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UT Distinguished Alumnus Awards Ceremony (1964)

Gordon Wilkison

Sound | 1964

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  •  Walter Cronkite and First Lady of Texas Nellie Connally 
  •  Governor of Texas John Connally 
  •  First Lady Lady Bird Johnson 
  •  Acting President Harry Ransom gifts Cronkite with a paperweight constructed out of wood from the old Main Building 
  •  Lady Bird Johnson presents Cronkite with the first DeWitt C. Reddick Award, which honors meritorious service to journalism  
  •  Cronkite begins his acceptance speech 
  •  The need to teach skepticism 
  •  Cronkite receives his Distinguished Alumnus Award 
  •  Ransom introduces attorney Charles Inge Francis 
  •  Governor Connally presents a Distinguished Alumnus Award to Lady Bird Johnson 
  •  The role of a state university 
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  • About the video
  • Walter Cronkite Walter Cronkite
  • Charles Inge Francis Charles Inge Francis
  • Lady Bird Johnson Lady Bird Johnson
  • Gordon Wilkison Gordon Wilkison
  • Texas Locations
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This film documents the 1964 Distinguished Alumnus Awards ceremony at the University of Texas at Austin. The event was held in the university’s LBJ Auditorium on October 16, 1964. The awardees are journalist Walter Cronkite, attorney Charles Inge Francis, and First Lady of the United States Lady Bird Johnson. Other attendees include Governor of Texas John Connally, former Governor of Texas Allan Shivers, and Chancellor of the University of Texas System Harry Ransom. During the ceremony, Cronkite also receives the inaugural DeWitt C. Reddick Award, which honors meritorious service to journalism. (DeWitt C. Reddick taught journalism at the University of Texas from 1927 to 1975.) While it does not appear in the footage, a streaker reportedly ran across the front of the stage shortly after Cronkite began his acceptance speech. “I never knew the Secret Service to move so fast,” he later told the Alcade. “An unusual greeting.” Created in 1958, the Distinguished Alumnus Awards recognize up to six alumnae/i each year for their professional achievements and service to the university.They are presented by the Texas Ex-Students’ Association, now known as the Texas Exes. Do you recognize some of the other guests in attendance? Let us know in the comments, or email us at info@texasarchive.org.
Walter Leland Cronkite Jr. was an American broadcast journalist, best known as anchorman for the CBS Evening News for 19 years. Cronkite was born on November 4, 1916, in St. Joseph, Missouri, but spent much of his youth in Houston. He worked on the newspaper at San Jacinto High School, then on The Daily Texan at the University of Texas at Austin, which he attended for two years before leaving to take a job as a radio announcer in Oklahoma City. In 1939, he joined the United Press and became a war correspondent with the outbreak of World War II. Edward R. Murrow asked him to join his team in 1943, but Cronkite elected to stay on with the United Press. 
Following the war, Murrow finally convinced Cronkite to join CBS. He first gained prominence at CBS with his coverage of the 1952 Democratic and Republican National Conventions. He took over Edward R. Murrow’s position as the senior correspondent at CBS in 1961, and he began anchoring the CBS Evening News in 1962. In 1963, the program was extended to a half-hour and renamed the “CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite,” as it remained until his retirement in 1981. Throughout his career he signed off of programs with a trademark phrase. In the 1950s, he closed programs by asking, “What sort of day was it? A day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times. And you were there.” For decades at the helm of the CBS Evening News, he simply concluded, “And that’s the way it is.” 
Walter Cronkite is remembered as an impartial, trustworthy presence in primetime news. He covered some of the most significant American events of the 20th century, including the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the moon landing, and the Vietnam War. Cronkite is perhaps best remembered as the man that told America about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He broke the news on CBS, the first network to report the event, so most Americans first heard the grave news about their president from him. 
Cronkite married Betsy Maxwell in 1940, and they remained married until her death in 2005. They had three children: Nancy, Kathy, and Walter III. Cronkite continued to be a prominent voice in journalism even after his retirement. He died on July 17, 2009. His papers are held at the University of Texas, and the Moody College of Communication named the Walter Cronkite Plaza in his honor.  
Charles Inge Francis was born in Denton, Texas, on September 1, 1893. He attended the University of Texas at Austin, earning a master’s degree in law in 1917. After serving in World War I, Francis returned to Texas to become a lawyer. He opened his own Houston law office in 1950. 
In addition to his work as a lawyer, Francis was also involved in the oil and gas industry. He owned interest in a Permian Basin oil well, selling it to Magnolia Petroleum Company in 1924 for $2 million. In 1946, Francis and E. Holley Poe purchased a pair of pipelines from the government and established the Texas Eastern Transmission Corporation. He held various executive positions at the company until his retirement in 1967. 
Francis died on November 11, 1969, after suffering a stroke. 
Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Taylor was born in Karnack, Texas, on December 22, 1912. Lady Bird, the nickname given by nursemaid Alice Tittle, attended high school in Marshall and junior college at Dallas’ St. Mary’s Episcopal College for Women. In 1933 through 1934, she received a Bachelor of Arts in history and a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Texas at Austin. 
Mutual friends introduced Lady Bird to congressional aide and rising political star, Lyndon Baines Johnson. LBJ proposed on the couple’s first date and the two were married a month later on November 17, 1934. Lady Bird financed her husband’s first congressional campaign for Austin’s Tenth District using a portion of her maternal inheritance. During World War II, Lady Bird ran the congressional office while LBJ served in the US Navy. In 1943, Lady Bird purchased Austin Radio station KTBC. The station proved an integral part of the LBJ Holding Company and became the main source of the Johnson family’s fortune. 
LBJ’s political career gained momentum in the post war years, and in 1960, he became Vice President to John F. Kennedy. Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as Commander and Chief aboard Air Force One following President Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963. As first lady, Lady Bird initiated the Society for a More Beautiful National Capitol and worked with the American Association of Nurserymen to promote the planting of wildflowers along highways. In 1964, the first lady traveled through eight southern states aboard her train, “The Lady Bird Special,” to foster support for LBJ’s presidential reelection and the Civil Rights Act. She was influential in promoting the Highway Beautification Act of 1965, referred to as “Lady Bird’s Bill,” and the Head Start program.
Following the death of LBJ in 1973, Lady Bird turned her attention to Austin. The Town Lake Beautification Project transformed Austin’s downtown lake, renamed Lady Bird Lake in 2007, into a useable recreation area. On December 22, 1982, Lady Bird and Helen Hays founded the National Wildflower Research Center outside of Austin. The Wildflower Center was established to increase awareness and research for North American flora.  During her lifetime, the former first lady received the highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 1977 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 1988. Lady Bird died of natural causes on July 11, 2007, survived by two daughters, seven grandchildren, and  ten great-grandchildren.
Gordon Wilkison began work as a cameraman at the local Austin television station KTBC (now FOX 7) during 1952, its first year of operation. At the time the station was owned by the Texas Broadcasting Company, which was owned by Senator Lyndon B. and Lady Bird Johnson. This relationship would continue to shape Wilkison's career well into the next decades. During the Johnson administration, Wilkison covered the president's visits to Texas, preparing material for national and international news correspondents. 
A particularly notable moment in his career occurred on August 1, 1966, when Wilkison and KTBC reporter Neal Spelce risked their lives to capture footage of the Tower shooting at the University of Texas at Austin. 
Wilkison was also the General Manager of Photo Processors at the LBJ Broadcasting Corporation, which he later took over and renamed Cenetex Film Labs. In addition to his camera work and film processing, his work at the station also included direction of a number of television film productions.
Outside of KTBC, Wilkison shot, edited, and processed Longhorn football game footage for the University of Texas at Austin, a partnership that lasted nearly 30 years.    
Recognizing the historical value of film and news footage, Wilkison kept the material, later contributing hundreds of reels to the Texas Archive of the Moving Image's collection.