deliberations. Tower did not address the phalanx of Reagan backers in his own state delegation. In later years Tower's estrangement from his former conservative backers intensified when he supported abortion and challenged President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative.
Among her civic activities, Staff has been a volunteer for Parkland Hospital and the Dallas County Heritage Society. She is also a member of the Texas State Historical Association, now based in Denton.
- "Social Security Death Index". ssdi.rootsweb.ancestry.com. Retrieved March 8, 2011.
- Statement of Barbara Ruth Wright Staff, January 2010
- Julia Sweeney, "Barbara Staff picks GOP over Jamaica," the defunct Dallas Times Herald, August 20, 1976, p. E3
- Ron Calhoun, "Reagan forces gearing for North Texas campaign," the defunct Dallas Times Herald, December 21, 1975, p. F1
- Dave Montgomery, "Ford-Reagan tug-of-war expected at conference," Dallas Times Herald, December 7, 1975, p. A-37
- Billy Hathorn, "Mayor Ernest Angelo, Jr., of Midland and the 96-0 Reagan Sweep of Texas, May 1, 1976," West Texas Historical Association Yearbook Vol. 86 (2010), p. 81
- Hathorn, Mayor Ernest Angelo," pp. 77, 81
- Photo caption, Dallas Morning News, February 3, 1976, p. 6A
- Hathorn, "Mayor Ernest Angelo," p. 82
- Photo caption "Texas delegates", Dallas Morning News, August 16, 1976, p. 6A
- Carolyn Barta, "Texas GOP 'fire' wanes," Dallas Morning News, August 19, 1976, p. 6A
- "Convention Notes: No love lost between Texans, Betty Ford," Dallas Morning News, August 19, 1976, p. 6A
- "Texans support light for Reagan as V-P pick," Dallas Morning News, August 19, 1976, p. 6A
- John G. Tower, Consequences: A Personal and Political Memoir (Boston, Massachusetts: Little Brown and Company, 1991), 42, 118-119