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Friends recall Marcus's generosity of spirit

By Suzanne Sprague, KERA 90.1 reporter

Dallas, TX – Suzanne Sprague, Reporter: In a city known for its conservative politics, many friends and admirers of Stanley Marcus looked up to him as an unabashed liberal voice.

Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX): He opened employment to African Americans and he opened doors for service to African-Americans when other stores were not doing that.

Sprague: Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson.

Johnson: I can remember when I first came to Dallas, I was unable to try on clothing of my choice at [indistinguishable], at then-Sanger's, and Titche's but you could do it at Neiman Marcus.

Sprague: Johnson doesn't remember when she first met Marcus, but she does remember the role he played in 1972 to launch her political career. At the time, she was considering a run for public office. But she would have had to quit her federal government job, a formidable obstacle since she was recently divorced with a child to support. That's when Stanley Marcus stepped in.

Johnson: And I got a call from him, his office one day, saying that he'd like me to come down for an interview because he wanted to see if there was an opportunity he could offer me at Neiman Marcus. I went down for the interview and he said I want to give you a job so that you can run for office. So that's exactly what happened. I started to work at Neiman Marcus on February 14, 1972.

Sprague: Later that year, Johnson was elected to the Texas House of Representatives, the first black woman from Dallas to hold public office. But being a liberal Democrat did cost Stanley Marcus customers, as commentator Lee Cullum, a longtime friend of the Marcus family, remembers.

Lee Cullum: People would call in a rage and say I'm not going to shop with you anymore. And, he sometimes would go and call on these people and say this is my view and I certainly respect yours and I do hope you'll come back to the store. Often as not they would, this was such a dazzling courteous thing to do that they would return.

Sprague: Marcus also championed issues that today might seem innocuous. But during the turbulent 1950s and 60s, were nearly scandalous.

Cullum: Well, Dallas was a very conservative city. At the Museum, for example, they were trying to have a show with Picasso in it and this was considered a terrible thing because Picasso was considered a communist and I think that Stanley Marcus and his sister-in-law all stood up for the right of Dallas people to see Picasso, one of the major painters of the 20th century.

Sprague: Lee Cullum says every city needs a balance between liberal and conservative leaders and she isn't sure who will fill the void left by the death of Stanley Marcus. But she hopes the city finds a way to commemorate his contributions.

Cullum: I was thinking this morning, something important must be named for Stanley Marcus and I?m sure it will be?We're trying to build an opera house. We're trying to build a theater and there will be a third building eventually for other arts groups. One of those should be named for Stanley Marcus.

Sprague: Today at 2 PM, the Meyerson Symphony Center will host a public memorial service for Stanley Marcus. The Dallas Symphony is scheduled to perform, along with renowned cabaret singer Bobby Short. The downtown Neiman Marcus store will close in the afternoon so its employees can attend the service. For KERA 90.1, I'm Suzanne Sprague.