Elizabeth Blessing. Photo by Can Türkyilmaz

Elizabeth Blessing. Photo by Can Türkyilmaz

It’s difficult to have a conversation with self-proclaimed “blabbermouth” Elizabeth Blessing without wanting to delve into her past.

Who wouldn’t want to hear about the exploits of what this city was like back when she served on its city council in the 1960s? She was, after all, on the council when President John F. Kennedy was shot, and she vividly remembers the meeting before his arrival when the police chief told council members “they could not protect the president, even if they put a police officer with a gun on every building on the route.” That moment, and waiting for Kennedy at the Dallas Trade Center, only to hear the tragic news instead, are etched on her memory.

Blessing has many such stories that can transfix her listener, yet at 87 years old, she’d still rather focus on Dallas’ future and how it can be improved than on its past.

“We’ve got to think big,” Blessing says. “Dallas is the center of my universe. Big things are going to happen here.”

Many such “big things” have already happened to Blessing. It was Bill, her husband of 34 years, who one day came home from work and implored her to run for a Dallas City Council seat. She did, in 1959 — campaigning as an independent, she lost by only 115 votes. Two years later she was elected, and served two council terms from 1961-65.

She was the first to successfully push for open-door council coverage by the press. Before that, the luncheon meetings and any pre-discussion of the agenda were closed to members of the media.

“No longer could the Citizen’s Council or the Citizens Charter Association, the political arm representing banks and business connections, call the shots,” Blessing proudly recalls. “It was very gradual, but it sat well with the public.”

It sat well with the press, too, and being an independent, she says, some of them were among her closest friends. She jokes that at the Press Club, when people asked, “Who is that lady?” her media friends would respond: “That ain’t no lady — that’s Mrs. Blessing.”

Her accomplishments in those four years also include putting two West Dallas recreation centers into a bond program and championing a “walk to school” program that passed an ordinance requiring sidewalks, which at the time were non-existent around many schools, she says.

Though defeated, Blessing later became the first woman ever to enter the Dallas mayoral race. She was an inspiration to many women, but says her political efforts weren’t fueled by feminist causes. And, in fact, Blessing says her role as council member and advocate for change wasn’t always easy.

“It was a man’s world when I first served,” Blessing says. “I felt out of place a few times when the council was in session.”

She particularly remembers one incident when she suddenly was asked to resign her seat over a zoning case filed by her husband. Blessing says she talked her way out of that by setting the record straight, but she had to put on a brave face to get through it.

“I am a person who sheds a tear or two when I am happy and when I am sad. My prayer always was, ‘Dear Lord, don’t let me cry at a Council meeting,’” Blessing says. “That day after the meeting, I made it to the stairway and walked down to my car in the basement to my spot where Oswald was shot. I was crying.”

She considers herself lucky to have worked for strong women she admires such as Ela Hockaday and Ebby Halliday. Blessing spent 27 years working for Ebby Halliday Realtors, and at one point was the president of Ebby Halliday Commercial. More recently, however, she made the switch from commercial real estate to affordable housing as an active participant in the East Dallas Community Organization (EDCO). She’s no longer on the nonprofit’s payroll, but she still regularly volunteers. Providing affordable housing is a major cause of Blessing’s.

Currently, Blessing is focused on EDCO’s Mill Creek Crossing Community in Old East Dallas and a city initiative to address the creek’s flooding issues by opening it up from Mockingbird to Haskell and providing  parks and new housing. Blessing is excited about the prospect because it would improve the community’s ambience, but she also worries about gentrification and wants to make sure affordable housing is offered for low-income residents.

“My personal concern is: Can Dallas think big and develop on a smaller scale another Turtle Creek for Dallas?” she says.

When she’s not involved in such work, she spends time watching Mavericks games — she has never seen one in person, but watches them all on TV, she says.

“That coach [Avery Johnson] is a remarkable man,” Blessing says.

And though she might be more comfortable discussing basketball and the names of the various plants that adorn her home than telling the stories from her interesting history, rest assured that, through it all, Blessing has learned a thing or two. In her eyes, sometimes aided by glasses, is a well of wisdom and enthusiasm.

Her late husband, Bill, had big thoughts, but it’s probably safe to say that the day he told her to run for office — something many men of that era wouldn’t have dreamed of suggesting — it was because he saw that same glint.

Her longtime friend and admirer Judy Howard sums it up nicely:

“She doesn’t really like to dwell on her past, but you can’t let her get away with not mentioning it,” Howard says. “She’s always been about today and tomorrow. She’s always trying to figure out how to make the world a better place.”

Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Lakewood/East Dallas.