Robert C. Eckhardt
|Robert C. Eckhardt|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Texas's 8th district
January 3, 1967 – January 3, 1981
|Preceded by||Lera Millard Thomas|
|Succeeded by||Jack Fields|
July 16, 1913|
|Died||November 13, 2001
Early life and family
Eckhardt was born in Austin, Texas on July 16, 1913. He was the grand-nephew of Democratic Congressman Rudolph Kleberg, nephew of Republican Congressman Harry Wurzbach, and a cousin of Richard Mifflin Kleberg, Sr., heir to the famous King Ranch in South Texas. Eckhardt graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 1935 and received his law degree from the University of Texas Law School in 1939. He served in the United States Army from 1942 to 1944. Eckhardt was appointed Southwestern Director of the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, 1944–1945.
He moved to Houston, Texas and was elected a member of the Texas House of Representatives, serving from 1958 to 1966, where he compiled a fairly liberal voting record. One of Eckhardt's most enduring accomplishments in the Texas House was writing the Texas Open Beaches Act, passed in 1959.
In 1966, he was elected as a Democrat in Congress representing Texas's 8th congressional district, which included most of northern Houston. Eckhardt was the sponsor of the War Powers Act and the Toxic Substances Act. He was reelected six times without serious difficulty. In 1980, however, he was narrowly defeated by Jack Fields, losing by only 4,900 votes. He was also a co-founder of the Texas Observer magazine. Congressman Eckhardt was known in Washington as the Mark Twain-looking gentleman, who rode his bike all over the City, including to meet with President Johnson in the White House, often to disagree with the President on the Vietnam War. He was known to help interns and others with finding jobs and other resources, and he may have been the only Congressman who used a laundromat. He rode his bike, with a red trailer he built, attached to the Farmer's Market and he rarely drove. He wore a white Panama hat and a white linen suit most days.
He was an avid cartoonist, often drawing caricatures of those testifying before his committees. Many of his political cartoons were published in newspapers around the United States. He wrote and spoke until just before his death on the importance of Congress approving any Acts of War and also on public access to beaches, as well as other worker's rights and environmental protection issues. He was heavily involved in the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and often spoke on the topic. After he lost his Congressional seat and moved back to Austin, he rented and later purchased a home and hand-built a tree house in which he would have a cigar and scotch in the evenings, and he also swam in Barton Springs almost daily until his death. He re-united with his UT Freshman year girlfriend just before his death. He is survived by two of his three ex-wives and several colorful, engaging children who are writers and politicians and wine merchants and ranchers and artists. He helped produce a comedy ethic training tape with and for Joan Sanger for Texas State Government, along with his first cousin, Halen Handley, a playwright and artist.
Eckhardt died on November 13, 2001, in Austin, Texas, after a colorful tribute by friends and colleagues. One wonderful story was about a young friend who was sleeping in his library (any Texan visiting Washington could sleep in his library among the old volumes of Shakespeare and Keats, with real sconces on the walls.) She awoke to find a big chunk out of a loaf for bread in his kitchen. She informed Bob he had mice in his kitchen and he replied, "I know, but it's cold outside. They aren't botherin' me, are they botherin' you?" That was the generosity of Bob Eckhardt.
He was interred in Austin Memorial Park Cemetery.
- Eckhardt, Bob. The Tides of Power: Conversations on the American Constitution between Bob Eckhardt, Member of Congress from Texas, and Charles L. Black, Jr., Sterling Professor of Law, Yale University (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976)
- Robert C. Eckhardt at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
- Keith, Gary A. Eckhardt:There Once was a Congressman from Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007) ISBN 978-0-292-71691-9
- Robert C. Eckhardt Papers, 1931–1992, Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin
- Robert C. Eckhardt at Find a Grave
|United States House of Representatives|
Lera Millard Thomas
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Texas's 8th congressional district