In 1983 the School of Continuing Studies launched Waltzing Across Texas, a three-day Texas tour led by Ray Miller and Dr. John Coffman. The program, sponsored by Republic Bank, was inspired by the success of Living Texas and was essentially a mobile version of the lecture series. Participants would meet early Friday morning in a Rice parking lot to board a bus that would stop at places where Texas history was made. The course cost included hotel accommodation, bus transportation, instruction, light refreshment, three lunches and admission into historic sites.
Also known as “Mr. Texas,” Ray Miller was the host and creator of the television series “The Eyes of Texas” that ran on Houston’s KPRC from 1969 to 1999. He was also a renowned author and radio personality. Dr. John Coffman was a Texas geographer, author and professor at the University of Houston. With their powers combined they covered the history of Texas landmarks from local idiosyncrasies to the geographical factors that affected cultural development. Stops included the Governor’s Mansion, Spanish missions, Native American reservations, the first German settlement, of course the Alamo, plantations and the first Polish settlement.
The trips were hugely successful and continued for three years. The charismatic hosts provided the perfect combination of factual history and anecdotal myths that can make Texas history so alluring. The opportunity for on-site lectures was also very appealing. As a 1985 article in Houston Magazine said, “Ernest Tubb may have sung “Waltz across Texas,” but the Republic Bank and Rice University’s Office of Continuing Studies are actually doing it…”
Comments from Dean Mary McIntire:
The woman seated with me is Jackie Greer, longtime and well-loved business woman in Houston and, in the last several years of her career, an employee of Republic Bank and their person “on the ground” or, more accurately “on the bus” with the Waltz.
The itinerary is from the first year we “waltzed.” It was not only my first coach tour, but my first time leading a coach tour–quite a challenge without email, mobile phones, or texting. We were behind schedule constantly! I never realized how long it would take two bus-loads of folks to use a tiny restroom in the country cafe where we had lunch the first day. By the time we got to College Station that first night, a couple of hours late, we were all pretty tired. The travelers were a great group, though–they didn’t complain and enjoyed the unique opportunity to learn first-hand from two great experts. We got better at judging timing with subsequent trips!
The following years we also waltzed over to west Louisiana and as far as west Texas. We even had one trip that I didn’t take to Mexico to see the Monarch butterflies.
John and Ray were the perfect combination. John had extensive knowledge of geography, geology, settlement patterns, and farming as they related to Texas history. Ray knew Texas history very well, too, and he also knew it “first hand,” in that he visited most of the places multiple times for his television show. He also knew so many people–for example, Mrs. Albert Thomas and the Harvin Moore family who invited us into their respective country homes and gave us personal tours. That would never had happened but for Ray.