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If you like Robert Strauss's story, you might also like:
George H.W. Bush,
Jimmy Carter,
Mikhail Gorbachev,
George Mitchell,
Paul H. Nitze,
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Alan Simpson
and Andrew Young

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Robert Strauss
Robert Strauss
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Robert Strauss Interview (page: 3 / 7)

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  Robert Strauss

After you worked for LBJ's campaign, did you ever turn back? Did you ever think that you would want to get out of politics?

Robert Strauss: No, no. I liked it, and I was good at it, and I had friends involved.

I was in a law school class that had a number of successful politicians in it, one of whom was John Connally, who became Governor of Texas and was a very able fellow and one of the most attractive men I've ever known in public life. He and I developed a friendship -- not a close friendship then -- a casual friendship. He was a year or two older than me. He came from South Texas, a poor boy from there; I came from West Texas, a poor boy from there. But we kind of hit it off, and we never lost that friendship until the day he died. He was estranged from the Democratic Party. He quit it to switch to the Republican Party. The only argument we ever had was over that, and I thought it was a mistake and still do.

Growing up as a Jew in a small town in Texas, did you experience anti-Semitism?

Robert Strauss: No, I don't think so, and I probably wouldn't have recognized it.

When you're the only Jewish family in a little town, there's no reason for people to be anti-Semitic. There weren't enough of us, we didn't threaten anyone. My mother, again, had absolutely convinced me and my brother Ted that we were God's chosen people. I was sort of embarrassed by the fact that I was chosen by God and couldn't tell anybody about it. It was too embarrassing. But I used to walk around and feel kind of sorry for those poor bastards that weren't chosen by God as I was. How she got that done... We never had any religious training. We never belonged to a temple or a synagogue. We had absolutely no religious training.

I don't suppose there was a synagogue if you were the only Jewish family in town.

Robert Strauss: No, there wasn't. There wasn't one within 30 miles. I think eventually, they got a little one in Abilene, which is 40 miles away, but we didn't have anything to do with it. We would go over to Forth Worth, on the high holidays, and then I would go to one service occasionally with my mother. My father didn't even go to that. My mother felt her Judaism very, very much and wanted us to feel it, but she didn't worry about the fact that we didn't have it. I guess she thought we would acquire it. She gave me a feel for it, and it stood me in good stead. I think I had adequate balance. I ended up being President of the Reform Congregation -- one of the largest in the country -- in Dallas, Texas. I think it would have shocked a lot of people I met along the way growing up that I ended up head of a congregation. That wasn't because I contributed much to religious study or Judaism. They needed someone as head of the congregation who people had confidence in, and who had some leadership qualities. For what it was worth, that's what I did. I'm not sure they made a good choice, but I spent a year or two as president of that congregation. I didn't go to the services, I might add, which was sort of embarrassing with the rabbi.

How did you come to join the FBI?

Robert Strauss: I got out of law school, and there was a looming world war, and people were looking for things to do that were better than being a private in the army, and I was in that group. A fellow named Maurice Acers, who was an important executive at the FBI, was recruiting agents just about the time I was graduating from law school. He came to Austin and said he was going to recommend I think it was two people out of our class, and I guess about a third of us or maybe more went in for interviews, and lo and behold, even though my grades were poor, I was the one he selected. And I don't know why, it was not on my grades. I do know why. It's because in the interview, I did better than I guess most of the others. And I don't know why that happened, except those same strengths I was talking about came into play. I can still remember the question he asked me: "What one thing would be most significant, do you think, of importance to you in your life as you move through life?" And I remember thinking a second and saying, "I think I'd like to feel when I get old..." -- and I was thinking it would be maybe 60, 65 years old -- "...that I had made some kind of difference in a positive way in my life." And he said, "On what scale?" I said, "I don't think scale makes any difference. I'd like to think I contributed in a positive way to influencing somebody or influencing some idea." And I said, "I never thought of that before, so this answer may sound foolish," and he said, "On the contrary, it sounds very sensible." And he dropped it, and we went on, and later on when I was talking to him, he said, "Bob, I'll tell you exactly why. You answered this question the way you did, and it impressed me."

So again, that had nothing to do with my intellectual competence or incompetence as the case might be, but a good deal to do with my judgment and my ability to relate to situations and people. You just have to figure out what your strengths are and not worry about your weaknesses, and play to them and utilize them, and I have done that.

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This page last revised on Sep 28, 2010 11:13 EST
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