Holding for Carl Albert
When J. Angela Ables worked for the ‘Little Giant from Little Dixie’
Published in 2016 Oklahoma Super Lawyers magazine
on October 10, 2016
Updated on October 20, 2017
Ada, Oklahoma, is a small town, so when you’re in high school, they’re good to the kids and they put your picture in the paper a lot. Mr. Albert and his staff paid attention to everything that happened in his district, and I was in the paper about three times in one week. His staff picked up on it.
One of his staff members was from Ada, and I got a call from her one day. She said, “Can you hold for Carl Albert?” and I about fainted. He said he was going to send this staff member to meet me. This was my senior year of high school. She came to the school, and we went out to lunch and visited. I did not know it, but she was kind of interviewing me at the time to head up his youth campaign, because he was up for re-election.
The nice thing about Mr. Albert is he never took his position for granted. At the time he was majority leader of the House, and he ran the bills on the floor and was the first in line for the speakership, but he just never took that for granted. He ran scared every year and remained very true to his district.
I then got a call from him asking if I would handle his youth campaign. So I thought, “Well, OK.” And I just started doing it!
We set up an event in Ada, and there was a tremendous response. Highway patrol escorted him into town in a big, black Lincoln, and we met him at the edge of town; we just thought we’d ride in, lead him in to where the reception was. But he stops the car, jumps out and jumps in my car! And here we are, like seven kids in a car, and he jumps in the front seat and rides with us into town. That was the kind of guy he was: He would rather be with kids and listen to us talk than be in the black Lincoln.
He was the chairman of the Democratic National Convention that summer—the horrible 1968 convention in Chicago. We talked about whether I should go to the convention, or stay home and work on his campaign. We decided that I’d stay home and keep the youth stuff going in 22 counties in the 3rd District. So I did, and he sent me telegrams—this is how thoughtful he was—from Chicago, saying, “I hope things are going well. It’s crazy here—it’s a good thing you stayed home.”
He was just such a down-to-earth guy—tremendous to work for.
And then, of course, in 1969 I went to Washington. It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I got to do case work, which was really interesting. Our job was to discern whether we thought it was something Mr. Albert ought to take a look at.
You’d have a mother writing to him, saying that her son was the sole support for their family since the loss of her husband—and she had seven children under the age of 18—and this young man had been drafted and was headed to Vietnam.
We’d do a recommendation and he would say, “Call Colonel so-and-so at the Pentagon.” That was a pretty heady experience for a 19-year-old, to pick up the phone and say, “Colonel, this is Angela Ables from Carl Albert’s office, and I’d like to talk to you about this young man.” After 20 minutes on the phone he’d say, “You can assure Mr. Albert that this young man will not be headed to any hostile environment.”
You did those things every day. Plus, he made it fun because he would kind of take you under his wing—and he’d say, “Hey, have you met Ted Kennedy? Lemme call Ted and have him come over here.” And he’d literally pick up the phone and call Ted. One day, it was George McGovern.
One night we went to a dinner, and I didn’t know that I was sitting at the table with Mr. Albert; I thought I was sitting with the staff. At the table was Ted Kennedy and his wife; Hubert Humphrey and Muriel, his wife; Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield and me!
He just knew that those would be experiences I would never have an opportunity to have, and he loved that teaching aspect. And, of course you know, he was a lawyer, he was a Rhodes scholar—so he had that innate ability to teach as he went along.
He taught me years and years ago that if you draw a line in the sand and the other person does the same, nothing gets done. That’s what’s happening in Washington today. He taught us, one, that you don’t ever push someone into a corner; give them some air and a way to maneuver. Two, you have to compromise to get anything done. The government is the art of compromise, and it only works when people are willing to do that. I think that was probably the best thing I learned from him. I’ve used that a lot in the legal practice.
Carl Albert Facts
• Entered Congress in 1947, became majority leader in 1962 and, in 1971, speaker of the House—the highest political office of any Oklahoman in American history
• Raised in Bug Tussle, the Oklahoma town where the Beverly Hillbillies lived before moving to California
• Served in the South Pacific during WWII as judge advocate general on the staff of Douglas MacArthur, and earned a Bronze Star
• Opposed civil rights bills in the 1950s, but became a strong proponent
for the Civil Rights Act of 1964
• Was 5 feet 4 ½ inches tall, hence the nickname “Little Giant from Little Dixie”
Sources: Encyclopedia Britannica, Oklahoma Historical Society and The New York Times