Badge & Gun: July 2009

George Hogan: HPD's Ageless Budget Writer Knew How to Keep Secrets

The first time I stepped into his office I was accompanied by consultant Nolvin Ward and a few other members of the Houston Police Officers Association's City Hall Committee, which I had just joined. He stood behind his desk and politely acknowledged Ward's greeting and my introduction.

We were seeking information about the department which could be shared with other departments we would soon be visiting. The idea was that, since we were asking them to provide the salary and benefits data to us, we should be prepared to furnish the same to them.

The meeting wasn't very long, but I was impressed by his demeanor, his confidence, his immaculate appearance, and his impatience to get the meeting over. I would notice the same look on his face many times over the years.

                                                               Prompt and Precise

My next meeting with George Hogan was in the spring of 1977 on my first day working in the Personnel Division. I told him that I had been assigned to discover why two clerks had been promoted but not given the requisite pay increase. Without hesitation - another prominent trait - he picked up the phone, dialed a number and told the party that he was sending me to her for assistance. Then I got that look that meant our time together was over.

That day was the beginning of a long relationship with Hogan, who taught me almost everything about budgeting and ultimately encouraged me to prepare the entire personnel budget. We worked together frequently and spoke by phone at least daily. Our relationship continued until he retired in December 1983.

But I heard from him at least monthly by phone, during which time he would regale me with historical incidents, including the day Police Chief Jack Heard called him and asked him to come work in the chief's office in 1954.

My wife Judy recalls that, when Hogan interviewed her in 1963, he described working for the Police Department as working in a glass house, in that most everything you did or said could be considered public. She also recalls the feeling that she was being interrogated as if a bright light was shining in her face.

When she reported for work that December, he admonished her to remember that if she could work for him, she could work for anyone.

Hogan arrived early each working day, anxiously awaiting the daily mail. He sorted it and kept those letters that he would personally handle. Letters from citizens and city officials were his main responsibility. He had a memorized list of people in various parts of the department upon whom he could depend for information.

After a short conversation with the appropriate one, George would call in one of his very capable secretaries and dictate the reply - which would be in the mail before the end of the day. Both of them could take shorthand at conversation speed, and type so fast the typewriter almost smoked.

Hogan had a penchant for humor and was a wealth of one-liners, perhaps borrowed from famous people. He caught me early on and asked, "How often does a well-groomed man need a haircut?" The answer, of course, was never.

Sometimes George displayed his tendency to become impatient with people who either could not or would not say what they wanted. His mind was like a Swiss watch and he was proud of it. Indeed, he and at least one deputy chief shared membership in Mensa, the organization whose members had an exceptionally high intelligence quotient (IQ).

When things were quiet in the office, George would provide humor in various ways. He frequently returned from lunch with a carton of ice cream, brownies or cake, pointingly telling the staff that the cost was "a dollar three-eighty." But if he returned to a quiet office, he could observe that "the roar of typewriters is deafening."

                                                             The Rumor ‘Scouts'

With his many contacts - he called them scouts - he was able to keep up with all current rumors within the HPD. When Judy learned that he was to be replaced by a new civilian, he showed her the palm of his hand (where he often made notes) which showed "retirement" and showed her the empty drawers of his desk. He said that he had waited until she had 20 years with the city before he left. A short time later he was in my area signing his retirement papers.

By the following Monday a vacuum had formed within the department. While the staff had managed to handle most of the mail while Hogan was on vacation each year (invariably to his Iowa home town of Ida Grove), it was now impossible to control. The replacement quickly decided that all outside inquiries and complaints would be sent down to the assistant chiefs to prepare a response. That stupid idea had not been solved eight years later.

A few years after Hogan left, Judy found it necessary to move out of the chief's office. She then came to understand Hogan's earlier remark about working for anyone. She recalls that, following his retirement the staff sorely missed his intellect, leadership, pragmatism and, as she put it, the office went to hell.

After Judy and I set up residence near Lake Conroe in 2000, George found us and called regularly. There were a number of times that I drove to Houston to pick him up for lunch. The last time was at Otto's on Memorial, and Rick Hartley (100 Club executive director) and Nelson Foehner (retired HPD sergeant) rounded out the foursome. We had a great time.

George would call me at least once a month and we would always go back to the events of years earlier. I once asked him, "Who was the best chief?"

He would frequently complain that he couldn't remember what happened yesterday, but he never lost those events years ago. In the last year or so, the phone calls stopped, as he had fallen victim to Alzheimer's.

George Hogan will be missed by those who knew him, but not by those who mistakenly believed they replaced him.