Accolades pour in for Bob Krueger — East Coast academic, Texas politician, American diplomat

NEW BRAUNFELS — He was an unconventional Texas politician who found something much bigger than elective office after losing his last statewide race.

Bob Krueger had three main acts in an improbable life — vice provost and dean at Duke University, two-term Texas congressman representing a huge district and diplomat who lived dangerously as the U.S. ambassador to war-torn Burundi.

There were other acts for Krueger, who died April 30 of congestive heart failure at 86.

He repeatedly ran for a U.S. Senate seat — but when he finally got one held it only briefly.

He served as President Jimmy Carter’s ambassador-at-large to Mexico, chaired the Texas Railroad Commission, was ambassador to Botswana and was special U.S. representative to the 14-nation Southern African Development Community.

People embrace at the memorial service for Bob Krueger, diplomat and U.S. senator, at Oakwood Church in New Braunfels on Thursday.

People embrace at the memorial service for Bob Krueger, diplomat and U.S. senator, at Oakwood Church in New Braunfels on Thursday.

Josie Norris / San Antonio Express-News

Oxford-educated, quoting Shakespeare on the campaign trail, cerebral but not flamboyant, Krueger claimed the eroding center of a Texas Democratic Party that spent the 1980s divided by its liberal and conservative wings and steadily losing ground to a newly ascendant GOP.

If your definition of “rennaissance man” is its modern sense of “a broad person who has literary and scholarly abilities that find their way into everyday life,” that was Krueger, said Henry Cisneros, the former San Antonio mayor and U.S. housing secretary.

“He might have been one of the great public figures of our time. He had the intellect, he had the public values, he had the knowledge and he had the ability to conduct public discourse at the highest level, and in some sense we didn’t get the full impact of those attributes because of the way the politics worked out,” Cisneros said.

Breathing in deeply, Mariana Krueger enters the sanctuary of Oakwood Church in New Braunfels with her sister, Sarah Krueger Robinson, at the memorial service Thursday for their father. Bob Krueger, a diplomat and former U.S. senator, died April 30 at 86.

Breathing in deeply, Mariana Krueger enters the sanctuary of Oakwood Church in New Braunfels with her sister, Sarah Krueger Robinson, at the memorial service Thursday for their father. Bob Krueger, a diplomat and former U.S. senator, died April 30 at 86.

Josie Norris / San Antonio Express-News

Born and raised in New Braunfels, Krueger retired to the home on the Guadalupe River where he grew up. He regularly prayed and meditated but kept those spiritual habits known only to his inner circle.

“He was an academic at heart and a diplomat by nature, if that’s not contradictory,” said his wife, Kathleen Tobin Krueger, 63. “He brought an element of calm and gravitas to every situation, whether it was at home or at the world stage. … He was a deep thinker and probably happiest sitting in a chair reading a book.”

Krueger quit his academic career at Duke to win a U.S. House seat, seemingly out of nowhere, in 1974. Colleagues voted him “most effective” of the 92 freshmen representatives elected that year.

Christian Krueger pauses, overcome with emotion while speaking, as his sisters, Sarah Krueger Robinson, left, and Mariana Krueger, right, tear up at the memorial service for their father at Oakwood Church in New Braunfels on Thursday. Bob Krueger, diplomat and former U.S. senator, died April 30 at 86.

Christian Krueger pauses, overcome with emotion while speaking, as his sisters, Sarah Krueger Robinson, left, and Mariana Krueger, right, tear up at the memorial service for their father at Oakwood Church in New Braunfels on Thursday. Bob Krueger, diplomat and former U.S. senator, died April 30 at 86.

Josie Norris / San Antonio Express-News

He lost all three Senate races he ran. The first was a narrow 1978 defeat to incumbent Republican John Tower. In the last, he was ousted by Kay Bailey Hutchison in 1993 as an incumbent himself, appointed by Gov. Ann Richards the year before.

Starting in 1994, the 16 months Krueger spent as President Bill Clinton’s envoy to Burundi as it fell into a brutal ethnic conflict were the most fulfilling of his life, he later said. That included an assassination attempt by gunmen who ambushed a convoy of vehicles.

“I have given thanks to God many times since, that I lost that Senate election,” Krueger told the San Antonio Express-News in 2018. “Because what I learned in Burundi was, I could risk my life for other people and it was not a big deal.”

As word of his death spread, old foes praised Krueger’s contributions. Hutchison released a statement citing his “distinguished record of public service” that included “difficult diplomatic positions, including U.S. ambassador to Burundi during a civil conflict where his life was often in danger.”

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff laughed as he looked back on his unexpected Democratic primary loss to Krueger despite being the odds-on favorite to win that 1974 House race. A lot of people knew Krueger was a smart guy but were dead wrong in believing he wasn’t capable of connecting with voters, Wolff said.

“I think he was good at retail (politics). Women loved him,” he said.

A wreath bearing a photo of the diplomat and former U.S. Sen. Bob Krueger is displayed at his memorial service at Oakwood Church in New Braunfels on Thursday.

A wreath bearing a photo of the diplomat and former U.S. Sen. Bob Krueger is displayed at his memorial service at Oakwood Church in New Braunfels on Thursday.

Josie Norris / San Antonio Express-News

By all indications, Krueger was destined for a standout life in academia. He had a bachelor’s degree in English from Southern Methodist University, earned his master’s at Duke in one year and spent much of the next four years at Oxford University in England, getting a Ph.D. in philosophy.

At 25, Krueger was back in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., teaching English at Duke. He became dean of undergraduate studies, then vice provost, in only a decade.

There was no hint that anything could uproot him from a life in higher education — and he would return regularly, with stints at the University of Texas at Austin and at Rice, Texas State and Texas Tech. But in 1973, the Watergate scandal focused him on politics.

His hometown was at the eastern edge of Texas’ 21st Congressional District, which ran all the way to San Angelo and El Paso. Roughly half its voters lived in northern Bexar County.

“He very much understood the impact of Watergate on his election that year and that people were hungry for integrity in government,” Kathleen Krueger said.

A young boy looks about a room filled with adults during the memorial service for Bob Krueger, diplomat and U.S. senator, at Oakwood Church in New Braunfels on Thursday.

A young boy looks about a room filled with adults during the memorial service for Bob Krueger, diplomat and U.S. senator, at Oakwood Church in New Braunfels on Thursday.

Josie Norris / San Antonio Express-News

An early poll showed Wolff, then a state senator, favored by 63 percent and just 2 percent backing Krueger.

Bill White, a young campaign worker who was a legislative aide during Krueger’s first term in the House — and much later, the mayor of Houston — said Krueger had “a natural warmth and interest in others.”

“One thing that surprised people throughout his political career is how somebody who did not have a Texas accent, who had been a dean at an Eastern university, could have such good rapport with ranchers and roughnecks and folks who had grown up in the Texas countryside,” said White, 67.

Years later, Krueger recalled that he wanted to communicate without being filtered by his staff.

“I told them at the start, nobody tells me what to say and nobody writes anything for me,” Krueger told the Express-News. “I speak from my heart and I write my own stuff, and you’ve got to decide how to make it palatable.”

Almost a half-century later, his campaign manager at the time doesn’t recall Krueger saying that. But Garry Mauro, a future Texas land commissioner who was then 25, never forgot the candidate telling him he didn’t want to interrupt his daily meditation routine.

“The first time I met Bob Krueger we were talking about his schedule and he said, ‘Well, you know, one day a week I spend the whole day meditating and getting all my values in place, and every morning I get up and meditate for two hours,’” said Mauro, 74, of Austin.

“So I said, ‘Bob, if you’re going to get elected to the United States Congress, you can forget about taking a full day off for meditating. You’re going to have to do that while you’re driving in a car somewhere between San Angelo and Iraan,’” Mauro said. “‘And if you want to meditate a couple of hours every morning, you’re going to have to get up at 5 o’clock.’”

Krueger defeated Wolff by several points, won the seat and was re-elected two years later.

State Rep. Richard Pena Raymond waves to other attendees during the memorial service for Bob Krueger, diplomat and U.S. senator, at Oakwood Church in New Braunfels on Thursday.

State Rep. Richard Pena Raymond waves to other attendees during the memorial service for Bob Krueger, diplomat and U.S. senator, at Oakwood Church in New Braunfels on Thursday.

Josie Norris / San Antonio Express-News

“His long-term impact with me was he gave me absolute confidence in decision making. He never second-guessed any decision I ever made,” Mauro said. “I got elected to statewide office when I was 33. If I hadn’t worked for Bob Krueger, that would have never happened.”

As a candidate, Krueger had language skills that made “the seamy world of politics seem cultured … in the sense of the great literary traditions in American politics, the great orators, the people who can speak on their feet and lay out an eloquent argument, using the king’s English,” Cisneros said. “He had all those abilities.”

Krueger used those skills without success in statewide races for the Senate in 1978, when he lost to Tower, and again in 1984, when his party’s nomination ultimately went to state Sen. Lloyd Doggett of Austin, who lost to a Republican congressman, Phil Gramm.

Krueger got only five hours of sleep per day in the 1984 campaign, said Richard Peña Raymond, then a 22-year-old campaign aide and now a state representative.

“It was grueling,” said Raymond, D-Laredo. “In the first few months, we might have traveled five days a week. … Then probably in the last five months, it was every day.”

In 1990, Krueger was elected to the Railroad Commission, then tapped by Richards to replace U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, who joined the Clinton administration as treasury secretary in 1993. The special election six months later, when he lost by a huge margin to Hutchison, was Krueger’s last.

Faith was central to Krueger’s life, but so was a genteel, thoughtful nature that buoyed others.

“I know he prayed every day,” White said. “I used to teach Sunday school. We would talk about Scripture, and he would quote it as well as anyone.

“He considered faith to be a personal thing. And you lived your faith, and that’s the way you witnessed, rather than people who use Christianity as some kind of partisan political brand.”

Krueger had three grown children. He started his family in middle age, White noted, because “he was always concerned whether he could do a good job both being a good husband and working all the time.”

“He was also a classic old-school gentleman. I never heard him curse, I never heard him shout,” White said.

Kathleen Krueger, widow of diplomat and former U.S. Sen. Bob Krueger, sits with her children at his memorial service at Oakwood Church in New Braunfels on Thursday. Krueger died April 30 at 86.

Kathleen Krueger, widow of diplomat and former U.S. Sen. Bob Krueger, sits with her children at his memorial service at Oakwood Church in New Braunfels on Thursday. Krueger died April 30 at 86.

Josie Norris / San Antonio Express-News

Raymond, who became Krueger’s chief of staff at the Railroad Commission, repeatedly used the word “decent” to describe his old boss. The two stayed in touch over the years and occasionally spoke about Raymond’s son, Aren, who died of a heart attack when he was only 23, afflicted by Type 1 diabetes.

“He said, ‘You know, you’ve got to let him go,’” said Raymond, 61. “‘He’s ready to go and you’ve got to let him go, and you think about the times you had and the things you did with him. And you’ll see him again.’”

Phil Hardberger, a lawyer and former Air Force pilot, had flown Krueger across West Texas for campaign events in 1974, but Krueger’s endorsement of his opponent in a state Senate race in 1978 had ruptured their friendship.

Their reconciliation was instantaneous when, decades later, the future San Antonio mayor attended a function that featured Krueger.

“We had not really talked in a long time, and I decided, you don’t want to spend the rest of your life harboring a grudge,” said Hardberger, 87. “There was this little receiving line. … We were face to face for the first time in around 20 years and I was astonished. He started crying.”

The two hugged on the spot.

Mariana Krueger pauses to collect herself while speaking about her father, the diplomat and former U.S. Sen. Bob Krueger, at his memorial service at Oakwood Church in New Braunfels on Thursday.

Mariana Krueger pauses to collect herself while speaking about her father, the diplomat and former U.S. Sen. Bob Krueger, at his memorial service at Oakwood Church in New Braunfels on Thursday.

Josie Norris / San Antonio Express-News

Scott DeLisi, a former U.S. ambassador to Uganda, Eritrea and Nepal who worked for Krueger in Botswana, said Krueger had “the most finely tuned moral compass of any man that I worked with in over four decades of public service.”

“He was open to new ideas, he was open to new possibilities, but throughout it all Bob knew who he was, what he believed in and why it mattered,” added DeLisi, 69, of Haymarket, Va.

At a memorial service Thursday at Oakwood Church in New Braunfels, he called Krueger “incredibly rich in everything that mattered.”

“He was rich in love, in family, and friends and community,” DeLisi said.

sigc@express-news.net



Source link