Don Strange, who died Wednesday at age 69, certainly followed the first half of that equation – his passion for impressing people was legendary – but the flash was always built on a sure foundation. It was built on Texas product and principle. And that, more than the firework displays or the lavish arrays of food, was the basis of his success.
Talk to anyone who hired Don Strange of Texas for an event and you’ll hear stories of how memorable certain images were from the event. But they’ll also tell you how good the food tasted.
Talk to any of Don Strange’s friends or acquaintances, and you’ll hear the story of a big-hearted man who loved working and helping others. This is a man who started several charities, including Helping Hands and Breakfast of Champions, to help children in need. He also championed Roy Maas’ Youth Alternatives for the same reason.
Bruce Auden of Biga on the Banks would consider himself more of an acquaintance than an intimate friend, yet he was broken up by the news of Strange’s death. “He was one of the nicest people you could ever know,” the chef said. “He never had anything negative to say about any restaurant or any one. And that’s rare in this business. His outlook on like was so much better than anybody else’s.”
Auden will miss “the positive vibe” that Strange gave off, a feeling that more of the newcomers on the catering scene would do well to adopt, he said.
I could feel that the few times that I really talked with him, which was only in recent months. Though we had met at numerous functions in the past, we never really had even a short conversation until he appeared for a taping of the “Today” show in July at the Arneson Theater.
When I re-introduced myself, he immediately made the conversation about me. I have been friends with his mother-in-law, Mary Singleton, over the past 8 or 9 years. She once taught how to make a pie crust and had been a great source of encouragement ever since. He told me that she had been worried about me since losing my job, and he was pleased that he would be able to tell her that I was fine.
In a matter of a few words, he made me feel as if I had known him for ages. And it makes me sad to note that I won’t have the chance to get to know him better.
It didn’t really matter to him that he was downtown on that sweltering morning. He was there to do something he loved: promote Texas’ fabulous food. He was there with folks from Mi Tierra, and both waited several hours to get on the air. In the end, the show ran long and both missed their chance.
Most of us would have grumbled about all the wasted time. Not Don Strange. The next time I saw him, he just shrugged it off. He had promoted Texas food to the nation for years, appearing on numerous talk shows and serving his mouthwatering fare from the White House to Hollywood.
As Auden said, Don Strange was always out there, pounding the pavement to tell people about what Texas had to offer in terms of great eats. And with that came exposure to the land that produced it. “He was one of the first people who really promoted San Antonio on TV,” Auden said.
San Antonio is grateful for that. All his customers will certainly relish the memories of events he catered for them. But those who knew him even slightly will treasure more highly the warmth and generosity of the man behind the business.