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I learned this morning that Charlton Heston died yesterday at his home in Los Angles. His wife Lydia was at his side as she has been for sixty-four years. Although Mr. Heston’s death was not a surprise in view of his failing health, the news reminded me of the NRA Annual Meeting and celebration in 2003.

In 2003, the NRA Annual Meeting of Members was held in Orlando, Florida. As usual, we had committee meetings virtually the entire preceding week and the Board meeting was on the Monday after the Annual Meeting of the members. To say the week was busy would be an understatement. We started early and worked late to finish our committee work. By Friday, we were ready for a break.

 There is usually a Friends of the NRA Dinner on Friday night and a banquet on Saturday night after the formal Meeting of the Members. In 2003, it was different. It is well known that Charlton Heston served as President of the NRA for five years, the only person to have served more than the customary two year term. In all likelihood, he would have been re-elected, had he not been stricken with Alzheimers. But it was not to be and in 2003, Charlton Heston stepped down as President of the NRA.

Many people believe Mr. Heston was elected and re-elected simply because he brought celebrity status to the office, but that couldn't be further from the truth. To honor Mr. Heston for his tireless service, a special Tribute to Charlton Heston was held on Friday night during the 2003 NRA Annual Meeting and celebration. Mr. Heston and Lydia, his wife of 50+ years, were on stage during the tribute that was narrated by Tom Selleck. As one would expect, videos were shown of several of Mr. Heston's speeches and appearances made on behalf of the NRA, its members and pro-rights candidates. What came as a surprise to many people was the dedication Mr. Heston has shown to civil rights throughout his life. He was one of the relatively few whites to march with Martin Luther King in Washington, D.C., a show of courage that would become a hallmark of his character.

Martha and I sat in front of the stage and watched Mr. Heston, Lydia and the video tribute in awe. We were struck with just how much Mr. Heston had done not only for the NRA members, but for the entire pro-rights movement. Marching with Dr. King was not so different from promoting pro-gun candidates; both required a heartfelt respect for our God-given freedoms protected by the United States Constitution and most state constitutions. In his five years as NRA President, he traveled tens of thousands of miles, gave hundreds of speeches and interviews and was often verbally attacked and ridiculed by those who would deprive Americans of their Constitutional right to own and use firearms for self-defense and sporing purposes.

We've all seen several standing ovations, but the one given to Charlton Heston and Lydia was the most sincere expression of appreciation given to a great American I had ever seen in my then-53 years. I am not what one would call an overly emotional person, as Martha will certainly confirm. However, watching Charlton Heston and Lydia walk from the stage while waving and throwing kisses to we who loved and admired him, then disappear behind the curtain, was one of the more difficult moments in my life. I kept thinking, "look at what this man has done and how much we are losing!"

Was Charlton Heston merely a celebrity figurehead? Hardly! He was the consummate patriot who was always willing to put the rights of others before his own interests; one who worked through his own physical pain and exhaustion to carry the fight for freedom to anyone who would listen.

I always find the NRA committee and board meetings to be rejuvenating, especially the Annual Meeting with tens of thousands of NRA members present. 2003, however, was in a class by itself. That year, Mr. Heston left the NRA Presidency, but his spirit and dedication will be long remembered and will serve as an inspiration for all who truly treasure freedom. We can show our respect for him by doubling our efforts to draw more people into the NRA. With the 2008 elections approaching and the likelihood of the Democrats expanding their majority in the United States House and Senate, strengthening the NRA has never been more important. Add in the distinct possibility that Senator Barack Omama may occupy the White House when a new United Nations small arms treaty is presented, and the threat becomes even more clear. To be sure, the NRA is the most powerful and successful civil rights organization the world has ever known, but one can only imagine what could be accomplished if our membership were doubled or tripled.

And what about TSRA? Why do we have approximately 35,000 members, when NRA membership in Texas is close to 300,000? If all NRA members would join TSRA, what politician, State or local, would dare tread on our freedoms? If you are not a member of either the NRA or TSRA, please join and encourage each and every family member to do likewise. The NRA and the pro-rights movement are stronger than ever in our history, but the threat is hardly over. The Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence is just waiting until the 2008 elections are over, while praying the U.S. economy will remain soft until election day. Remember, a change in the White House means a change not only in the President, but also the U.S. Attorney General and the real likelihood of nominating at least two new Supreme Court Justices, if Justices Stevens and Ginsberg retire as many predict. We are strong, but we need to be stronger yet.

At one time, the NRA offered the Tribute to Charlton Heston on VHS or DVD. I don’t know if the DVD is still available, but if so, every patriot should own it.

God speed Mr. Heston,