PICKLE, JAMES JARRELL [JAKE] (1913–2005). James Jarrell (Jake) Pickle, who styled himself as one of the "LBJ Boys," served thirty-one years in Lyndon Johnson's Central Texas Congressional seat and became one of the nation's foremost experts and defenders of Social Security and a supporter of civil rights and tax reform.
Pickle was born on October 11, 1913, in the small West Texas ranching community of Roscoe. He was one of five children of Joseph Binford Pickle, who was born in Tennessee, and Mary Theresa Duke Pickle, who was born in Lampasas County. Both parents taught school, and his father engaged in numerous, often unsuccessful business ventures. Jake, as he was nicknamed at age four, spent most of his youth in Big Spring where his father owned the White House grocery store and served as mayor in the 1930s.
Jake graduated from Big Spring High School and enrolled at the University of Texas in 1932. Pickle lived at the university's Little Campus, held a part-time job at the Capitol, and joined the university swimming and wrestling teams. He won election as student body president, befriended future Texas governor John Connally, and graduated in 1938. During his campaign at the university, Pickle first used his "Pickle Pins," small lapel pins in the shape of a pickle. These became a trademark of all his future campaigns.
After graduation, Pickle worked for the National Youth Administration (NYA) as an area supervisor and NYA district director in Austin and corresponded with newly elected congressman and former NYA director Lyndon Johnson. The two finally met when Johnson summoned Pickle to Washington, D.C., to discuss a proposed highway project from the Highland Lakes to Austin. From this point on, Pickle became one of Johnson's closest associates. Later in life Pickle considered Johnson and Connally the two men who had had the greatest impact on his political career.
In 1942 Pickle married Ella "Sugar" Nora Critz, daughter of Judge Richard Critz, and then enlisted in the navy for three and a half years of service during World War II. He served in the South Pacific as a gunnery officer on the USS St. Louis, which was torpedoed, and the USS Miami. The Navy discharged him as a lieutenant senior grade in September 1945. When he returned to Austin, he joined radio station KTBC, which was owned by Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson. He later went on to co-found radio station KVET.
During the 1950s Pickle became embroiled in the struggle between the liberal and conservative wings of the Texas Democratic party. Pickle sided with conservative governor Allen Shivers against his more liberal challenger Ralph Yarborough. Pickle worked with Johnson and Sam Rayburn to maintain control over the party during the tumultuous 1950s. Governor Price Daniel appointed Pickle as a board member of the Texas Employment Commission. In 1952 Pickle lost his wife Sugar to breast cancer. He married Beryl Bolton McCarroll in 1960.
In 1963 Tenth District Congressman Homer Thornberry resigned to accept an appointment by President John Kennedy to the Federal bench. With Vice President Lyndon Johnson's support, Pickle won the special election only days after President Kennedy was shot in Dallas. In the aftermath of the Kennedy Assassination, Pickle was sworn in on Christmas Eve 1963. Congressman Pickle cast his first vote that same day for the sale of wheat to Russia.
During his more than thirty years in the Congress, Pickle's popularity increased steadily. His special chili, served on Independence Day or San Jacinto Day, became a favorite of his Congressional colleagues. He seldom faced serious opposition, and in the few elections in which he was challenged he handily defeated both Democratic and Republican opponents.
He continued his support for research and development and assistance to technology companies who found a home in his Central Texas district. In 1994, the University of Texas System Board of Regents renamed the Balcones Research Center in Austin the J. J. Pickle Research Campus for his longtime support of the university and scientific research. A major scholarship fund in Pickle's name was established at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, and a chair in the UT government department was named in his honor. The J. J. "Jake" Pickle Federal Building was named in his honor in Austin. Pickle ended his long career in public office when he announced that he would not seek reelection in 1994.
Pickle and his wife retired to Austin where he remained active in civic and university affairs. He frequently ate lunch at Luby's Cafeteria and participated in the Founders Lions Club of Austin. In 1997 he and his daughter Peggy Pickle published Jake, an autobiography. He died at his Austin home on June 18, 2005, of lymphoma and prostate cancer. Pickle is buried in the State Cemetery in Austin.
The 2007 session of the Texas Legislature passed HB 2296, designating SH 130 in Williamson County, Travis, Caldwell and Guadalupe Counties as the "Pickle Parkway" in honor of Congressman Pickle.
Patrick Cox, "PICKLE, JAMES JARRELL [JAKE]," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fpi47), accessed March 26, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.