Pro Bene Meritis 2012
The Pro Bene Meritis Award is the highest honor bestowed by the College of Liberal Arts. It is given each spring to alumni, faculty and friends of the college who are committed to the liberal arts, who have made outstanding contributions in professional or philanthropic pursuits, or who have participated in service related to the college.
Gillette is the executive director of Humanities Texas. Prior to that he spent four years as the director of the Center for Legislative Archives in the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C., with responsibility for the official records of the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives. He is author of “Launching the War on Poverty: An Oral History,” and his new book “Lady Bird Johnson: An Oral History” hits the shelves this November.
FULL NAME: Michael L. Gillette
B.A., Government ’68; Ph.D., History ’84
HOMETOWN: Baytown, where my father practiced law for forty years, but I have lived in Austin and the Washington, D.C. area throughout my adult life.
THE REST IS HISTORY: Although my undergraduate major was government, my history courses with Bud Lasby and Bob Divine inspired me to pursue a doctorate in American history. The opportunity to work with Joe Frantz [former University of Texas at Austin history professor and director of the Lyndon B. Johnson Oral History Project] and to use the resources of the LBJ Library also led me back. I never imagined, however, that I would inherit the LBJ Oral History Project from Joe.
ANOTHER DIMENSION: Oral history provides a “fly-on-the-wall” dimension to our study of the recent past. While memories are often selective and distorted, they can also be remarkably vivid and precise, revealing important aspects of personalities, motivations, tactics and challenges.
FAVORITE BOOK: My favorite book that uses oral history is T. Harry Williams’ splendid biography of Huey Long. Harry was another scholar who encouraged me to pursue a career in history.
DREAM JOB: I’ve loved each of the three jobs I’ve held during the past four decades, but if I were to wake up in another profession tomorrow, I suppose I’d want to be the fourth starter in the New York Yankees’ pitching rotation.