By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Everything, really, was quite perfect. The Women's Council of The Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden was gathering last month in the historic DeGolyer House for its Fall Informal Luncheon, each of the ladies dressed in "casual garden attire," as their bluebonnet-bordered invitations had instructed. The luncheon tables were whimsically decorated with gourds painted like scarecrows and witches, and with baskets of fresh orange and yellow mums. Inside the mansion's master bedroom, Women's Council volunteers in silk pantsuits and printed broomstick skirts madly tied festive ribbons around box lunches stacked on the bed, rushing to beat the clock for the 10:30 meeting start.
In the great room, Tom Robertson snapped photos of a trio of hard-working volunteers, as his wife and co-worker, Agness, jotted down names and details for the society column in the coming week's edition of Park Cities People.
All was going swimmingly until the Robertsons prepared to leave, and a grateful volunteer saw fit to thank them for their interest by slipping Tom two box lunches as he shuffled toward the door. "We think you two are so wonderful," the volunteer gushed. "Please take some lunch home." Tom obligingly tucked the boxes under his arm and went to gather Agness, the aroma of the herb-infused chicken breast lunches trailing in his wake.
By Dallas society standards, what happened next could only be described as a moment of sheer horror--a faux pas of Everest proportions. Mary Miller, the meeting's chairwoman, caught a glimpse of the white boxes disappearing toward the exit. Scrambling after Tom, Miller gently tapped him on the shoulder. She grimaced.
"I'm really sorry Tom," she whispered, so as not to create a stir. "But you can't take a lunch. If you do, we won't have enough for our guests.
"I'm so embarrassed, and I'm so sorry," Miller went on, plummeting ever more deeply into a graceless abyss. "I mean, we had to give the caterer a specific number, and we only have enough for each person. Normally, you have a caterer in the kitchen who could put a little something extra together, but we don't, and, uh, we have some lovely pound cake. We have a lot of pound cake. Would you like to take some pound cake?"
No, Tom and Agness did not want pound cake. They dutifully handed over the box lunches, unfazed by this little lapse in hostess etiquette. Miller, on the other hand, was turning slightly pale, knowing full well she had just cold-shouldered one of the most powerful couples in Park Cities society.
The Robertsons had little time that day to dally over the rebuff. They were due next at a soiree at the downtown Neiman Marcus store previewing the Ferragamo "Historic Heel Special Collection"--with a special appearance by the late shoe designer's chain-smoking daughter, Marchesa Fiamma di San Giuliano Ferragamo.
There was no possibility they would walk away hungry from this stop. At the Zodiac Room, they enjoyed a fresh seafood salad and popovers. Then, the Robertsons set to work: a photo of Miss Ferragamo, Neiman's manager Malcolm Reuben, and a couple of the store's biggest Ferragamo customers, who would be properly fussed over at the customer appreciation luncheon.
Then it was out of Neiman's and on to three or four more big deals of the day. Invitations to six other events would end up on the scrap heap. After all, there is only so much high society you can pack into a 12-hour work day.
For Tom and Agness, this is the lush life--chasing after the Dallas aristocracy seven days a week, chronicling its teas and dinners, its balls and auctions, its debutante parties, even its occasional bowl-a-thon. At 81 and 79 years old, they have been the Park Cities society writing-photography team for nearly 15 years. Tom takes the pictures; Agness writes jaunty copy to match. They assemble the column from their home, mostly, where a dining-room table is stacked with boxes of gilded invitations, and a computer, printer, and fax machine stand nearby. Deadline is every Monday; Tom turns in his best photos, and Agness delivers a set of pithy paragraphs packed with boldfaced names and exclamation points. Occasionally, she'll include an editorial comment--sometimes even inch close to a political statement--but never a scintilla of gossip.
Theirs is a nice column. The Robertsons' subjects have come to count on reading compliments about their children and complete descriptions of their ball gowns. In all their years on the job, Tom and Agness have never taken an extended vacation. Tom has worn out four tuxes. Agness has never called in sick. "Oh, there were times I haven't felt well," she says. "But I'd just sit on the bed with my notes and get it written."
Tom--who always drives--doesn't see so well from behind the wheel at night anymore, and most of the time Agness' feet hurt. Every Thursday morning, they drive to the Central Expressway office of Park Cities People, grab a handful of papers hot off the presses, and right there in the parking lot, pore over their two-, sometimes four-page section like excited high schoolers with a new yearbook.
Neither Tom nor Agness were to the manor born. They married 55 years ago, and while Tom worked his way up at Braniff International Airlines, they raised a son and daughter in a roomy--though hardly opulent--North Dallas ranch house. They wear sensible clothing, simple and well-made, but hardly the Chanel and Armani designs favored by the ruling class they so faithfully cover. "We are background people, really. We're just observers," Agness says.