Dad found his calling as part of the founding faculty at the Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. Over the last fifty years, his life’s work was to help build the LBJ School into a top public policy school. In 1977 he served as the LBJ School’s acting Dean. His areas of expertise were sustainable development, climate change and water policy. In addition to his day job at the LBJ School, Dad also served as director of the Mitchell Center for Global Change, Houston Area Research Center (HARC) where he developed HARC’s sustainable development program
The Clydesdale years. A native of Germany, Dad’s childhood spanned the rise and fall of Nazi Germany. During the war he and other children were evacuated from Berlin as Allied bombing raids intensified. He spent the later war years on a farm where he hand-plowed fields behind a team of massive Clydesdalesque draft horses. (Years later Mom would teach Dad to drive in a Citroën Deux-Chevaux: literally a “two-horsepower” tin can car). It was old school plow wrangling, manure shoveling, hay pitching, muscle-building manual labor. A teenager in the final days of World War II, he was sent with other boys to the Eastern Front – then in Poland -- to build anti-tank defenses against the rapidly advancing Soviet troops. Dad’s father, a physician, was able to have him recalled under medical orders. Within weeks what was left of the German Reich crumpled into smoldering ruins. Back at the farm, it was an eerie time when the Soviets finally overran and occupied their region. Life was bleak in post-war Germany. America and the Marshall Plan rekindled the chance for a future. The epic rebuilding of Germany allowed Dad to get an education and to earn a doctorate in political philosophy at the University of Bonn. He was now “Herr Doktor Schmandt.”
It was through his studies that he met our mother, who is French. Needless to say, some ten years after the war Franco-German relations were still on the chilly side. Our parents’ personal contributions towards Franco-German rapprochement appears to have progressed rapidly. They were soon married. Our French family went along with this dubious turn of events, but not without some soucis. The rest, however, is history.
The Peugeot years. In the early 1960s Mom and Dad’s growing family – three bouncing baby boys and a silver-grey Peugeot 404 – lived in Paris. (The Peugeot was a big step up from two horsepower). Dad was at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), where his work led to an interest in science policy: how science is developed, promoted, and integrated into governmental actions and societal goals.
Go West Young Man! If the family’s move from Germany to France was on a slightly westward trajectory, the next move to Boston, Massachusetts U.S.A. was a GIANT step westward. Dad was the associate director of the Program on Technology and Society at Harvard University.
We crossed the Atlantic on one of the last great Atlantic ocean liners and sailed into New York Harbor past the Statue of Liberty. Happily, we did not have to pass inspection at Ellis Island. Our (unairconditioned) Peugeot also made the journey with us to our new home.
We parachuted into the U.S.A. and American culture in the middle of the 1960s (1964 to be precise) and “The Times, They (were) A-Changin’”: Vietnam, “make love not war,” Civil Rights, MLK, RFK, Dylan, The Beatles, The Stones, “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out” . . .
There was also baseball and the Boston Red Sox. Back then, the Sox were perennial underdogs to the soul crushing New York Yankees. Most American dads teach their kids baseball. If, however, you had a Euro klutz-dad, then it was up to the kids to teach him baseball. We explained the rules of the game: strikes & balls, innings, extra-innings (only in America do they give you more innings for free!), foul balls, bunting, the infield fly rule, etc. over the course of innumerable televised Red Sox games on a grainy black and white 20-inch screen. Sometimes we went to Fenway Park. (By some hideous twist of fate our tickets were always for games against the slugger Boog Powell’s last place Washington Senators . . .). We suffered together through the 1967 World Series when “The Impossible Dream” Red Sox fell to Bob Gibson, the Saint Louis Cardinals’ pitiless, relentless pitching machine.
Playing running bases with Dad was always something of an adventure. Dad’s farm labor enhanced muscles could whip a ball REALLY fast. His accuracy, however, was somewhat tenuous. (Hence, the relevance of the opening factoid that he was a lefty: he grew up when being lefthanded was strongly discouraged and lefties were forced to do everything righthanded. This practice left his dominant throwing left arm underdeveloped and “dys-coordinated”). The ball might come – at hypersonic speed -- directly into your glove mercilessly tenderizing your hand, or directly at your head or in any direction and elevation in a 180-degree arc from his left throwing hand. His musclebound left arm was an untethered high-pressure hose, whooshing this way and that way. To catch a ball, Dad would typically lunge his left arm downward – glove open towards the ground – and attempt to trap the ball in his downward plunging glove as the ball sped towards him. The maneuver required exquisite precision and split-second timing. It was a marvel to behold when he succeeded. It also offered the opportunity for plenty of exercise running back and forth between bases when the ball mostly went screaming past him.
In 1971, the family continued on its Westward Ho! trajectory. We loaded up our “trusty”, sleek, (still) unairconditioned metallic blue Peugeot 504 and headed for the Texas hill country. Yes, we had traded up to the latest model Peugeot. In those days if you wanted to bring a red-blooded American mechanic to tears, you asked him to fix your alien and unpronounceable French “Peugeot” automobile.
Dad had the good fortune to be in the right place at the right time. He rode the crest of the post-war tidal demographic wave that led to universal higher education for the “baby boomers.” Whereas a college and post-graduate education had long been limited to the elite, the G.I. Bill of 1944 opened the doors of higher education to returning World War II veterans. A generation later, their sons and daughters – the “boomers” -- were also headed to college in the 1960s and 1970s in huge numbers. Academia hung out the “Help Wanted” sign.
In the early 1970s, former U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson was building his Presidential Library at the University of Texas at Austin. The new complex also included a new school of public policy: The LBJ School of Public Affairs. Dad was part of the small group of faculty that launched the school. They were the tip of spear. This small group paved the way for today’s LBJ School: a powerhouse faculty, topnotch students and a first-rate reputation.
“As all born teachers, he was primarily a student.” (Steven Pressfield, Gates of Fire). Perhaps this observation best captures Dad’s teaching personae. Dad’s classes were opportunities for him to structure and harness the intellectual power of a dozen or more students – recalling his farm years -- to plow new fields of inquiry. Getting paid to do this was a big plus, but it was the learning and the problem solving that was the real reward.
Dad was all about teaching by doing. He was no lecturer. He, a colleague, and their students would all learn together. Dad and his fellow faculty pioneered the Policy Research Project (PRP). The PRP is a practicum: faculty supervise students as they undertake to research and analyze a real-world policy question. The PRP simulates the policy-making process that students will be expected to navigate in their professional careers.
Dad used PRPs as an opportunity to learn from the efforts of his students: together they would define the problem, develop a research framework, do the research, synthesize the research, reach conclusions, make recommendations and package the whole thing into book form available to all. Only time would tell where and how far the ripples of their efforts might reach.
Over the years, Dad, his fellow PRP faculty and their students published dozens of reports and books documenting the results of a year-long deep dive into thorny policy issues. Recent titles include: Sustainable River Management on the U.S./Mexico Border; Recommendations for the Paso del Norte (2018); Sustainability of Engineered Rivers in Arid Lands: Euphrates-Tigris and Rio Grande/Bravo (2016); The Impact of Global Warming on Texas (1995; revised 2012).
The Plymouth Volare years. In the late 1970s our family finally surrendered to the advantages of a “made in America” car: Chrysler’s Plymouth Volare. It was a shockingly sensible, if not a hideously ugly maroon colored four door sedan. It did, however, have air conditioning!
The 1970s also saw major lifestyle changes. Dad (and Mom) – and the rest of America – became committed joggers. Dad had developed a particular fondness for milkshakes that were medically suboptimal. After a brutal family overnight hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back to the top in 110+ degree heat without the benefits of air conditioning or personal litter bearers, he decided that something had to be done. He started out slowly, but he soon became a solid and unflagging runner. He was a regular on the Town Lake hike and bike trail. He was an all-weather year-round runner: summer, fall, winter and spring. His run would end at Barton Springs where he would cool down with a swim. Mom would follow behind in the height of the summer heat quietly (and not so quietly) questioning the downsides of the marriage vows.
Whatever their differences about the benefits of running, both were fervent supporters of the healing powers of Barton Springs. Both were lifelong devotees of Austin’s fountain of youth and its unique culture. In the 1980s and 1990s Mom and Dad expanded their jogging horizons to the trails of the Hill Country in and around Austin. They were lucky to be among the last to experience the wild Hill Country before it was absorbed into the backyards of today’s greater Austin. After the trails disappeared, they became habitués of the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve. Even after their running days were over, they remained avid swimmers at Barton Springs.
Dad dived into a variety of passions over the years: baseball, squash, jogging, sailing, competitive lawn mowing, personal health literature, personal health theories, personal health monitoring, Blue Bell ice cream, “butterbrot”, cheese, “le fromage”, “der Käse”, “am kältesten bier”, weight loss science, diet regimes, gadgetry of all shapes and sizes, American politics, endless reruns of Alan Alda’s MASH TV series that showcased the absurdities of war, Hogan’s Heroes TV series that played up Nazi buffoonery in and around a World War II POW camp and that featured the portly, lovable Sgt. Schultz (“I know NOOOTHING!”), endlessly championing “Qi” – often worth a game changing 11 points -- as a valid Scrabble word, taking any possible driving “shortcut” in the pre-digital map days, telling hapless wait-persons inquiring about his heavy Kissingeresque accent that he was actually from Antarctica, traveling anywhere and everywhere, stalking the elusive frequent flyer mile (the Admiral’s Club please!), etc. Dad was also a personal computer enthusiast and early adopter. We will never know how much time, effort and capital was sacrificed to reach ever new heights of the latest hardware, software and the holy grail of increased computing power.
Dad was an inveterate Do-It-Yourselfer. Some projects were over the top and some more successful than others. The variety and difficulty of projects – as described in Jim McKay’s weekly introduction to ABC’s Wide World of Sports -- “spanned . . . the human drama of athletic competition”: interior painting, exterior painting (including, but not limited to, an 1890s three-story, twelve-room tower Victorian), removing a one hundred foot asphalt path encumbering ground that God had decreed should be seeded and mowed, carpentry, electrical, plumbing, clearing the septic tank connection of unknown blockages, roofing, installing an underground lawn sprinkler system, clearing the septic tank connection of known blockages, building an outdoor fountain and ornamental pool (ultimately converted to a dog washing station and then filled in to serve as a planter), the excavation of countless rock choked holes to plant ever more garden enhancing shrubs and bushes. Some of these jobs required heavy-duty fire power: a five-foot super deluxe table saw capable of all possible cutting angles, a heart-stopping and hand-shredding pneumatic demolition jackhammer, a dank, malodorous heavy-duty claw-tipped 75-foot large gauge plumber’s sewer pipe “snake”. Rental equipment of course imposed that much more pressure to finish the job by the end of the day or face additional charges. In addition to modern weaponry, Dad also relied on good old-fashioned impressed labor. Whenever there was a hint that something was up, you did whatever it took to make yourself scarce.
The muscle car years. In the 1980s and 1990s Dad “moved on up” to a “champagne” colored Ford Taurus. He commuted weekly to the Woodlands outside of Houston where he was a Director of the Houston Area Research Council (HARC). The commute piled up the miles. Ultimately, he traded up to the Taurus SHO featuring a high-tech radar detector: an empty-nester’s muscle car. The SHO had beaucoup horsepower. It may have been champagne on the outside, but it was white lightning on the inside. It was light years beyond his days struggling in the fields behind the clydesdalesque, cantankerous -- single horsepower –- plow horses and the 1950s era lawnmower engine powered Citroën Deux Chevaux. There are unconfirmed, third-party -- post-statute of limitations -- reports that the SHO could easily reach speeds upwards of 120 mph on the more desolate stretches of the 1990s-era Texas highways.
In 2009, Dad retired from full time teaching. Even so, for the next decade -- well into his late eighties -- he continued to be a busy mother hen “cluck, clucking” after students to undertake evermore wide ranging PRPs on water policy, climate change and sustainable development.
Dad was an “irrationally exuberant” optimist. But as a first-hand witness to the trauma of Nazi Germany and authoritarianism, Dad was deeply troubled by America’s headlong rush towards the siren song of STRONGMAN politics. He had already endured a malevolent megalomaniac in his youth. It was cruel to see the U.S. entrust its hard-won democratic institutions to American politics’ XXXL incarnation of the Joker. For him, it was déjà vu all over again.
Notwithstanding the deepening shadows, Dad was always forward looking and had an abiding faith in the future. Dad’s seven grandchildren were the living embodiment of the future and “Grandad” took great pleasure in them and their accomplishments. Over the decades he got to know them well during extensive family trips to the Caribbean, Mexico, Spain, Hawaii, Switzerland, San Francisco, the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Corpus Christie, Rome, Paris, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, to name a few destinations. In the early 2000s, “Grandad” was duly invested as President of five-year old Henry’s “The Club.” The Club had its own formal T-shirt uniform. The two-member club would spend hours – in full uniform -- conducting their solemn travails that were frequently punctuated by shrieks of hysterical laughter.
Ultimately, Dad’s life journey was devoted to his grandchildren and future generations. If we cannot take it for granted that the long arc of history bends towards justice, then he did what he could to move it in that direction. He had witnessed bad things early on and was deeply committed to a better future. A future that looks to doing the right thing.
Dad is survived by his wife of 67 years, Denise Schmandt-Besserat, his children and their spouses, Alexandre Schmandt and Mary Moynihan of Chevy Chase, Maryland, Christophe Schmandt and Kathrin Wolff of Zurich, Switzerland, Phillip Schmandt and Kellie Goolsby of Austin, Texas, and by seven grandchildren: Nicolaus, Danielle, Mike, Henry, Lily, Cyra and Dennis. As well as by one great-grand daughter on the way!