John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks at the Coliseum in Houston at a Dinner Honoring Representative Albert Thomas

November 21, 1963

Congressman and Mrs. Thomas, Mr. Vice President, Governor Connally, Senator Yarborough, Congressman Casey and the congressional delegation of Texas, ladies and gentlemen:

When I came to the House of Representatives in 1947 as a fairly young Congressman from Massachusetts, I heard the old saying that you spend the first 6 months in the House of Representatives wondering how you got there, and the next 6 months wondering how everybody else got there!

I spent the first 6 months as expected, but I must say that I never wondered how Congressman Thomas got there. It has always been clear to me. When I read the report that Congressman Thomas was thinking of resigning, I called him up on the phone and asked him to stay as long as I stayed. I didn't know how long that would be, but I wanted him to stay because I thought that he not only represented this district with distinction, but also he served the United States.

The Presidency has been called a good many names, and Presidents have been also, but no President can do anything without the help of friends. And I must say in the 3 years that I have been in this office, the 3 years really since I was here in Houston that night in this hall, I don't know anyone who has been a greater help in trying to get the job done, not just for Houston and not just for Texas, but for the entire United States, than Albert Thomas, and I am glad to be with his friends here tonight. He may not be so well known outside of this district in Texas and Washington, but I can tell you that when he rises to speak in the House of Representatives they listen, so do some Senators, and so do we down at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

He has one of the longest records of seniority in the Senate, in the House one of the shortest biographies. He has been consistently loyal to his party, but he has always stayed above partisan rancor. His record serves his constituents, but it serves the United States. He has helped steer this country to its present eminence in space next month when the United States of America fires the largest booster in the history of the world into space for the first time, giving us the lead, fires the largest payroll--payload--into space giving us the lead. It will be the largest payroll, too! And who should know that better than Houston. We put a little of it right in here.

But in any case, the United States next month will have a leadership in space which it wouldn't have without Albert Thomas. And so will this city. He has been a stickier for efficiency in Government, but he has also been for progress and growth.

He is 65 years of age this month, but has a young man's interest in the future and a young man's hope for his country, for he has lived with change and he has sought to channel its force instead of combating it. He understands, as any Texan does, the meaning and importance of growth, for he has served one of the fastest growing countries and States and cities in the Nation. And those who oppose progress should look at Houston and look at Texas.

When he went to the United States Congress in 1936, some 27 years ago this month, this city had less than 200,000 people. But Albert Thomas had a vision of a modern Houston, which now has a million people and is growing stronger every day. He was not satisfied, nor the people of this city, with a channel which carried less than 30 million tons a year. He foresaw that this city, despite the fact that it is located 50 miles from the sea--and I come from a city that is on the sea--yet this city today ships second to the city of New York around the world. And that is in part because of Albert Thomas. And he and you were not content with an airport serving a handful of passengers and an industry of less than 300 planes, carrying passengers of less than a half billion revenue miles. He foresaw that that industry would provide six times as many planes, employ 19 times as many people, and serve more than 33 billion passenger miles a year. Here in Houston the number of passengers who go through your great International Airport have quadrupled in the last 15 years. This city has looked forward with hope and commitment, and those who say "No" in Houston, or in Texas, or in the United States are on the wrong side in 1963.

Finally, when Congressman Thomas went to the House of Representatives in 1936 he did not confine his sight to a Texas of less than 6 million people, a Texas doing less than $500 million in manufacturing, a Texas in which 37 percent of its population lived on the farm. By 1963, that population had dropped to 7 percent, the population of this State exceeds 10 million, the value of your manufacturing has climbed to $6 billion, and Texas today is one of the 10 most highly industrialized States in the Union.

Many of the products and employers of this city and State were wholly unknown when Albert Thomas went to the House-electronic machinery, sophisticated instruments, and preparations for the exploration of space. But those are the industries which helped this State reach its highest peak of prosperity in 1962, except for one year-1963. In Texas and the Nation, change has been the law of life. Growth has meant new opportunities for this State. Progress has meant new achievements. And men such as Albert Thomas, who recognize the value of growth and progress, have enabled this city and this State to rise with the tides of change instead of being swept aside and left behind.

There were in 1936, as there are today, those who are opposed to growth and change, who prefer to defy them, who look back instead of forward. But Albert Thomas and those who work with him did not heed that view in the mid-thirties, and this city, this State, and this country are glad that they did not. And we dare not look back now, if 27 years from now, in the year 1990 a new generation of Americans is to say that we, too, looked forward.

In 1990, for example, this Nation will need three times as much electric power as it has today, four times as much water. And that is why we are developing the Canadian River and the San Angelo, and the Columbus Bend, and other Texas river projects, and seeking at Freeport to find an economical way to get fresh water from salt, and building anti-pollution plants throughout this State and Nation, in a new and expanded program. In 1990 the need for national and State parks and recreation areas will triple, reaching a total very nearly the size of Indiana. That is why we are creating Padre Island Seashore, and added the Anahuac Wildlife Refuge.

In 1990 your sons, daughters, grandsons, and grandchildren will be applying to the colleges of this State in a number three times what they do today. Our airports will serve five times as many passenger miles. We will need housing for a hundred million more people, and many times more doctors and engineers and technicians than we are presently producing. That is why we are trying to do more in these areas, as in the thirties. Albert Thomas and Franklin Roosevelt and others did those things which make it possible for not only Texas but the entire United States to prosper and grow, as we do in the 1960's.

In 1990 the age of space will be entering its second phase, and our hopes in it to preserve the peace, to make sure that in this great new sea, as on earth, the United States is second to none. And that is why I salute Albert Thomas and those Texans whom you sent to Washington in his time and since then, who recognize the needs and the trends today in the sixties so that when some meet here in 1990 they will look back on what we did and say that we made the right and wise decisions. "Your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions," the Bible tells us, and "where there is no vision, the people perish."

Albert Thomas is old enough to dream dreams, and young enough to see visions. He sees an America of the future, in the lifetime of us all, with 300 million people living in this country with a $2 trillion economy which will happen in this century. Even more important, he sees an America, as do we all, strong in science and in space, in health and in learning, in the respect of its neighbors and all nations--an America that is both powerful and peaceful, with a people that are both prosperous and just. With that vision we shall not perish, and we cannot fail.

Behind the Speaker's desk in the House of Representatives there are words from a great speech by a great citizen of my State, Senator Daniel Webster. It says, "Let us develop the resources of our land, call forth its industry, develop its resources, and see whether we also in our time and generation may not perform something worthy to be remembered."

Albert Thomas didn't need to read those words. He has performed something worthy to be remembered.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at the Coliseum in Houston, Tex. His opening words referred to Representative and Mrs. Albert Thomas of Texas, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, and to Governor John B. Connally, Senator Ralph W. Yarborough, and Representative Bob Casey, all of Texas.

John F. Kennedy, Remarks at the Coliseum in Houston at a Dinner Honoring Representative Albert Thomas Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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