Annette Greenfield was born in Houston, Texas, on January 26, 1924, the only child of Edith and Jacob Greenfield. She credited her father for instilling in her at an early age a strong sense of civic responsibility and commitment to public service. A stern disciplinarian and generous philanthropist, Jacob Greenfield inculcated in his only child a tremendous sense of responsibility to serve the country that had been so good to them.
He was her biggest influence; she recalls that her father liked to say, "What I have is what I've given away." Annette Greenfield grew up during the Depression. By age six, she was already raising money from her front porch by playing Ginger Rogers.
In high school and college, she concentrated on public speaking and was the first female to win two consecutive state speech championships. The benefits of this early introduction to a stage are readily apparent in her powerful public presence and in what Strauss characterizes as an ability "to think on my feet"
EDUCATION AND FAMILY
A member of Phi Beta Kappa, a table tennis champion, and a Bluebonnet Belle while a student at The University of Texas, Annette graduated in 1944 with a bachelor's degree from the College of Liberal Arts. It was at this time that her student involvements increased dramatically, and she met her future husband, Theodore "Ted" Strauss. After graduation, she moved to New York where in only a half year's time she received master's degrees in sociology and psychology with honors from Columbia University. She then returned to Houston as a Red Cross social worker where, after working for a year, she married Ted Strauss on September 8, 1946. They moved to Dallas in January 1947 where they raised their two daughters, Nancy and Jane.
Strauss immersed herself in volunteer work in the Dallas community, serving on the boards of countless educational, arts, healthcare, and social services organizations. Her efforts at fundraising in the mid-sixties made her known as the only alternative at that time for what one article refers to as "driven Dallas women." At first she worked on behalf of the Dallas Symphony, then for the Crystal Charity Ball, Southern Methodist University, the United Way, United Jewish Appeal, the Dallas Black Dance Theatre, Baylor University Medical Center, and dozens of other groups. By the early seventies, Mrs. Strauss' volunteer work was in full swing. She chaired almost every major ball in Dallas, won almost every community service award, and raised millions of dollars for the arts. She was the person to call if any help was needed with or underwriting for an event or ball. She also moved into more public ventures, including the Motion Picture Classification Board, Planned Parenthood, Dallas Municipal Library Board, and the Dallas Parks and Recreation Board. Her fundraising included soliciting major gifts from corporations. Having become so well recognized for her efforts eventually led her to accept a three-day-a-week position with the public relations firm of Glenn, Bozell & Jacobs, where she was soon named vice president of public affairs. She used her power on behalf of her charity projects by agreeing to handle the opening of a hotel or office tower if the money raised went to her favorite causes. She estimated that she raised more than $9 million for various groups.
It was only natural that Mrs. Strauss should seek a seat in the political arena after all her years of successful networking in both business and fundraising. Phenomenal growth challenged the leadership of the older downtown Dallas establishment. There were new people in town, new money, and an emerging pro-neighborhood and special interest coalition embodied by inner-city organizations such as the Dallas Homeowners League, the Progressive Voters League, and the Gay Political Caucus. In 1983, she ran for and won an at-large seat in a more tolerant Dallas City Council. She became deputy mayor pro tern and then mayor pro tern in 1984. In 1987, with a campaign promise to be mayor for all the people, summed up by her 42 years work for the city, Dallas' old guard awoke to a new mayor who was Jewish, a woman, and a Democrat with 56 per cent of the vote. Strauss was known for her ability to build consensus across economic and political strata. Dallas Morning News columnist Henry Tatum noted that, Mrs. Strauss would persuade some of the more recalcitrant business leaders during the '80s by putting a soft hand on their sleeve and gently imploring, "Now, honey, do it for Dallas."
A CONTINUED CIVIC CALLING
Annette Strauss left her mayoral duties behind in 1991 and then worked as a public relations consultant for Levenson, Levenson & Hill of Irving. Subsequently, she was appointed Ambassador-at-Large for the city of Dallas, a position she held until her death on December 14, 1998. She served as a trustee for a number of foundations including Children's Medical Center Foundation, Dallas Methodist Hospitals Foundation, St. Paul Hospital Foundation, Timberlawn Foundation, and Texas Historical Foundation. After her mayoral term, Strauss continued her high profile campaigns for the numerous national, state, and local causes and community services that always held her attention in addition to those she engaged while mayor. In 1996, Family Gateway, the shelter for homeless families that she helped found in 1986, honored Mrs. Strauss with the first Annette G. Strauss Humanitarian Award, which will be presented annually in recognition of "super-volunteers." Mrs. Strauss was honorary chairwoman of "A Way Back Home," a 1997 Dallas symposium to discuss ongoing issues of the homeless. And in March 1997, the Annette Strauss Dallas International Series was established at the Southern Methodist University Tower Center for Political Studies. The recipient of numerous awards, Strauss also co-chaired President George Bush's Commission on America's Urban Families and received honorary doctorates from Northwood University, the University of North Texas, and Southern Methodist University. She was inducted into the Texas Women's Hall of Fame and was a recipient of UT's distinguished Alumnus Award (1992).
"I really care and I think I can make a difference."
– Annette Greenfield Strauss
Founded in 2000, The Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life at The University of Texas honors this remarkable public servant, philanthropist, and humanitarian.