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If you like Dan Rather's story, you might also like:
George H.W. Bush,
Sam Donaldson,
Nicholas Kristof,
Charles Kuralt,
Peggy Noonan,
Neil Sheehan
and Mike Wallace

Dan Rather's recommended reading: The Holy Bible

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New Yorker
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Dan Rather
Dan Rather
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Dan Rather Interview

Broadcast Journalist

May 5, 2001
San Antonio, Texas

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  Dan Rather

What was it like growing up in Texas in the 1930s and '40s?

Dan Rather: I was born in Wharton, Texas, which is just below Houston on the coast, but I have no memory of it at my early childhood, because my father was a pipeliner, which is to say he dug ditches in which pipe was laid from the oil fields of South Texas to port cities such as Houston and New Orleans. And I probably was conceived in Victoria, Texas, and by the time I was born, my mother and father were living in Wharton and I was there for the first year-and-a-half of my life. Then the pipeline crew moved on to the outskirts of Houston so I actually grew up in the Houston Heights. And my earliest memories are of our house at 1432 Prince Street in the Houston Heights. The Heights has improved a great deal since I lived there. When I lived there it's what would now be called euphemistically a "transition neighborhood." It was then described as a tough neighborhood, wrong side of the tracks.

Dan Rather Interview Photo
I had no sense of that when I was growing up there. I had a wonderful mother and father, a younger brother and sister. We were a tight family. Money was tight. It was the Depression, but looking back on it we were poor but not the poorest people in our neighborhood. And while we wanted for a lot of things, we didn't want for any necessities, and in that sense we were better off than most people during the Depression.

I went to William G. Love elementary school, Alexander Hamilton junior high school, John H. Reagan high school, all in the Heights, all public schools. I was mightily blessed, and remain so to this day, because I had an extraordinary large number of teachers who cared.

Mrs. Simmons, who was my elementary school principal, was a tremendous influence on my life and the lives of every child who passed through that school because she gave you a sense that you could do anything that you dreamed hard enough and worked hard enough to accomplish. Her basic teaching manual began with, "You are not better than anybody else, but you are as good as anybody." And she created an atmosphere and attitude and aura at that little elementary school which has stayed with me a life time.

I had a difficult time in junior high school because I was ill a great deal of the time. I had rheumatic fever which -- for a long time it was not diagnosed as anything, and then when it was diagnosed it was incorrectly diagnosed -- but at any rate I had to stay home, once for an eight or nine month period, then I got up and I was back down in bed, bedridden, for another five or six months, so I studied at home a great deal.

Among other things, I thought this was the end of my football career. As was the case with every other able-bodied male child in Texas of my generation, you were raised with the idea that you had absolutely positively had to be a football hero. It was not anything you had a choice about. When I was down with rheumatic fever, I thought that might have finished my football career. As it turned out, I played in high school, thank heaven, and a little bit in college.

Work was the measure of a person in our household, adult or child. My father was very strong in the belief that you -- one may be excused if you're not as smart as somebody else but there's no excuse for not working as hard as anybody. And in fact, God rest his soul, because it has stood me in good stead, those lessons he taught me. But he basically taught you should never let anybody outwork you. So that's the atmosphere in which I grew up. My mother worked outside of the home some. She worked as a waitress. She worked sacking groceries at the local Weingarten's supermarket. She was a very good seamstress and she sewed clothes, which she sewed to supplement our income. And I grew up with parents who were models of very hard working people, but they also were models of caring about their children, so it was a home of great love and that -- especially about that -- I know how lucky and blessed I was.

How would you describe yourself as a kid? What kind of kid were you?

Dan Rather: First of all, I was skinny. I tended to be taller than average, much skinnier than average, energetic, enthusiastic, not bright but not dumb.

I had extremely poor handwriting and was not a good speller. And for one who dreamed of being a journalist from a very early age, you could imagine how many times my teachers told me, "Danny, if you want to be a newspaper man..." which is what I aspired to be because being a journalist in that time and place was to be a newspaper person. "If you want to be a newspaper man," you would have to learn to spell a whole lot better than you do now, which I never did.

Dan Rather Interview Photo
I had an optimistic outlook about things. Confidence, as my parents gave me, but I could be shy about some things. I remember the William G. Love elementary school rhythm band. It became clear quite early on that I was not musically inclined and they started me on several instruments at which I immediately failed, and I wound up with , and this did things to my confidence. Even at that early age, I recognized that the wood block was about as low as you could go in the Love school band.

What kinds of things were you interested in as a child growing up?

Dan Rather: I was interested in sports, especially football. Basketball was not that big until I got in high school. I was interested in anything that was in the air, kites. Some of my earliest memories are of my mother and sometimes my father helping me build kites and sail them in the very large pasture behind Prince Street. It's all built up with houses now but then it was a great pasture. Birds, and then later airplanes. I was fascinated by airplanes.

I was always interested in newspapers. I can't remember a time when I wasn't. I believe that comes from the fact that my father -- who worked with his back and his hands, as well as his heart, but he was basically a laborer, and who had not finished high school -- considered newspapers as the poor man's university, and he was an avid reader of newspapers, along with my Uncle John, who is now deceased, but my father's younger brother. And they would read the newspapers and then argue, debate, discuss way into the night such things as the rise of Nazism, Hitler's Mein Kampf, the book that Hitler wrote. They discussed world affairs, national affairs. They had almost a knock-down, drag-out fight over whether Franklin Roosevelt should run for a third term. I remember that very well. So I was interested in newspapers because my father, I think, was interested in newspapers. And my mother read as well, but my father really devoured newspapers.

[ Key to Success ] Passion

Dan Rather Interview Photo
Newspapers would be stacked up in places. My mother would say, "Irvin, can I throw away some of these papers?" And he'd say, "No, I think there's an editorial..." or "There was that article I wanted to read." He--we subscribed to every newspaper available at least once. My father had a temper. It wasn't a foul temper. He just had a temper, particularly when he'd read things in the paper. Some of my fondest early memories are of my father reading something and jabbing the paper saying, "Byrl -- " (my mother's name) " -- this blankety blank paper, I'm finished with it! Cancel our subscription! I'm not going to read it again!"

We had three local papers: The Houston Chronicle, The Houston Post, The Houston Press. We cancelled our subscription to all three of them at least five times. People think this story is apocryphal but it is not. We wound up to be the only people in our neighborhood who subscribed only to the Christian Science Monitor and the St. Louis Post Dispatch. The St. Louis paper didn't arrive for days after it was printed, but my father had taken every other Texas paper and had become disgusted with it at one time or another. My point is my father was very passionate about what he was reading and I think in the early mists of my childhood this impressed me to the point that it led me to want to be a newspaper reporter.

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