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Featured Property: The Estate of Lloyd & Beryl Ann Bentsen

Lloyd and Beryl Ann “B.A.” Bentsen, beloved Texans and treasured fixtures in Washington’s political and social milieus, lived a remarkable life together. Both Mr. and Mrs. Bentsen were brilliant, hard-working and dedicated to improving the world around them. Never one to fade into the background, B.A. Bentsen was a driving force behind Lloyd’s political success—the couple was a dynamic team whose shared passion and grit earned them immense respect. B.A.’s partnership was certainly not lost on Lloyd; he even playfully explained that B.A.’s initials really stood for “Best Asset”.

The Honorable Lloyd M. Bentsen, Jr.

By any measure, Lloyd Miller Bentsen, Jr. led an extraordinary life of accomplishment, but the roles which best reflect his devotion to public service include World War II bomber pilot, a United States Congressman (1947-1955), a four-term United States Senator (1971-1993), a Vice-Presidential nominee (1988) and Secretary of the Treasury (1993-1994). During his long career in public office, Mr. Bentsen was involved in many important legislative battles. Those close to him described him as, “a man of courage, wisdom and civility.” 

The Bentsen family’s Texas roots run deep—Lloyd Bentsen, Sr. moved to Texas with his brother after World War I. Following successes in large-scale land development, he became involved with ranching, oil and banking. Lloyd, Jr. was born February 11, 1921 in Mission, Texas. He grew up on The Arrowhead Ranch, one of the biggest ranches in the Rio Grande Valley. Soon after receiving a law degree from the University of Texas, Lloyd enlisted in the Army in 1942 and became a commissioned officer in the Army Air Forces. B.A. and Lloyd married before he departed for Europe in 1943.

While serving in World War II as a B-24 pilot, Bentsen flew 35 missions including bombing the infamous Ploesti oil refinery and also missions in support of American troops in Italy. He received several recognitions for his service, including the Distinguished Flying Cross, and left the Army with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. After returning to Texas, Lloyd was elected as Hidalgo County Judge in 1946. Just two years later, he was elected to the House of Representatives as the then-youngest member of Congress at age 27. 

After serving in Congress for six years, Lloyd left public service to enter the private sector. In 1955, he founded the Consolidated American Life Insurance Company (Calico), and eventually expanded to other businesses. Lincoln Consolidated became the holding company for a diverse portfolio of business ventures and, as noted by The New York Times, “was one of the first [companies] in Texas to use data processing technology.” Mr. Bentsen’s business successes earned him admiration and positions on numerous boards including Continental Oil and Lockheed Corporation. 

In 1970, Bentsen decided to re-enter politics. He defeated incumbent Ralph W. Yarborough in the Democratic primary for Senate, then beat George H. W. Bush, a Congressman at the time, in the general election. After two years in the Senate, Bentsen was selected to serve on the powerful Finance Committee, where he passed the employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), securing the pensions for millions of American workers. Bentsen continued to serve as an influential and highly respected voice in the Senate for three more terms, ultimately becoming the Chairman of the Finance Committee. During his tenure in both the House of Representatives and theSenate, he promoted fiscal responsibility and free trade, supported civil rights and protected children and older Americans.

While already nationally recognized as a Senator, Bentsen became a household name in 1988 when Michael Dukakis, the Democratic nominee for President, selected him as his running mate. Bentsen’s decades in public service and bipartisan respect undoubtedly led to his appointment as Secretary of the Treasury in 1993 under President Bill Clinton. As Secretary of the Treasury, he worked to bring greater opportunity and prosperity to the country. Bentsen was granted the great honor of being awarded the prestigious United States Medal of Freedom in 1999 as acknowledgment of his decades of service.

Beryl Ann “B.A.” Bentsen:

Beryl Ann “B.A.” Longino was born February 4, 1922 in Lufkin, Texas. Tragically, B.A. experienced hardship early in her life—she was orphaned at the age of twelve and raised by her aunt. After graduating from Lufkin High School at 16, she went on to study at the University of Texas at Austin, and then moved to New York City to work at therenowned Harry Conover Modeling Agency. Lloyd Bentsen had met B.A. while they were both at the University of Texas, and reintroduced himself while she was living at theBarbizon Hotel for Women in New York. After six dates, the two were married. She lived with Lloyd’s family in McAllen, Texas until he returned from serving in Europe.  

Throughout Lloyd’s decades-long political career, B.A. not only provided him with unwavering support, but also played a crucial role in his successes; she championed Lloyd’s causes because they were also her own. Moreover, a formidable woman, she raised three children amidst her and Lloyd’s busy schedules, travelling back and forth between Washington, D.C. and Texas and setting up “house” 28 times in 30 years. She even served as the National Democratic Committee Woman from Texas at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. 

When B.A. returned to Houston in 1994 and settled into the next chapter of her and Lloyd’s post-Washington life, her expertise and business acumen were highly sought after. She served on the boards of the Houston Symphony, the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, and the YMCA. She also served on the boards of Criterion Capital of Houston, Transamerica Funds of San Francisco, and their successor, John Hancock Mutual Funds of Boston.

About the Collection:

The papers of the Honorable Lloyd Bentsen, Jr. are conserved at the Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin. His family retained some of his personal letters and photographs, however, many of which are offered in this sale. Included are signed photographs of Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush Sr., and, of course, Clinton. Bentsen’s prized photo, however, was of his political mentor, Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, also to be offered. A scrapbook of Bentsen’s early years (with signed letters from Harry Truman, Bess Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Sam Rayburn, Estes Kefauver, J. Edgar Hoover, and Supreme Court Justices Tom Clark and Fred Vinson) is sadly water-damaged but still a veritable treasure trove of Bentsen’s numerous accomplishments during his years in the House of Representatives. 

In the 1960s, having temporarily left politics to build his insurance business, B.A. Bentsen became the family presence in Democratic politics, and her papers from this time reflect this: invitation to prayer services before Lyndon Johnson’s 1965 inaugural, a telegram from Robert Kennedy giving her advance notice that he plans to run against Johnson in 1968 and a letter from Vice President and Democratic Nominee Hubert Humphrey thanking her for her support in the election. Most touching among these is doubtless a letter dated four days after the assassination of President Kennedy from Mrs. Bentsen’s close friend Lady Bird Johnson: “it seems an eternity ago since I heard your sweet voice, B.A., only five days ago”. 

Another close Texas friend was Barbara Bush, who found her husband running for President against B.A.’s husband as Vice President in 1988. (“I will not campaign against you with any joy,” Mrs. Bush wrote, while Lady Bird Johnson offered “those three plus years in the Vice Presidency were one of the happiest times of my life.”) That campaign provided the single moment for which Lloyd Bentsen is best remembered, his blistering retort to Dan Quayle during the Vice Presidential debate:

“Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”

This sale will offer the evidence of that famous riposte: Bentsen’s personal autographed copy of Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage.

Bentsen’s Vice-Presidential bid, however, was but one year in his decades of service as Congressman, Senator and Treasury Secretary. His personal papers include signed letters and books from First Ladies Lady Bird Johnson, Betty Ford, Rosalyn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush and Hillary Clinton (including a signed photograph of all six), Senators Bob Dole, Al Gore and Daniel Patrick Moynahan, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Texas notables Ann Richards, Nellie Connally, Henry E. Catto and James A. Baker III. His tenure as Secretary of the Treasury is represented by several signed letters and photos of President Clinton, correspondence and honors from Mexico from his NAFTA negotiations, framed bills with his signature, and farewell gifts and honors upon his retirement from public service in 1994.

New Orleans Auction Galleries is honored to offer not only this important collection of political memorabilia and ephemera, but also fine art, silver, antiques and more from The Estate of Lloyd and Beryl Ann Bentsen.

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