The official portrait of former Gov. Rick Perry was unveiled Friday morning, giving Texas' longest-serving governor a permanent home in the state Capitol — and answering a burning question throughout Austin.
Would the picture, which Perry stood for more than a year ago, feature the trendy eyeglasses that marked his political reinvention a few years ago?
No, the portrait revealed — to the delight of longtime Perry benefactor Red McCombs, who said he had made a $500,000 bet that the former governor would not be bespectacled in the picture. The portrait nonetheless showed quintessential Perry — the former governor, dressed in a simple black suit with a red tie, standing upright with his hands rested on a brown chair in front of him.
Prominent on his left hand: the gold ring representing his alma mater, Texas A&M University.
"Rick was proud to be the first Aggie governor," former Texas First Lady Anita Perry said as black cloth was still draped over the picture, "and you will see evidence of that in the portrait."
The unveiling was yet another reminder of Perry's massive imprint on Texas, where he not only served as governor for 14 years but also oversaw the rise of increasingly conservative politics that made him a national figure and two-time presidential candidate. As he spoke in the Capitol Rotunda, Perry looked out over rows of chairs filled by dozens of former aides, not to mention the state's current GOP leadership: Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Texas House Speaker Joe Straus.
"None of you are sitting in those seats by accident," Perry said. "There wasn't a lottery."
Perry marveled at the ideological spectrum represented by the elected officials who had gathered to see the portrait. The crowd, he said, ranged from "way over there on the left — [state Rep.] Senfronia [Thompson, D-Houston] — to way over on the right — [Lt.] Gov. [Dan] Patrick."
And Perry took a moment to absorb the history, acknowledging he could not be happier to find himself between his predecessor, George W. Bush, and successor, Abbott.
McCombs, a billionaire car dealer from San Antonio, did the honors of introducing Perry, taking the stage with a request for the audience. Repeat after me, McCombs said: "Thank God for Rick Perry. Thank God for Rick Perry. Thank God for Rick Perry."
"It would be selfish for me to ask the Lord to give us another Rick Perry," McCombs later said, "Because I don't think there's another Rick Perry."
Also on hand was Marcus Luttrell, a retired U.S. Navy SEAL whom the Perrys had taken in years ago. Turning to Anita Perry — "Lady Perry," as Luttrell calls her — he said, "I am entirely the man I am today because of the lady you are."
Levity was never too far away from the ceremony, though, as evidenced by the first speaker: John Sneed, the executive director of the State Preservation Board, which maintains the Capitol. He acknowledged Capitol visitors frequently ask where Perry's portrait is — and promised the portrait would answer the “most asked question of the week, which is, ‘With or without glasses?’"
Perry, who stood for the portrait in December 2014, seemed to be just as curious.
"I couldn't remember whether I had my glasses on or off when I did that," the former governor said shortly after the black cloth came down. "Now we know."
The portrait cost $21,469.40 for the sitting, painting, frame and artist’s travel, said Chris Currens, a spokesman for the preservation board. Under state law, the Legislature reimburses the preservation board for the cost.
Disclosure: Texas A&M University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, as has Red McCombs' family foundation, The McCombs Foundation. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.