American government is founded on the idea of ordinary men serving others. Bob Bobbitt served as a judge, legislator and state attorney general. He spent a life dedicated to quiet public service. He took opportunities when he found them, but ultimately, he was, as he told many friends and family, an ordinary man looking to be useful.
He was born Robert Lee Bobbitt in January 1888 on a cotton farm near Hillsboro, just north of Waco. His father was a pioneer in the Hill County area, arriving after several moves west from what is now West Virginia to Missouri and eventually into Texas. He grew up on the farm and watched it steadily increase in size and wealth.
As was expected of children growing up on farms, he spent his childhood working the fields. His days were mostly long hours day in boiling heat or freezing cold tending to crops and animals or whatever else was needed, which was the experience of many children of that time. Bobbitt’s father hired many people to work the farm over time, but he was still expected to work as hard as any of his father’s employees.
As a young man, he enrolled at Carlisle Military Academy in Arlington, which is now the University of Texas at Arlington. He then transferred to North Texas State Normal College in Denton (which is now the University of North Texas). Though his family was one of some means, he worked his way through college taking a serious of odd jobs. He graduated from North Texas State in 1911. He then attended the University of Texas Law School in Austin, where he earned his law degree in 1915.
Bobbitt married in 1918. The couple later had one son who himself became an attorney. He served briefly in the army during World War I and was honorably discharged in 1919. After his service, he settled in Laredo where he became a partner in a prominent local firm. Bobbitt quickly became active in the Laredo community, organizing civic organizations and getting involved in politics.
In 1922, Bobbitt was elected to the first of three terms in the state legislature. During his time there, the state was still reeling from the fallout from the impeachment of Gov. James E. “Pa” Ferguson in 1917 over kickbacks and mismanagement of state funds. The sordid mess surrounding Ferguson deeply offended Bobbitt’s sense of integrity. He led the fight to prevent Ferguson from regaining his ability to again run for political office, though he lost the fight in 1925.
Bobbitt was a respected figure among fellow legislators. He rose to become Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Fellow legislators honored him by electing him the 48th Speaker of the Texas House for the 1927-28 term. Customarily, speakers served only one term at a time in the Texas House, a tradition largely observed until the 1950s.
In 1928, he was elected district attorney for a four-county district in South Texas. He did not serve long in the position. In 1929, Attorney General Claude Pollard resigned to take a corporate position, and Gov. Dan Moody tapped Bobbitt to become interim attorney general. He ran for a full term in 1930, losing to Jimmy Allred in the Democratic Primary. Though disappointed by the loss, Bobbitt was not the kind of man to hold a grudge for long. He supported Allred in the fall election and in his later run for governor.
Bobbitt did not stay out of the public eye for long. He was soon elected as an appeals judge, moving to San Antonio once elected. In 1937, Gov. Allred appointed Bobbitt as chairman of the Texas Highway Commission. Over the next six years, Bobbitt worked to expand the state’s network of highways and modernize as many as possible.
After 1943, he spent most of the remaining years of his life as an attorney in San Antonio, taking an interest in education as a trustee for Texas A&M University at Kingsville and later for the University of North Texas. He rose high in the ranks of Texas politics and emerged scandal-free.
In 1971, his beloved wife of 53 years died in San Antonio. Bobbitt’s health declined quickly after that. He died in August 1972 at the age of 84.
Ken Bridges is a Texas native, writer and history professor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org