Texas Monthly Talks

Clayton Williams

Clayton Williams


Notes from Evan Smith

"It was the non-handshake that made history. It was the second week of October in 1990, just before the voters of Texas would choose their next governor. Republican oilman Clayton Williams — Claytie — was comfortably ahead of Democratic state treasurer Ann Richards in the polls. The two candidates were scheduled to appear together at a Greater Dallas Crime Commission luncheon at the Anatole Hotel. The week before, Richards had angered Williams by suggesting his Midland bank may have laundered drug money, and in response his campaign decided he would refuse to shake her hand at the lunch, which he did. All hell broke loose over conduct perceived to be unbecoming of a gentleman, and just like that, gaffe-prone Williams went from being twelve points up to four points down. He went on to lose the election two weeks later 49 percent to 47 percent, thus ending his brief political career. But as he conceded, he was heard to say, “It’s not the end of the world,” and indeed, the 76-year-old has had a remarkable and remarkably successful life in the years since, just as he’d had one in the years prior. Born in the West Texas town of Alpine, Williams graduated from Texas A&M University in College Station with a degree in animal husbandry. After serving in the U.S. Army, he returned to Texas and followed his father, Clayton, Sr., into the oil business as a lease broker. In time his petroleum-related interests grew enormously successful, allowing him to diversify into farming, ranching, real estate, banking, and telecommunications, and he became quite wealthy. A dedicated philanthropist, he has supported not just A&M but many West Texas causes over the years, and as a just-published book about him suggests, he was always and still remains the wildcatter’s wildcatter, but the first line of his obit will surely contains the words “almost” and “governor.” If only he had shaken her hand — well, we’ll never know." - Evan Smith, Texas Monthly Talks, Broadcast 12.13.07