CBS News anchorman Dan Rather, an outspoken defender of Waco during the Branch Davidian siege, will be the guest speaker at the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce’s 1993 Membership Banquet on June 3.
“We wanted to attract someone who could really encourage our community and spur us on to bigger and better things,” said Jack Stewart, chamber president.
He added that Rather seemed “the natural choice” in light of his kind words when some in the national media were taking potshots.
The chamber’s annual banquet had been scheduled for the evening of April 19, but earlier that day fire destroyed the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, killing more than 70 people, including self-proclaimed messiah Vernon Howell, also called David Koresh.
That fire ended the standoff that began Feb. 28 when four federal agents lost their lives trying to serve an arrest warrant on Howell.
Stewart said he saw the blaze as he arrived at Waco Regional Airport to pick up Lee Sherman Dreyfus, the former governor of Wisconsin. Dreyfus was scheduled to speak during the chamber banquet.
The chamber negotiated a reduced fee for Dreyfus, “who was very understanding,” said Stewart. The celebration was postponed.
In a guest column that appeared March 9 in the Tribune-Herald, Rather wrote:
“There’s nothing like a week-long armed standoff between the law and a religious sect to damage a town’s good name.
“Waco is finding that out in the continuing confrontation between law enforcement officials and David Koresh.”
Defending “a perfectly decent city” with good schools, sturdy homes and interesting museums, Rather wrote, “Unlike some of the reporters swarming around Waco the past week, I’d actually been to Waco many times before the standoff started.
“I expect I’ll be visiting again.”
The chamber responded to the column by honoring Rather with a proclamation and later issuing him an invitation to speak at its banquet.
CBS spokeswoman Donna Dees said time restraints allow Rather to accept only a handful of speaking requests he receives.
“He gives priority to Texas,” she said. “He remembers his roots.”
She added, “CBS is paying his fee. I think he wanted to be a part of things because of what had gone on in the community.”
The reception for the chamber banquet begins at 6 p.m. in the Chisholm Room of the Waco Convention Center. Dinner begins at 7.
Tickets are $25. For more information or to order tickets, call the chamber offices at 752-6551.