If you’re at all interested in the new movie that’s coming out, Charlie Wilson’s War, you’ll be interested in this.
Of course I’m interested, since I’m interested in anything remotely to do with Texas and especially to do with Houston. Charlie Wilson’s War features one of the grande dames of Houston society, the inimitable Joanne Herring, as played by Julia Roberts. You won’t catch me gushing Society Column-style over most socialites, but Joanne was — and is — quite different.
Joanne was born rich and beautiful — a tough life, clearly — but instead of taking the Paris Hilton road to fame, she applied her intelligence and charm to every situation with which she was presented. Along with Charlie Wilson himself, Joanne was instrumental in persuading Congress and the CIA to help arm the Afghan resistance fighters against Soviet invasion during the Cold War, after conversations with the Pakistani president convinced her that the Soviets were attempting to overtake Afghanistan in order to use the country as a staging area for invading the rest of the Middle East.
She developed a deep fondness for the Afghan people — and the Middle East in general — while conducting business alongside her second husband, the millionaire oil-and-gas trader Robert Herring. She and a small film crew snuck into Afghanistan to film the Soviet aggression, and the socialite (who also had a talk show in Houston for over 15 years) interviewed mujahideen warriors and captured Soviet attacks on camera. While there, Joanne narrowly survived a helicopter attack. Ultimately, it was this film footage that was used to convince the U.S. government to supply arms to Afghanistan. And although this may have indirectly led to the Afghan Civil War and the subsequent rise of the Taliban, it was certainly considered a victory against Communism at the time.
In addition to her work in Afghanistan, she became the honorary consul to both Pakistan and Morocco, befriended many heads of state, was knighted by the king of Belgium and — back at home — founded a UNICEF chapter in Houston in addition to hosting legendary parties (Roman orgy, anyone?). And throughout her incredible life, she’s retained a silly yet sharp sense of humor and her traditional Southern charm. She’s an intriguing mix between Dolly Parton and Shirley Temple-Black: laughing admissions of plastic surgery and hair bleaching in between deep conversations about Middle Eastern politics and personal philanthropy.
And here’s what you’ll be interested in: our Joanne has a website, and it’s fierce.
At her website — www.joanneherring.com — you can browse her life in pictures, from her River Oaks childhood home to her many meetings with presidents and sultans. And, of course, she looks fabulous in every single picture. So if you’re in the least bit interested in Charlie Wilson’s War or even just a little intersection of Cold War and Texas history, go pay Joanne a visit. You’ll have a good time.
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