A Father’s Day tribute to Jack Ogg

Photo by Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune

Growing up with a father in Texas politics made for a unique childhood — from asking neighbors as a 7-year-old to “vote for my Dad” to hanging out at the Capitol during my college afternoons. I got an up-close view of the American democratic experience. In the process, I learned that Sen. Jack Ogg was not just a good public servant, he was a great parent. During his entire career, Dad never missed one of my brother’s baseball games nor one of my horseshow competitions. Not one.

My Dad passed away this spring. The song says “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone,” and it’s so true. While you can prepare for the end of life, you cannot prepare for the loss.

To Texans, he was a prolific former public servant who served in the Texas Legislature for 16 years, drafting and passing laws ranging from providing for bilingual education to the creation of the Houston Metropolitan Transit Authority to prohibition of smoking in government buildings.

To fellow lawyers, he was an admired and successful colleague of 52 years.

To judges, he was the creator (in law) of our 14th Court of Appeals and nearly half of Harris County’s criminal, civil and family courts.

To me, my brother and our families, he was “Papa.”

Papa was born during “hard times” in 1932. Like many depression era families, the Oggs moved when and where they found work, so by the time he enrolled at Baytown’s Lee High School, he had lived in nine different places. He suffered a broken arm that never healed properly and so spent much of his childhood in and out of casts, dashing his dreams of becoming a professional baseball player. These hardships shaped Dad’s psyche, his life and his politics.

Because moving from school to school required adaptability, he became flexible. Because integrating into new neighborhoods required effective social interaction, he became outgoing. Because new classmates can be bullies, he became a team player. Because he was not able to compete in athletics, he believed in equal opportunity in life. He always pulled for the underdog, without ever seeing himself as one.

At a time when Americans are hungry for moral leadership, for pragmatic government, and for human connections which are real — Papa remains my role model as I pursue my vision of a safer Houston as the district attorney of Harris County.

He had strong opinions about those elected to represent the people, their obligation not to personally enrich themselves through their public service and their overriding responsibility to ensure fairness in our justice system.

He believed that fair courts and a free press were key to our freedom, and that if corrupted, our democracy would fail. He had good reason for saying so.

Papa traveled to more than 225 countries and remote destinations during his lifetime travels. He saw every form of government on the planet, including communist and fascist regimes, which he and Mom would encounter when traveling across borders.

They both loved people and they loved learning about their lives. Dad did not differentiate between cabbies or cabinet members. He enjoyed people of all walks of life, of every ethnicity, both genders, all nationalities — and, of course, their stories, their food and their politics. Often a beautiful photo of a remote site would be accompanied by a detailed account of the personal family story of a tour guide or a local restaurateur.

In non-democratic countries, the tales were peppered with accounts of oppression, injustice and even murder. As a lawyer, he hated the fact that people in such countries had no redress for wrongdoing. For all its imperfections, he never failed to extoll the benefits of our legal system and the importance of our elections.

Because our current political rhetoric is so divided, Papa was concerned for us as a people. He believed that when compromise is viewed as a dirty word, it’s a recipe for government gridlock. The safe exchange of ideas cannot be placed on the chopping block of partisanship if we are to survive as a nation.

Jack Ogg believed it was the obligation of elected officials to help others through public service, to do it respectfully, to do it effectively, and never to do it at the expense of your family. “It’s not enough just to win an election,” he told me on the night I was elected, “Now you have to govern.”

Kim Ogg

Harris County district attorney