Joanne

I first met Joanne at a big political function down in Austin.  Everyone who was “anyone” was there, including President Johnson.  She has always lived in Houston.  Her name was Joanne King then; though she later married the wealthy Bob Herring, Chairman of Houston Natural Gas, and became Joanne Herring.

Joanne

Even at that early time she was already considered the “hostess with the mostess” in America, the ultimate hostess.  Men in Houston would bring their lunch to the office so that they could watch Joanne’s TV chat show at noon.  They just got uplifted by her incredible personality.

Her parties were already legendary, some lasting for several days with different events over the several days.

Joanne in Party Dress

I was having a real struggle at that time.  I had already moved into that big house on the ranch; but needed to get a trust finished with US Trust Company of New York to obtain proper title to most all the rest of the 1,600 acres.  US Trust would not complete the trust unless I could acquire the mineral rights to the land that were in the name of another person.

That house and land had originally been put together by a gunfighter from out in west Texas named Jim Christal who got his leg shot off and had come to Denton to pursue a different profession.  He became quite successful and not only had that house and land; but built a fine house in town.  He bought sheep from Ireland which had gold colored hoofs, and named the Ranch, The Golden Hoof Ranch.

After he died, a very wealthy oil man from east Texas sold all his holding in east Texas and bought Jim Christal’s house and land and continued the name, Golden Hoof Ranch.  Before he died, this fellow and his black-haired daughter completely redid and expanded the house.  I heard many tales about her and her beautiful black-haired daughter.  They say that her husband went off on a trip to South America and was mysteriously killed, and that she immediately married the ranch manager.  

What I eventually found out was that this ranch manager was the one who still owned the mineral rights.  I heard all manner of tales about how mysterious and reclusive this fellow was; and he was no where to be found.  Not to be dramatic, but I really thought that God wanted me to have this place.  Yet, I had no idea how to find this fellow and try to get those mineral rights.

Right about this time, Joanne called and really wanted me to come to one of her “super parties” that she had planned.  I don’t know why, but I definitely felt compelled to go.

She had brought many of her friends over from Europe for it………like Princess Pia, and Princess Panatelli.  The Baroness Di Portanova was there and even Princess Barbara von Liechtenstein; of the family from which the Country of Liechtenstein gets its name.

The first function was a dance at a big home in Beaumont.  I did not stay at the hotel where most of the others were staying, so Joanne came by and picked me up at my hotel in her limousine.  She never received any money for her popular TV show.  Instead she asked for a permanent limousine and driver, and three trips to Europe per year.

A lovely black-haired lady named Julie Stienhagen was the owner of the home in Beaumont.  I was told that her husband controlled much of the gasoline trade on that part of the Texas coast, but that they were not real close. 

In fact, he never showed that whole weekend. 

That house had three stories plus a basement and a wine cellar below that.  The third floor was mostly a large dance floor, reached by elevator.  I dutifully visited with those people.  Some were quite interesting; but a most unusual thing happened. 

Julie took a small group of us on a tour of the house.  I know what déjà vu means, but what happened to me there on that night in that place was way more intense.  It was like the furniture and the pictures and certain other things in that house were totally familiar to me…….like I just knew them.   It was so intense that I called back to Dallas while I was there to try to explain it to two different friends, but it sounded so ridiculous that I just cut off the attempted conversation.

Finally, we headed back to Houston.  What I had never understood was that I was supposed to be Joanne’s date for the whole affair. 

The next day Barbara von Liechtenstein wanted me to take her through NASA.  She was right there in Houston and had heard so much about it.  So, I happily offered to take her there.  It is hard to describe how gorgeous that young lady was.  The guys who work at NASA have seen all manner of fancy folks….dignitaries, famous politicians, heads of governments, and a plethora of beautiful lady movie stars.  However, I don’t think they had ever seen a lady as gorgeous as Barbara.

Guys were walking into walls while looking back at her, dropping tools on their feet, and just staring at her.  She became quite a spectacle and caused quite a stir, but I am sure that she was used to it.

Then, that night, there was a dinner and a dance at a disco.  At that moment in history, a disco was really a quite new and novel thing.  I mostly sat-out the evening, for I had found a most interesting friend.  He had come over from Ireland and was the President of the Castle Preservation Society of Europe.  He was not nearly as boring as that title sounds.  He was really quite young for such a title and so much fun.  Also, he raised cattle and was very interested in the Santa Gertrudis cattle that I raised.

One of Ron’s Prize Santa Gertrudis Bulls

The disco wasn’t very large, and Julie Steinhagen was dancing right in front of us and kept motioning over and over for me to come join her.  I was having such a good time with my Irish friend that I didn’t go.  Finally, she came over and sat down right in front of me, and looked me straight in the eye and said:  “Please don’t think that I am being forward and that this is some kind of ‘come-on’, but there is something about you that is so unusually familiar that I just have to know why.”

She wanted to know all about me since she was feeling this strange “familiarity” with me.  She knew that we had never met, but she kept trying to understand why she felt this closeness to me.  We went through that I was from Texas, and near Denton, and when I finally got down to the exact location of that house where I now lived on the ranch.  Julie nearly fainted.  She was the black-haired daughter of the black-haired women who had previously owned the house.  The special room in the house’s upstairs with its big picture window that looked out across the country-side, the door out to an outside balcony, and the pink tiled bathroom with its special fixtures…..That had all been Julie’s room.

Now I found out the answer to the so strange déjà vu episode from the evening before in Julie’s home.  All that furniture and those pictures had all been her mother’s and had all once resided in my home on the ranch.  Also, maybe that explained why Julie felt such a familiarity to me.  Strange.

It turned out that Julie was the one person in the world who knew where her stepfather could be reached and who had leverage over him……..the guy who still owned the mineral rights that I needed to close on the land.   She said she would have him call me.   However, after two weeks I still had not heard from him.

I called Julie and told her that.  She said, very firmly:  “OK, he will call you!!!”  Very early the next morning he called.  He said that he would meet me at 6:30 AM the next morning in at motel on I-35.  We met, I gave him a check for $60,000 and had the mineral rights to the whole property.  It seemed like a waste of money at the time, for everybody knew that there was nothing under the land but a thick layer of very hard black shale rock.

Many years later, after my friend George Mitchell at Mitchell Energy showed the world how to frack that hard shale and get out hydrocarbons, $60,000 seemed like a bargain.

So, Joanne was not just a party girl and a TV darling.  Her father, who owned a big construction company and was the consummate outdoorsman, made sure that she learned to ride and shoot at an early age.  When it actually looked like our country may go Communist or had the threat of being taken over by the Communists, a large group was formed to oppose such.  They were called the Minute Men.  Then the Minute Women were formed and trained in gorilla tactics and how to handle automatic weapons.  Joanne became a Minute Woman.

She continued her “social activities” and  entertained people like……….arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi; the former president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat; King Hussein of Jordan; Princess Grace; and the Shah of Iran  and other “such” at her and Bob Herring’s 22-room mansion in Houston.

Later, the rulers of Pakistan wanted Bob Herring to come and drill for oil there.  They even wanted him to be their Consul in the US.  Since he did not wish for that job, he suggested that they give that job to his wife, Joanne.  That was rather awkward for Muslims to give a woman such responsibility, but they did it anyway because of their desire for Bob Herring’s help in drilling for oil.

She took the job quite seriously.  When General Zia (Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq) took over Pakistan by force, she went over to meet him.  He was so “taken with her” that she became his main foreign advisor.  They say that even when he was in an important Cabinet meeting, he would immediately stop to take a telephone call from Joanne. 

By now, Bob Herring had died, but she stayed very interested in that part of the world.  Her main motive was that she did not want the Russians to take over any of it.  Of course, this coincided with US interests also, and why the US kept giving so much aid to Pakistan.

Then the Russian army invaded Afghanistan and took over the whole country.  Afghanistan had always been a “little brother” to Pakistan.  No one in the US seemed to be doing anything about it.  This was “some disturbing” to Joanne.  She decided that she had to do something about it.

A whole bunch of really brave and tough Afghans moved across the border into Pakistan to try to oppose the Russians’ taking over their country.  I have a good friend in Afghanistan that I have stayed with two times who moved his whole family across the border.  He was not going to live under Russian rule.

That brave group called themselves The Mujahideen, and started their ten year war against the Russians.  I met three of them when they came to Dallas to try to raise money for their cause.  They showed us a graphic film of a group of them going all the way across Afghanistan, traveling by night, and blowing up the electric transmission towers outside Kabul.

Joanne went over there right away and met their leaders and pledged her help.  Of course, she would have charmed the socks off them just like she did General Zia, if they had worn socks.  But she charmed them anyway.

Right off the bat, she recognized their disadvantage.  No matter how brave and motivated they were, they only had small arms and a few mortars.  This was no match for the Russian tanks and ground strafing fighter planes and especially those awesome, fierce Russian attack helicopters.  Surely you have seen pictures of them.  In the last Rambo movie he captured one and used it back against the Russians.  In the scene that was supposed to be in Afghanistan in the movie, when all seemed lost, the Mujahideen came on horseback and rescued him.

Joanne tried all manner of her contacts in the US for help; but was getting no where.  Finally, she tried the “Wild Man” legislator in the US House of Representatives, Joe Wilson.  His district was in was East Texas.  He was considered, rather accurately, a boozer and a womanizer.  And he was no match for Joanne.

She conscripted him to actually go to Pakistan and meet the leaders of the Mujahideen.  They put him on horseback and took him all around and pleaded their cause.  Joanne succeeded.  Joe Wilson just became captivated by them and the just cause of their war against the Russian military.

If any of this seems familiar to you, then you have seen the recent Movie, “Charlie Wilson’s War”.   It is very historically accurate.  Julia Roberts had not made a movie in over 3 years, but she changed her hairdo to look like Joanne’s and played the part of Joanne in the movie.  I saw it a few years ago on a big 747 on a flight to Hong Kong.

Joanne and Julia Roberts

Joanne and Charlie Wilson both knew what it would take for the Mujahideen to win and drive the Russians out of Afghanistan.  They had to be able to shoot down those strafing fighter planes and particularly those fierce attack helicopters.   The one, optimum weapon that would do it was the shoulder-fired Stinger heat-seeking missile in the US arsenal. 

Charlie went on what could only be called a crusade to get them for the Mujahideen.  He had no luck with our State Department or our military.  No one wanted to let those “get out of our hands” for fear they may be used by terrorists to shoot down airliners.  Charlie then tried pressure from the US Congress. 

It is a “long story”, but he finally succeeded.   The CIA helped him get them to the Mujahideen. 

Afghan Mujahideen shooting a Stinger Missile at a Russian Helicopter

When that first big, mean Russian helicopter was zooming straight in, firing rockets and 30 calibers attacking the Mujahideen, one of them bravely stood there out in the open.  That little rocket whooshed off his shoulder, headed straight for the front of that mean Russian helicopter.  It exploded and went down in flames, and as they say in East Texas:  “Those Russians just couldn’t stood that!!!”  As it got worse and worse for them, the Russians did leave Afghanistan for good.

And it really happened, just like in the last scene in the movie, the CIA gave Charlie Wilson one of those Stingers’ to hang on the wall above his desk in Washington, DC.  It was a commemorative, victory moment.

Stinger for Charlie Wilson

The last time I was with Joanne was years later in Houston at one of those Here’s Life meetings hosted by Bunker Hunt to raise big money for evangelism and to fund showing the Jesus Film in parts of Africa and India.  I sat between Joanne and her “tough” father at the first night’s dinner and program.   Last thing on the program was Dr. Bill Bright.  His staff only wanted him to make a sincere appeal for money.

I hosted a luncheon for Campus Crusade in Dallas where I had invited a bunch of Dallas businessmen.  Dr. Bright was the speaker, and his staff only wanted him to make a similar appeal for funds.  Not Dr. Bright.  If he was going to speak, he was going to present the Plan of Salvation and invite people to find the real God for their life.  In spite of his staff, he did, and asked all of the businessmen to leave one of their business cards on the table when they left, and to put a check mark on the card if they had “prayed that prayer”.

When we got back to my office, I was amazed at all the cards that had been checked.  And Dr. Bright exclaimed to his staff:  “See there; see those checked cards.  That’s my thing……..That’s what I do……That is what I live for!!!”

In Houston that night, he did the same thing; like only Bill Bright can present the Plan of Salvation.  And so help me, right there beside me, Joanne prayed to accept the Lord and ask Jesus into her heart.

In that movie, “Joe Wilson’s War”, in typical Hollywood fashion, they have Joanne “sleeping around”.  But let me tell you…….that was the Joanne before she became a real Christian!!!

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