Life Isn’t Fair, But Government Must Be

Ann Richards? John F. Kennedy? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a new one-woman play titled “ANN” about Ann Richards who was the Governor of Texas in the 1990s. The theatrical presentation contains a memorable line about her philosophy of government. I am not sure if I remember it exactly, but the statement is similar to this:

Life isn’t fair, but government should be.

Did Ann Richards say this? When? When I searched I found some people claiming JFK said this.

Quote Investigator: Ann Richards was sworn in as governor of Texas on January 15, 1991, and she delivered a speech during the inauguration festivities that was reported on the next day in the San Antonio Express-News. The expression she spoke differed by one word from the phrase given in the query:[ref] 1991 January 16, San Antonio Express-News, “New governor vows return of government for the people” by Bruce Davidson, Page 1A, San Antonio, Texas. (NewsBank Access World News) [/ref]

Focusing on her campaign themes of “A New Texas” and giving the government back to the people, Richards said, “There is nothing more fundamentally important to me than the understanding that this administration exists to serve the taxpayers.”

“Life isn’t fair, but government must be,” she said.

Interestingly, the Houston Chronicle also reported on the inauguration festivities and presented a line spoken by Richards; however, the wording was slightly different. The word “absolutely” was included:[ref] 1991 January 16, Houston Chronicle, Section: A, “New governor greets the people – Richards, Bullock pledge a ‘New Texas’ by R.G. Ratcliffe and Clay Robison, Quote Page 1, Houston, Texas. (NewsBank Access World News) [/ref]

Richards, in summoning the slain president’s memory, said: “Years ago, John Kennedy said that ‘Life isn’t fair.’ Life is not fair, but government absolutely must be.”

QI has not heard an audio recording of the speech by Richards and does not know which transcript is accurate. It is also conceivable that Richards employed the saying more than once on inauguration day. If she did say it twice, perhaps both versions were accurate.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

The ambiguity in the statement by Richards about what John F. Kennedy said may have caused some confusion. In 1962 during a press conference Kennedy famously said:

Life is unfair.

Specifically, on March 21, 1962 Kennedy answered questions from the press, and a transcript was printed the next day in the New York Times. The saying was spoken during Kennedy’s remarks about war and military deployment. (A link to a YouTube video is given in the bibliography):[ref] 1962 March 22, New York Times, Transcript of the President’s News Conference on Foreign and Domestic Matters: Question Number 17, Quote Page 16, Column 7, New York. (ProQuest) [/ref] [ref] YouTube video, Video excerpt of press conference by John F. Kennedy on March 21, 1962, Uploaded by HelmerReenberg on Sep 24, 2012. (Accessed on April 16, 2013) link [/ref]

Now, secondly, there is always inequity in life. Some men are killed in a war, and some men are wounded, and some men never leave the country, and some men are stationed in the Antarctic and some are stationed in San Francisco.

It’s very hard in military or personal life to assure complete equality. Life is unfair.

In 1991 Ann Richards harkened back to the remarks of JFK when she became the governor of Texas as noted previously.

In April 2010 the actress and dramatist Holland Taylor was interviewed by National Public Radio about her project researching and creating a solo show about Ann Richards:[ref] 2010, April 5, National Public Radio NPR website, Show: Morning Edition, Holland Taylor: A Class Act’s Next Tough Dame by Susan Stamberg, (Accessed on April 16, 2013) link [/ref]

Taylor said what really drew her to the Texas progressive was her profound sense of fairness. The actress says her image of Richards is that of the sort of mom whose kids “put out their hands for a cookie, and they don’t even look because they know their piece is gonna be the same size.”

“That was her essence,” Taylor says. “She said, ‘I know that life isn’t fair. I know that. We all know that. But government should be.'”

In December 2010 the play was evaluated in the San Antonio Express-News, and the reviewer noted that a version of the quotation was used by Taylor who was playing the character of Ann Richards:[ref] 2010 December 19, San Antonio Express-News, Section: Metro and State News, “Play honors Richards, all courageous people” by Jan Jarboe Russell, Quote Page 01B, San Antonio, Texas. (NewsBank Access World News) [/ref]

Over a recent three-hour performance, Taylor, who wrote the play, nailed Ann’s wit, pacing and persona. It helped, of course, that she used Ann’s own wickedly smart words.

“I know that life isn’t fair. I know that,” she said, taking the words right from Ann’s twangy mouth. “We all know that. But government should be.”

In conclusion, newspaper reports in 1991 indicate that Ann Richards did make a statement that was similar to the one given by the questioner. Her statement was also similar to the one used in the play, but not identical. Of course, Ann Richards may have spoken the expression more than once, and she may have employed multiple versions.

(Thanks to James Cargas whose email gave impetus to QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

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