Sometime last summer, without fanfare, Kathleen Inglish slipped out of the life of Blanco. After delivering letters of resignation to the various organizations whose existence is due in large part to her influence, she simply packed her things and moved to Fort Worth to be near family members. At last report, the 94-year-old attorney is alive and well, busy with water aerobics and line dancing. So this retrospective is not an obituary by any means—rather, it is an attempt to relate to those who may not know, the extraordinary impact one woman has had on a small Texas town.
Back in October 2007 Kathleen consented to give an interview to local oral history collector Barney Cline, who was able to coax from her details of a life which she seemed surprised that any one would have an interest in. Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Kathleen had lived in three states by the time she was six. Her father, an oil rig building contractor, moved the family to Kansas, Oklahoma, and then Texas as he followed the oil fields. When it was time for school, the family moved to Fort Worth, where she and her five siblings attended Catholic schools. According to longtime friend Sandra Paine, Kathleen’s mother read to her children from the encyclopedia, instilling in Kathleen a lifelong love of knowledge. She rarely read fiction, according to former Blanco Library director Sandra, but would enthusiastically share tidbits of knowledge she had gleaned from a new biography, almanac, or other non-fiction source.
Her law career began when, as a young adult, she obtained a copy of Blackstone from the lawyer father of a friend, who had noticed her browsing through his library. “He thought I had the mind for a lawyer,” confided Kathleen; and he gave her other law books to read and offered her a job at his law office in Houston, where she attended the South Texas College of Law at night. When her mentor had conferences, he would let her sit in. Finally he said, “You know enough to take the bar exam.” At 21 she passed the bar exam and began practicing law. When asked if she was discriminated against or if it seemed unusual for a woman to be attending law school, she responded that she studied with male students and never thought of herself as a ground-breaker in the field, although there were only “three or four” women in school with her. She continued working with her mentor until he died.
During World War II Kathleen joined the war effort in Dallas. “Everybody wanted to do something,” she explained; and her effort consisted of taking flying lessons and becoming part of a courier service, flying planes and generals from base to base. According to Sandra Paine, when these women were finally recognized for their service and became entitled to military benefits, Kathleen never applied.
After the war Kathleen lived in New Orleans for a time and had a wonderful time. “Everyone should live in New Orleans in their thirties—it’s great!” she said. After marrying an oil man, they moved back to Houston. “The oil business has taken care of me all my life,” she confided.
The Blanco portion of Kathleen’s life began in the 60’s, when she and her husband picked the area because it met their criteria: it had a Cathlic church, and it was within 50 miles of two cities. “I had to have a city available to me—I considered myself a city girl,” she said. The first night in their new home on Rocky Road, she was awakened by a piercing scream in the night. Terrified, she made her husband promise they would sell the house and leave immediately. However, when the source of the blood-curdling scream proved to be a peacock, which was shortly re-settled elsewhere, she decided to stay. She recalls that she “was well received” in Blanco, that Ruth Taylor from the Blanco Woman’s Club brought her a cake and invited her to attend a meeting, beginning an involvement with the Woman’s Club which lasted over 45 years.
A favorite memory of Kathleen’s is the time she spent in the 60’s as a docent at the LBJ Ranch in Johnson City. “The White House called,” she recounts. “I was cleared to visit the ranch and meet Ladybird.” The association lasted for a number of years, during which time she received Christmas greeting from the White House each year and was entertained by Ladybird along with the other docents each summer.
Kathleen’s law practice in Blanco began when, in her words, she “asked permission” of Judge Harrison to set up a practice. Her legal expertise proved to be invaluable to several organizations, among them the Blanco Library, the Old Blanco County Courthouse Preservation Society, and more recently, the Blanco Habitat for Humanity.
Her involvement with the Blanco Library began when Judge Harrison told her that people wanted to give money for improvements to the library, which in the 70’s was in a barracks behind city hall. She helped the library become a 501-C3 non-profit corporation; and shortly thereafter Mr. Williams, a retired attorney, donated his home and land to the library. The corporation was able to buy a building on the square, later the newspaper office, and refurbish it, using prison labor, which Kathleen and others at the time called “the misdemeanor boys.” Members of the Blanco Women’s Club served as the first volunteers. Sandra Paine testifies that for over 20 years, Kathleen’s farsightedness “provided the major impetus for the Blanco Library to grow and develop.” Longtime friend Shirley Beck credits her own involvement with the library to Kathleen’s insistence that she serve on the first library board after the library district was formed. “You don’t turn Kathleen down,” she laughed, calling her “the catalyst for bringing the library to its current financial state. She has been tremendous in the development of a good public library.” Current Director of Library Services Janice Redmond called Kathleen “the go-to person,” who knew the history of the library and was always available for legal advice. “She became the foundation of this whole library,” added Redmond; “I have great respect for her.”
Clinton DeWolfe related another chapter in Kathleen’s Blanco life, her involvement with the old Blanco County courthouse renovation, calling her “the one who gave us the guidance.” Back in the early 90’s, he recalled, when the interstate highway system was complete, money became available for communities to undertake historic preservation projects along major highways. Kathleen used her legal knowledge to interpret all tenets in order to get funding. As she remembers, “The townspeople were up in arms because the old courthouse was breaking down.” As the first director of the courthouse society, Kathleen led the restoration effort, meeting with state and federal groups in Austin. The only 501-C3 corporation to receive funding, the society dealt with two years of delays before the $360K grant for renovation was actually awarded. Sandra Paine remembers that for a number of years Kathleen would buy twenty tickets to the annual OBCCPS Gala and “coerce” family members to attend. Shirley Cage recalls sitting for hours with Kathleen hand-addressing Gala invitations.
Several of Kathleen’s friends speak of her steadiness and quiet support. Sandra Paine remembers her encouragement during the time when an effort to raise $750K for the library seemed an impossible task. “Good things get funded,” Kathleen would say. Longtime friend and fellow woman’s club member Maryella Vause praised her organizational gifts. “I always enjoyed working with her,” she said. “She would see to it that whatever needed to be done would get done.” She spoke of her admiration for Kathleen’s “inner poise, centeredness, and calm,” calling her “one who serves quietly.” Sandra Paine remembers that although she was not vocal about her faith, Kathleen attended Mass faithfully at St. Ferdinand’s Catholic Church. All agree that leaving Blanco quietly was not out of character for a woman who never wanted a big send-off, who according to Beck, “never needed a pat on the back to feel good about herself.” Sandra Paine sums it all up with these words: “Many people seem to think she is aloof. I know her to be a caring, fun-loving hunk of intelligence. She would not want to be called ‘a good person,’ but she is. To know her is a joy.”