With all the talk about statues in recent months, we got to thinking: which of our late, great Houstonians aren’t enshrined on pedestals in our city parks, but absolutely deserve to be? If we had the money, park space, and a sculptor on hand—paging David Adickes (we can dream, can’t we?)—here’s who we’d cast in bronze and carve from stone.
Maria “Mama Ninfa” Laurenzo, 1924–2001
The legendary restaurateur who brought the fajita to Houston—via what started as a single East End taco stand—and created Ninfa’s, the beloved eatery that has saved generations of us from settling for a lifetime of doughy chimichangas and other subpar Tex-Mex.
Dr. James “Red” Duke, 1928–2015
The iconic cowboy trauma surgeon. Imagine how much better we’d all feel if the doctor, who saved then-governor John Connally after the JFK assassination, and went on to revolutionize the Texas Medical Center by creating Life Flight, were here now combating COVID-19.
Marion “Little Joe” Washington, 1939–2014
The brilliant—but elusive—guitarist who once jammed with Houston’s greatest blues legends. Although Washington rarely recorded his own work, his ferocious performances (and mercurial onstage mood swings) at the Continental Club and other spots during decades in the Bayou City blues scene influenced countless local musicians.
Marvin Zindler, 1921–2007
The exuberant KTRK journalist who got the Chicken Ranch brothel shut down in 1973, losing his toupee during a fight with the local sheriff in the process. Zindler, in meticulously coiffed hairpieces and natty suits, continued to compel officials to address “slime in the ice machine” and other injustices throughout his decades-long career.
Barbara Jordan, 1936–1996
The fiercely intelligent Fifth Ward-raised lawyer, who became a trailblazing civil rights leader and Black politician, transforming both Austin and Washington, DC, with her eloquent oratory and political savvy. Her opening address for the Nixon impeachment hearings is considered one of the greatest speeches in U.S. history.