Longform

Chemical Warrior

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EPA spokesman David Bary declined to comment, saying, "It is irresponsible to respond to these allegations."

Adding insult to injury, an EPA official accused Glazer of using the black residents of Winona to make a bogus case of environmental racism out of what was simply a case of "Not in my back yard."

"We didn't want it in anyone's back yard," Glazer says. "These facilities, in our opinion, shouldn't be within 100 miles of where people live. But it is not a coincidence that these facilities always wind up in poor and minority neighborhoods, where the people do not have the resources to fight them."

In a lengthy chronicle of the evils the plant had visited on his community, Don Hampton, a black pastor in Winona, took issue with the EPA's attack on Glazer. "The fact that a white woman has joined the cause of a minority community in fighting against environmental injustice should not be scorned. When we judge Phyllis Glazer of MOSES by the contents of her character, we find her a sister."

Glazer withstood numerous attacks on her character and motives. In the face of incredible odds and seemingly intractable obstacles, Glazer refused to quit, which won her many admirers.

"I can say without hesitation that she is the most generous person I've ever met in my life," says Mary Sahs, an environmental lawyer based in Austin who has worked with MOSES almost since its inception. "She is entirely selfless. She came to a community, and somewhere in her soul identified with people with whom, on the face of things, she didn't have a whole lot in common. She was much wealthier, had a different religion and cultural background. But she felt a kinship with them. There were some low points when she said, 'Can I keep this up? It's so hard, so expensive. It's ruining my life.' But I never saw her waver."

Glazer grew up pampered and protected in an Orthodox Jewish home in Arizona. Her father escaped Latvia at age 19 just days before the Nazis invaded. His entire family was slaughtered and buried in a mass grave in the forests outside Riga. He came to the States alone and penniless. He worked odd jobs during the day and studied engineering at night, and eventually founded his own company that manufactured air-distribution systems for buildings. It made him a small fortune.

Groomed to lead a traditional life of wife and mother, Glazer, at 17, wed the man her parents had chosen for her. "It was an arranged marriage and a loveless one," she says, "but it produced two beautiful boys." After divorcing, she decided to relocate with her two sons to Dallas in 1977. Before she left, a friend of her father's encouraged her to contact R.L. Glazer. "He'll look out for you," he said.

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.

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Ann Zimmerman