During the 1996 Democratic State Convention in Texas, there was a private meeting to try to come to some agreements on something-or-other that seemed important at the time. I walked through the convention hall to the conference room with then-AFL-CIO state director Rosa Walker and her husband Boyce Breedlove. We were to be joined in the conference room by then-Land Commissioner Garry Mauro, Bill White, and a few others. Rosa and I didn’t expect the meeting to last more than a few minutes.
Now retired, Rosa is a legend among Democratic political circles. During her amazing 38-year career with the AFL-CIO, there wasn’t a Democratic activist, leader, or candidate for public office she hadn’t helped, advised, or chewed out – sometimes all in the same day. In fact, by coincidence, she’s scheduled to be inducted into the Labor Hall of Fame tomorrow. She’s been one of my closest buddies for 20 years, and I’d trust her with my life. She and her husband Boyce have the kind of longstanding rock-solid relationship most people only dream of, and I adore him too.
When the three of us arrived at the meeting room that day, Boyce asked Rosa what she wanted him to do while she was in the meeting. Rosa jokingly replied, “I’ll only be a few minutes. You can guard this door. Don’t let anybody in.” We all chuckled, and Rosa and I went into the room, leaving Boyce outside.
The meeting ended up being somewhat of a tense ordeal. Nothing notable about why – I don’t even remember what the big hangup was. I’m sure it was just one of those touchy situations that comes up during political conventions which, if handled gracefully, nobody remembers, but if mishandled, some people would get upset. As it turns out, we were in the room for three hours. In all that time, Rosa and I forgot all about poor Boyce.
When we finally left the room three hours later, there was Boyce. He’d found a chair somewhere and was sitting in it, in front of that door, taking very seriously his commitment to Rosa to guard it. He was also very hungry, very thirsty, and very much in need of a restroom.
“Oh, bless your heart, I’m so sorry, you could have left,” Rosa said.
“No I couldn’t,” Boyce replied, with a characteristic grin at his wife. ”I had to guard this door.”
And - oh boy - the way Boyce grinned at his wife. All the time. No matter the circumstance. There isn’t a woman alive who wouldn’t give anything for her husband to look at her the way Boyce always looked at Rosa. Year-after-year, his absolute love and adoration of Rosa was apparent at first glance, constantly. I bet he had that same look way back when they first met, and that look, and the adoration behind it, was still there years later, to the end.
Sadly, that end came yesterday evening, because Boyce passed away. It was his time, and he knew it. In a lot of pain, among his final acts yesterday was to tell Rosa how much he loved her. I know it was wonderful for her to hear it one more time, but I also know she didn’t need to be told – he showed it every day of their lives together. She did the same for him. Their relationship served as the gold standard for everybody else’s relationships.
I’ve always been glad that Rosa is one of the strongest people I know. But when I heard the news last night, I was especially grateful that she’s so strong, because I know her strength will help her get through this terrible loss.
And as she works her way through this difficult transition, I hope she’ll take comfort that, somewhere, an adoring Boyce will be grinning at her, guarding the door.
Rest in peace, Boyce. You were a damn good man.