By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"I'll be glad when they come back," she says of fancy hats. "And they will!"
Lee left SMU for steady day work as a switchboard operator at a Ford dealership owned by Edward Maher, who was also the Dallas County Hospital District chief at the time. His community involvement drew Lee into activism, and she credits him for her "organization skills."
Over the years, a careful observer could have caught Lee's involvement in a litany of local causes, from nursing-home reform to the creation of community centers to church charities to CrimeWatch patrols aimed at prostitutes. Her ladylike charm mixed with pit bull stubbornness is a combination that is hard to deny.
By her count, she spoke about the library before the city council horseshoe 13 times, on top of meeting with every principal in the area and haunting community meetings. There she is at a town hall meeting during the budget process, pestering Loza sweetly. There she is, waving at the mayor at a city council meeting. There she is speaking at another neighborhood hearing, talking well under her allotted two minutes but getting her point across: Build the library already.
At a budget hearing last year, in front of the horseshoe, she told the council that children approach her at stores, calling her "the library lady" and asking when the city is going to build the library. The appearance was emblematic of her style: No library business was before the council members during that budget cycle, but she wanted to keep it high on their minds.
Loza is the obvious target of this effort, and he responded. "She's been persistent but a pleasure to deal with. She's made it easy," he says. "That tenacity paid off."
Of course, at City Hall it must be said that if there were a need, the good city officials would have found it with or without Lee's involvement. "We're just finishing up a master plan [study for the library system] to see where the areas of most need are. Had it not been on the table already, it would have been in the master plan," says the city administrator Grieb. "There's a great need."
The need for a branch library in the small Love Field neighborhood is easy to highlight. The area is geographically cut off by the airport and Bachman Lake and dissected by wide highways. The growing Hispanic population in the area could use library services for English classes, computer access, and after-school reading programs. Libraries have become more than book depositories and reading rooms; they've become intellectual community centers.
Lee sees the library being built in three years, if she's lucky. For her, the race is also against time; she wants to see the library standing and knows that pressure must be maintained until the groundbreaking occurs. During the crucial bond election, you can expect to see Lee back on her lily-white horse, pushing a voter registration drive to create pro-library numbers. "I hope my health holds out. No one has shown interest in devoting more time to this," she says. "I see a lot of hard work and campaigning ahead for me, but I'm used to that."
For her efforts, the unsinkable Lee may be rewarded with a monument to her civic prowess; there's been talk the Love Field Branch Library will be named after her. The problem, city officials say, is that to name a library after a person would violate their internal policy. (This, despite the moniker gracing the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library. Don't expect City Hall to make too much sense.)
Not to worry, says Loza: "The libraries are named after the neighborhoods, but when push comes to shove, we'll name something in the library after her."