CHRISTIAN, JO ANNE MARTIN (1936 ~ 2015). The following is an obituary for Jo Anne Christian, longtime advocate for the arts in Austin and spouse of George Christian.
Jo Anne Christian, a leading advocate for the arts in Austin for decades, died on November 12, 2015 at the age of 79. She was one of the founders of the Austin Opera in 1986, and one of the "Three J's" (together with Jane Sibley and Jare Smith) who catalyzed the creation of the Long Center for the Performing Arts, which opened in 2008 after a fifteen-year campaign.
Jo Anne Martin was born in Wichita Falls on June 12, 1936, the first child of Hobart and Pauline (Goolsby) Martin. Her earliest years were spent in Wichita Falls and Phoenix, AZ, but Fort Worth was her true hometown. Her formative education took place at Our Lady of Victory Academy in Fort Worth; she graduated as salutatorian in 1953. There she developed a love for debate that made her dream of law school. Realistic about the limited opportunities for women in the 1950s, she mastered typing and shorthand alongside her academic subjects. In the Protestant minority at the school, she remembered spirited discussions about religion with the nuns who taught her. After OLV, she enrolled at Texas Christian University, graduating in 1957 with a major in history. She went to work as a secretary at the Service Life Insurance Company in Fort Worth.
Jo Anne's hero was her maternal grandfather, John Goolsby, an orphan from Tennessee who moved to Fort Worth and founded an electrical contracting business when electrification was new. He encouraged her to pursue her law school dream. She was accepted at the University of Texas Law School and moved to Austin. She graduated in May 1962 (one of only six women in a senior class of 250), and passed the bar exam that summer. Job opportunities for women law graduates were thin on the ground, but Jo Anne forged her own path. She worked for the Texas Employment Commission before becoming a briefing attorney for two terms at the Texas Supreme Court, first for Justice Zollie Steakley and then Justice Jack Pope; she looked back on clerking for the justices as her favorite legal job, because it involved "pure law." Her varied career also included positions as a staff attorney for the Texas Secretary of State, as Assistant General Counsel at the United States Information Agency in Washington, D.C., as an associate at the Law Office of Robert Duke in Austin, and as a litigator at the Austin offices of Stubbeman, McRae, Sealy, Laughlin & Browder. She was proud to be a lawyer and kept her license active until the end.
When she moved to Austin for law school, Jo Anne took a part-time job as a secretary in the Governor's office at the Capitol. There she met the Governor's Executive Assistant, George Christian, a widower with two young daughters. They were married in Fort Worth on June 20, 1959. He encouraged her to stay in law school, and her eldest son was born mid-way through. Her husband, after serving two Texas governors, was President Lyndon Johnson's last press secretary, and then a political and media relations consultant in Austin until his death in 2002.
Jo Anne developed an interest in the arts at an early age, studying voice, piano, theater and dance. Musical talent ran in her family; her mother was an accomplished jazz pianist who regularly performed on Fort Worth radio in the early 1930s, and later ran dance programs for the Fort Worth Recreation Department. Jo Anne was active in the Women's Symphony League and other local arts organizations for many years, but her lasting contributions to the Austin arts scene involved the Austin Lyric Opera (now Austin Opera) and the Long Center.
In the mid 1980s, Jo Anne joined a group of Austin arts advocates, including Gay Ratliff, Alfred and Ellen King, Walter DuCloux, and others, in organizing an opera company for Austin. The Austin Lyric Opera was officially founded in 1986 and had its inaugural performance at Bass Concert Hall in January 1987. Holding various offices over the years, she helped steer the opera through many financial challenges.
By the early 1990s, it was clear that Austin needed a performing arts center that was independent of the University of Texas, which had been hosting the symphony, ballet and opera at Bass Concert Hall. Jo Anne, as president of the opera, joined with the presidents of the symphony and ballet, Jane Sibley and Jare Smith, in a daunting project that came to fruition in 2008 with the opening of the Long Center for the Performing Arts. They had spent years knocking on the doors of local philanthropists and officials, tirelessly promoting the idea that the old Palmer Auditorium could be converted into the world-class performing arts center that it is today, and achieved their goal entirely with private funding.
Jo Anne's arts activism forms only part of the story of her love for the Austin community. A committed and passionate advocate for liberal arts education, she volunteered her time and treasure to the University of Texas. In 1982 the UT Board of Regents established the Jo Anne Christian Centennial Professorship in British Studies, honoring Jo Anne's love of all things British. In the last weeks of her life, she helped establish the Jo Anne Martin Christian Excellence Fund in English to foster the study and teaching of British and Anglophone literature. An active volunteer and lifelong learner, Jo Anne was a founding member and benefactor of the internationally revered British Studies seminar and served on the board of the Harry Ransom Center. She was also a loyal member of the UT Ex-Students' Association. Other special loves were the St. David's Foundation, of which she was still a board member at the time of her death, and All Saints' Episcopal Church.
Jo Anne was predeceased by her siblings, John Martin, Hobart Martin, and Mary Lynne Penry, and her husband George Christian. She leaves behind daughters Elizabeth Christian (Bruce Todd) and Susan Goulding (Mike), and sons George Scott Christian (Betsy), Robert Bruce Christian, John Christian (Adina), and Brian Johnson Christian (Erin Barrett), grandchildren Alex Rose, Erin Goulding, Matthew Goulding, Leah Christian, Sarah Brothers (Charles), Kathryn Christian, George Christian, Adam Christian, Regan Christian, Jeremy Todd, Amelia Lopez (Johnny) and James Whittemore (Jillian), and great grandchildren Selah Mae Lopez, Georgia Whittemore and Dean Whittemore .
The family would like to express its profound gratitude to the staff of Nurses Unlimited, Hospice Austin, and Christopher House for their compassionate, supportive, and loving care.
Services will be held on Saturday, November 21 at 2 p.m. at All Saints' Episcopal Church, 209 West 27th Street, Austin, Texas, 78705. A committal service will be held immediately following at the Texas State Cemetery, 909 Navasota Street, Austin, Texas, 78702.
For those who wish to make a charitable contribution in Jo Anne's memory, please consider the following or a charity of your choice: The Jo Anne Martin Christian Excellence Fund in English, College of Liberal Arts, University of Texas at Austin, 116 Inner Campus Drive, G-6300, Austin, Texas 78712; The Long Center for the Performing Arts, 701 West Riverside Drive, Austin, Texas 78704; The Austin Lyric Opera, 3009 Industrial Terrace #100, Austin, Texas 78758; and All Saints' Episcopal Church, 209 West 27th Street, Austin, Texas 78705.