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I can’t remember the last time I was absent on Election Day in San Antonio, but my family will miss today’s June 10 runoff to spend the weekend in Brownsville and across the border in Matamoros to celebrate the high school graduation of Philip True Jr.
Our team here has a good system for covering the elections, with one or more editors and writers based in our downtown news offices and reporters and photographers deployed at the headquarters of candidates feeding the results and reaction as the votes get counted. I always enjoy the adrenaline rush of writing election night stories on deadline, but Iris Dimmick will handle it in my place.
Saturday will be another reminder, not that I need one, that no one is irreplaceable. I can only hope my cell phone signal is strong across the border so I can follow the returns. Deciding to head south and miss an election was not a hard decision.
The great golfer Phil Mickelson, 46, has never won the U.S. Open, the only major title to elude him, and his record six second-place finishes make that missing trophy and career grand slam even harder to live without attaining. For a pro golfer his age, time is running out. Yet Michelson announced without regret this week his decision to skip the tournament next week so he can attend his daughter’s high school graduation, where she will deliver the commencement speech.
“It wasn’t a hard decision,” Mickelson told reporters.
I feel the same way, as much as I love the democratic process of choosing our leaders by popular vote. I only have one godson. Philip True Jr. will only graduate from high school once, and I wouldn’t want to miss a moment of the celebration. I will get to toast him and Martha, his mother, in two languages.
If you were living in San Antonio in 1998, you probably remember the story of his father, the Philip True story. True was the San Antonio Express-News‘ reporter living and working in Mexico. An avid back-country hiker, he disappeared on a 10-day solo trek through the Sierra Madre in Huichol Indian territory. I was in my second year as editor of the Express-News, and given my own background as a reporter who lived and worked in various countries south of the border in the 1980s, I went down to join the search for True.
The search ended badly. A small group that included me, an Express-News reporter, Susana Hayward, and one of True’s best friends, Fred Chase, accompanied Mexican army soldiers into the wilds of the Sierra Huichol, where we came across True’s hidden grave. Within days his two killers, two Huichol brothers-in-law, were caught with his belongings and confessed to the killing. True was an unwanted outsider traveling through their lands without a Huichol guide or permission from local Huichol authorities.
I wrote Trail of Feathers, a book that reconstructed True’s fateful sojourn into the wild and chronicled the years afterward that we spent chasing True’s killers through Mexico’s corrupt justice system. We finally won a 20-year homicide conviction six years after his killing, but it was a hollow victory. A corrupt judge had let the two men out of prison beforehand and they fled back into the mountains. Before they disappeared, the two men admitted to their stunned supporters and defenders that they, indeed, had killed True.
The Mexican government has never taken serious steps to apprehend them, and in a country where justice can be bought but is seldom served, our hopes have dimmed with time.
Philip’s wife, Martha, was pregnant with their first child when she lost her husband and after the discovery of her missing husband’s remains she went into labor prematurely, giving birth to Philip Jr., who weighed about one kilo, just over two pounds.
That baby that fought for weeks to survive and breathe on his own is my 18-year-old godson today, a beautiful boy who has has not let autism, his physical limitations, or life without a father stop him. He played the bass drum in the Hanna High School Marching Band that made it to the UIL State marching contest at the Alamodome in 2014 and 2016. Our two families have traveled together to New York, attended a Spurs game, and shared some memorable meals prepared by chefs who are familiar names on the Food Network.
Martha, who was running a family planning clinic in Matamoros in the 1990s when she first met Philip, went back to school after the events in Mexico and became a special education teacher in Brownsville’s public schools.
She’s done a great job raising her son, and the two are as close as you can imagine. Philip plans on enrolling at Texas Southmost College and studying to become a radiology technician.
Hearst, the owner of the Express-News, and the newspaper itself helped establish an education trust to take care of Philip Jr. The proceeds from my book added to that trust, and more than a few generous readers added their own contributions. We’ve been able to provide for Philip all along the way. That will continue.
The Philip True story is a story with a happy ending, or a happy continuation. Tragedy could have defined life for Martha and her only child, but that’s not what happened. Philip has his “Daddy in heaven” and he has a wonderful “Daddy on earth,” a physician and teacher named Antonio Serrano whose wife, Juanita, is Martha’s best friend and kept vigil with her in Mexico City throughout those dark days 19 years ago.
The Trues and Serranos and many other members of the extended family network will come together this weekend to celebrate Philip’s rite of passage into adulthood. It’s the end of one chapter and the start of another in a story that has been an important part of my own family’s story for nearly two decades now.
Skipping the runoff election wasn’t a hard decision.