Barbara Staff

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Barbara Ruth Wright Staff

(Republican political activist;
co-chairman of the Ronald Reagan presidential primary campaign
in Texas, 1976)

Born August 26, 1924
Godley, Johnson County,
Texas, USA

Dallas, Texas
Plano, Collin County, Texas

Died July 29, 2019 (aged 94)
Plano, Texas
Spouse William Stewart Staff (deceased)

Two daughters:
Susan S. Causey
Barbara Ellen Kimberly (deceased)

Barbara Ruth Wright Staff (born August 26, 1924 – July 29, 2019)[1] was a Republican political activist from Plano, Texas, one of the three co-chairmen of her state's 1976 Ronald Reagan presidential primary campaign, along with Ernest Angelo, Jr., a former mayor of Midland, and Ray Barnhart, a former state legislator from suburban Houston, a state Republican chairman, and the director of the Federal Highway Administraton under President Reagan.


Staff was born in Godley, near Cleburne, in Johnson County in suburban Fort Worth, to Robert Floyd Wright and the former Hazel Bishop. She graduated from the former Crozier Technical High School, earlier known as Dallas Technical High School in Dallas, Texas, and studied at the University of North Texas in Denton and received her Bachelor of Arts from Southern Methodist University in University Park in Dallas County. She and her husband, businessman William Stewart Staff (1919–1995),[2] a native of Washington State and formerly of Illinois, had two daughters, Susan S. Causey (born 1953, the wife of Paul Franklin Causey) of Grapevine, Texas, and Barbara Ellen Kimberly (1945–1990)[2] of Bastrop, Texas, the wife of David Kimberly, a Baptist pastor.

In 1970, Staff took a political science course at the University of North Texas and became "furious ... with my radical liberal professor. I didn't think things were as bad as he was touting them to be."[3] Thereafter, Staff became heavily involved in conservative politics and Republican women's activities. She worked in the campaigns of U.S. Representative James Mitchell "Jim" Collins (1916-1989) of Dallas, whose political career ended in 1982, when he lost a bid for the U.S. Senate to Democrat Lloyd Bentsen. She also served as a volunteer in Collins' office, which she described as "quite a training ground. After you've worked in that office, you're equipped to do anything."[3]

Working to nominate Reagan

Staff was the president of a group called the Council of Republican Women's Clubs of Dallas County, from which position she launched a successful membership program known as "I Believe."[4] In December 1975, Staff, Angelo, and Ray Barnhart attended the two-day Southern Republican Conference in Austin, hosted by state party chairman Ray Hutchison of Dallas. Then U.S. President Gerald Ford, himself absent from the gathering, was represented by his first campaign manager, former U.S. Representative Howard Hollis "Bo" Callaway, Sr. (1927-2014) of Georgia, Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, U.S. Senator John Tower of Texas, and two Cabinet secretaries Earl Lauer Butz (1909-2008), and William Edward Simon (1927-2000). Also present at the conference was the uncommitted John Connally, the former Democratic governor of Texas who switched parties in 1973. Connally had been expected to enter the 1976 race as a dark horse contender,[5] but he did not run until 1980, when he was compelled to withdraw after losing the South Carolina primary.

Staff accused President Ford of having "deviated from the conservative mold and had surrounded himself with liberal advisors."[6] Staff said that "Ford has deviated more and more from Republican party principles while Reagan stands up for those principles. ... I don't know if it's as much Ford's fault as it is the advisors he has surrounded himself with."[4]

In 1976, Staff was named the co-chairman of the Reagan primary campaign for the North Texas region, as the former governor of California challenged President Ford, the favorite of establishment Republicans, including Senator Tower. The two other co-chairmen, Ernest Angelo and Ray Barnhart organized West Texas and South Texas, respectively, in preparation for the presidential primary.[7] Reagan also gained the support of state Senator Betty Andujar (1912-1997), a Republican from Fort Worth. The Reaganites gathered ten times the number of signatures needed to put the Reagan delegate choices on the primary ballot.[8]

Staff and John Leedom, an engineer and a businessman and later a Republican member of the Texas State Senate for Dallas and Rockwall counties, headed the Reagan delegate candidates in U.S. House District 3, represented by James Collins. One of the four Ford delegate choices in District 3 was future U.S. Representative and the mayor of Dallas, Steve Bartlett. Leedom led the primary in Dallas with 41,911 votes; Staff followed with 39,030 ballots, and Bartlett trailed with 21,580. Staff recalls the 1976 primary race as a battle between the "establishment" Ford forces and the grassroots insurgents, whom she calls "the volunteers," mostly women. At the time Staff was a member of the large First Baptist Church in downtown Dallas, whose pastor was the nationally known Wallie Amos Criswell (1909-2002). However, her memorial service was held at the St. Andrew United Methodist Church in Plano.[1] Staff spoke before various groups with the Reagan message. Years later, she recalled the Reagan volunteers as the most dedicated that she had ever encountered in the political arena.[9]

1976 convention highlights

Staff was a delegate to the national convention in Kansas City, Missouri,[10] having given up a trip to Jamaica with her husband's business to attend the conclave.[3] Ford secured a close nomination vote over Reagan, who then returned in 1980 to capture the presidency by defeating Jimmy Carter, the man who had beaten Ford in the 1976 general election.

Staff recalls that Ford delegates were openly hostile to the Reaganites and even pelted them with toilet paper. Staff said that the behavior of the Ford delegates made it difficult for her to support the Ford-Dole ticket, which lost a close race to Georgia's Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale of Minnesota, the last Democratic presidential ticket to win the electoral votes of Texas. "You may just see a big apathetic heartbreak take over. I would say at this point most people here are not going to work for Ford. I don't know what we are going to do to heal the wounds."[11]

Ray Barnhart criticized First Lady Betty Ford for having "danced a jig" with singer Tony Orlando when Nancy Reagan made her entrance to the convention hall; Staff termed Mrs. Ford's behavior "a low, cheap shot" to divert attention from the Reagan campaign.[12] Staff found that the Ford managers at the convention deliberately made it inconvenient for the Reaganites. "As far as the seating in the arena, the Texas delegation barely got in. They had us stuck way over to the side where the presiding officer couldn't even see us if we wanted to get recognition. . . . "[3] Gwen Pharo of Dallas agreed with Staff about the "shabby treatment" of the Texas delegation by the Ford backers would undoubtedly mean a lack of enthusiasm for the fall campaign.[11]

Staff took an informal survey of the Texas delegates and found few Reaganites favored Reagan becoming Ford's vice-presidential choice to replace Nelson Rockefeller: "The delegates really don't want to see him in that spot, but I sure don't want him to go home and start rocking on his front porch.".[13] Staff said that a fifth of the Texas delegates would want Reagan in the vice-presidential spot, but more than a fourth favored Connally in the secondary position. There was little support of Senator Howard Henry Baker, Jr., of Tennessee and no mention of the eventual choice, Robert Dole, she said.[13]

Staff recalled that Senator John Tower spent much of his time at the convention with the Mississippi delegation, which swung to Ford near the end of the deliberations. Tower did not address the phalanx of Reagan backers in his own state delegation.[12] In later years Tower's estrangement from his former conservative backers intensified when he supported abortion and challenged President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative.[14]

Other activities

Among her civic activities, Staff was a volunteer for Parkland Hospital, where John F. Kennedy was pronounced dead in 1963, and the Dallas County Heritage Society.[3] She was a member of the Texas State Historical Association.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Barbara Staff obituary. The Dallas Morning News (August 18, 2019). Retrieved on September 18, 2019.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Social Security Death Index. Retrieved on March 8, 2011.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Julia Sweeney, "Barbara Staff picks GOP over Jamaica," the defunct Dallas Times Herald, August 20, 1976, p. E3.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Ron Calhoun, "Reagan forces gearing for North Texas campaign," Dallas Times Herald, December 21, 1975, p. F1.
  5. Dave Montgomery, "Ford-Reagan tug-of-war expected at conference," Dallas Times Herald, December 7, 1975, p. A-37.
  6. Billy Hathorn, "Mayor Ernest Angelo, Jr., of Midland and the 96-0 Reagan Sweep of Texas, May 1, 1976," West Texas Historical Association Yearbook Vol. 86 (2010), p. 81.
  7. Hathorn, Mayor Ernest Angelo," pp. 77, 81.
  8. Photo caption, Dallas Morning News, February 3, 1976, p. 6A.
  9. Hathorn, "Mayor Ernest Angelo," p. 82.
  10. Photo caption "Texas delegates", Dallas Morning News, August 16, 1976, p. 6A.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Carolyn Barta, "Texas GOP 'fire' wanes," Dallas Morning News, August 19, 1976, p. 6A.
  12. 12.0 12.1 "Convention Notes: No love lost between Texans, Betty Ford," Dallas Morning News, August 19, 1976, p. 6A.
  13. 13.0 13.1 "Texans support light for Reagan as V-P pick," Dallas Morning News, August 19, 1976, p. 6A.
  14. John Tower, Consequences: A Personal and Political Memoir (Boston, Massachusetts: Little Brown and Company, 1991), 42, 118-119.