Former presidential advisers’ integrity helped her come out
AUSTIN Lesbian columnist Ann Rostow doubts her famous father and mother ever suspected she would someday credit them with giving her the courage to openly express her sexual orientation.
“I think that despite themselves they always raised me and brought me up to feel as if I could do anything integrity was more important than what expectations were in general society,” said Rostow this week as she reflected on the life of her mother, Elspeth Rostow, 90, a former presidential adviser and University of Texas at Austin dean.
Elspeth Rostow died at her Austin home of a heart attack on Dec. 9.
“I don’t think at the time they thought about giving me the courage to be openly gay, but they did,” Ann Rostow said.
Elspeth Rostow was preceded in death in 2003 by her equally famous husband, Walt Whitman Rostow, then 86, a former presidential adviser who served in the administrations of Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. After the Johnson administration ended in 1969, the Rostows moved to Austin where they joined the faculty of the University of Texas.
The couple was married for more than 50 years. In Austin, he taught economics and wrote several books. She served as a dean of LBJ School of Public Affairs from 1977 to 1983.
In good health until her sudden death, Elspeth Rostow had taught courses this semester on the American presidency and U.S. foreign policy and was planning to teach again in the spring, her daughter said.
Appointed by President Ronald Reagan, Elspeth Rostow served as a member of the President’s Advisory Committee for Trade Negotiations and the President’s Commission for a National Agenda for the Eighties.
When asked if her mother had switched to the Republican Party during the Reagan years, Ann Rostow said, “Bite your tongue.”
“That was just because Reagan needed a good Democratic woman to put on something,” Ann Rostow said. “My parents were solid Democrats.”
Ann Rostow, who freelances for the Dallas Voice and other LGBT publications across the country, said her mother eventually came to accept her sexual orientation, but that it “took a long time for her to make progress.” They had become particularly close during the past five years since her father’s death, she said.
“I would not call her a big PFLAG mom, but she did kind of get to the point of grudgingly saying, “‘Well, I guess civil unions are all right,’” Rostow said. “She was very gracious and grew over time to really love my friends and my former girlfriends. Like most lesbians, my girlfriends became lifelong friends, so once she got to know them she was stuck with them for the next 40 years.”
Ann Rostow, who formerly ran a financial newswire in France and set up a similar operation in New York before moving to Austin, said her mother always encouraged to reach further.
“My mother constantly thought if I was a journalist, I should be writing for the New York Times,” Ann Rostow said. “She thought if I was writing about law I should be a constitutional lawyer. She was always very proud of me, but there was always like one further step I should be doing.”
Ann Rostow, who has one brother, said her mother read her news analysis columns about LGBT legal issues that were published in the Dallas Voice. Ann Rostow formerly wrote about LGBT issues in Austin and Texas for the now defunct TXT and Texas Triangle magazines.
“I think she liked the way I wrote,” Ann Rostow said, adding she would continue to write about LGBT issues.
“When things settle down, I will pick up the pen again,” she said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 14, 2007