Chemical Warrior

When Phyllis Glazer learned a chemical plant was making her East Texas neighbors sick, the wealthy Dallas homemaker could have cut and run. Instead, she chose to stay, fight, and win.

R.L. took good care of the attractive 29-year-old divorcee, and within three months they married. He adopted her two sons, and together they had another son. Life was sweet and uncomplicated, and Phyllis was utterly fulfilled.

But in the early 1980s, she began suffering from chronic pain in her arms and back. Unable to find the source of her illness, doctors treated the symptoms instead, prescribing so much pain medication that she barely got out of bed for three years.

In 1985, her father was killed in a car accident. Glazer's mother, Mildred Krueger, decided it was time for her daughter to get help. She took her to the Mayo Clinic, where Phyllis spent six weeks as doctors weaned her off all the medication. The doctors told her she would have to learn to live with the pain, and they suggested that the best way to do so was to find a project to distract her.

After returning to Dallas, Glazer's mother suggested that Phyllis and R.L. buy some farmland. She thought the serenity of the country would be good for her daughter's health. The couple put her off for three years, but the Glazers finally relented after falling in love with a 200-acre ranch on a lake in East Texas. Their oldest son named it Blazing Saddles, after the Mel Brooks comedy.

After watching a documentary on the wild horses of America, Phyllis decided to buy Spanish mustangs, rare horses known for their gentle gait. Doctors had told her horseback riding would be too tough on her back, and she was determined to prove them wrong. The Glazers eventually bought another 2,000 acres--the back half of a huge ranch owned by the late H.L. Hunt. In short order, Blazing Saddles boasted the largest herd of Spanish mustangs in the state, to which Phyllis added an impressive menagerie of exotic animals--llamas, bison, miniature Sicilian donkeys, emus, deer, antelope, and zebras.

Their weekend retreat turned into a thriving enterprise, and, with her two older sons away at college, Phyllis decided it was time for her to become a full-time rancher. But just as Glazer was beginning to settle into what she described as her "dream life," she was confronted with an environmental nightmare.

Many times over the following years people in town asked Glazer why she stayed when she clearly didn't have to.

"My father fled from injustice in Europe that claimed his family's life," she explains. "He was dead by the time we found injustice here. Environmental injustice is subtler; the damage that's done is slower and hard to prove. The people of Winona were gassed, and as a Jew I was outraged. My father told me that his family lost their lives because their fellow man had closed their minds and their hearts to them. He told me of the doors that neighbors never opened to help protect them. In Winona the knock had come to my door--the knock that asks, 'Will you be counted among the righteous?' I knew what my answer had to be."

Perhaps the hardest thing Glazer had to do was send her son away for safety. During one weekend visit, which was constantly interrupted by phone calls for Glazer concerning MOSES business, she apologized to her son.

"I haven't been much of a mother to you these days, I'm afraid," she said.
"You're a hero, mom," he replied. "That's why everyone calls you. You know what to do and how to do it."

Thinking back on that moment, Glazer laments, "I lost the youth of my son, and I can never regain it. But I had to do it. Everything in my background and history said you have to fight for the children. I could have hightailed it back to Dallas, but I couldn't leave the children whose names and faces I knew, the children who played in my home. I couldn't protect myself and leave them to their fate. As a woman, as a mother, as a child of God, I had to stay."

Not long after the plant closed, Phyllis moved back to Dallas, but her environmental activism continues. MOSES is now ensconced in an upstairs wing of her Dallas house near Valley View Mall. Here, she and one paid staff person--a paralegal assistant--spend their days advising residents from other communities like Winona, researching environmental issues, and writing letters to lawmakers around the country, educating them on the dangers of environmental toxins.

"We have a major battle ahead of us," she says. "We're out of the trenches and into the war. Now we can make a difference on a state and federal level. The state of Texas has done nothing but destroy environmental laws year after year...The signs say 'Don't Mess with Texas,' but that is a damn lie. For a price, you can do any damn thing you want here."

She is currently raising money for a project to document the cases of children in other communities who have been harmed by poisonous pollution, communities that have no one with enough money and clout championing their cause. She plans to compile it into a report and submit it to the Executive Office of the President, Council on Environment Quality and to policy makers in Washington. She also hopes to turn it into a book, titled Sins of the Fathers: the Poisoning of American Children.

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