Heritage, 2011, Volume 3 Page: 19
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Richardson, right, and Jack Shields near a Butterfield Trail historical marker. Photo by Mrs. John Berry.
In 1953, the noted historian resigned
as head of Hardin-Simmons University
to return to teaching, research, and
writing. As president emeritus, he
penned a number of significant and
lasting works on Texas history; in en-
suing years, Richardson divided his
time between teaching, professional
organizations, public service, and ac-
tivism in historical preservation. He is
perhaps better remembered, however,
for his work on the Texas Historical
Commission-an appointment that
added significant depth to Richard-
son's impact on the state.
As a member of this fledgling organi-
zation in the 1950s, Richardson played
an important role in saving the state's
history and artifacts. Though a new-
comer to historical preservation, Rich-
ardson became a champion of the cause
after he was named by Governor Allen
Shivers to an 18-member panel to study
the condition of the state's archives and
significant buildings. Known then as
the Texas State Historical Survey Com-
mittee, the organization later evolved
into the Texas Historical Commission.
Richardson served on the THC from
1953-1967 and was the organization's
president from 1961 to 1963.
During his time with the THC, Rich-
ardson worked closely with former Texas
Attorney General John Ben Shepperd,
who he described as "a man of extraor-
dinary talent and energy." The two
men led a statewide movement to iden-
tify and mark buildings and locations of
historical interest. Public response was
overwhelming, and during the next few
years, more than 5,000 markers were set,
financed mainly by private citizens. In
an often-told anecdote, Dr. Richardson
was driving across West Texas with an
aide who was trying unsuccessfully to
read the marble historical markers that
dotted the road. Unexpectedly, Richard-
son started quoting the inscriptions, out
loud and in full, as they zipped past. The
aide was amazed and asked the professor
how he was able to recite the text on the
signs so quickly. Richardson replied, "I
should. I wrote them."
Shepperd and Richardson partnered
with attorney Lee Lawrence, of Tyler, to
form a trinity whose efforts provided the
spark for the early historical preservation
movement in Texas. According to Shir-
ley Caldwell, "The three men knew their
strengths and used them expertly; Shep-
perd was the well-connected, public rela-
tions guy; Richardson added the schol-
arly component, and Lawrence was the
one with youthful energy. They were all
brilliant and savvy and understood that
in addition to just saving buildings and
artifacts, there was a strong economic
benefit to preservation. In fact, Dr. Rich-
ardson used to say, 'It's easier to pick a
tourist than a bale of cotton,' and the
trio traveled the state in the early days
convincing locals that saving one's his-
tory made economic sense. These men
were visionaries, to be sure."
Rosine Wilson of Beaumont, who
was recruited to the THC by John Ben
Shepperd in the late 1950s, agrees with
Caldwell. "The idea of preservation
was novel at that time, and it might
not have worked except for the energy
and dedication of these early leaders.
Rupert Richardson was a gentleman,
a respected historian, and he never
wanted to be on center stage. His guid-
ance and dedication to high scholarly
standards set the state on the right track
The impact of Richardson's life of ser-
vice to the state of Texas is undeniable.
For the students and faculty of Hardin-
Simmons University, he was a teacher,
friend, and an inspiration. After his
death in 1988, the university paid
tribute to the educator and historian
by naming a key building in his honor.
The Rupert N. Richardson Library hous-
es the Richardson Research Center for
the Southwest, which includes a collec-
tion of books, archival materials, and
artwork pertaining to the history of
To the benefit of Texas, Dr. Rupert
Richardson's accomplishments were
founded upon a love for history that did
not stop at reading the words of others.
Clearly, he was not one to sit comfort-
ably in a chair with book in hand.
Richardson saw the study of the past
as multi-dimensional: something to
be listened to, discussed, and explored
from an original perspective. His ac-
tive engagement with history and de-
sire to make his own interpretation of
what he discovered are what made him
a truly distinguished historian and
Olivia J. Olmsted, a United States
Army veteran, is a recent graduate
of McMurry University, in Abilene,
with a bachelor's degree in history.
Volume 3 2011 I TEXASHERITAGE 19
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, 2011, Volume 3, periodical, 2011; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth254222/m1/19/: accessed November 17, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.