If you’ve dined at a Tex-Mex restaurant, you’ve probably tried Bob Armstrong dip. The warm, melted queso piled high with zesty taco meat and smooth, fresh guacamole is at first blush a kooky , Warholian concoction. But after dipping a salty tortilla chip into the bowl and tasting it, one can’t help but appreciate the culinary delight, and finish off the entire bowl.
Texas recently lost the dish’s namesake, as former Land Commissioner Robert Landis “Bob” Armstrong passed away on March 1. And while most Texans will continue to enjoy the appetizer bearing his name, his legacy and impact on the great state go far beyond the dinner table.
Armstrong served in the Texas House of Representatives from 1963 to 1971 after winning a special election in the fall of 1963. He was supposed to be sworn into office on November 22 of that year, but his swearing in was delayed due to the tragic assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Following his service in the legislature, Armstrong ran for Texas Land Commissioner in 1970, and served for 12 years. He was described by many as having a casual, good-humored nature, while also possessing a true passion and determination for conserving public lands and minimizing environmental impact.
During his time as Land Commissioner, his friendly demeanor, coupled with a tight schedule and empty stomach, led him to famously poke his head into the kitchen of Matt’s El Rancho, a local Austin eatery, and ask a then teenage Matt Martinez, Jr. to “whip me up something different”. (Full recount of the history of the Bob Armstrong dip can be found here.) Martinez knew Armstrong well, and went around the kitchen and quickly and happily whipped up the now-famous dip. The dish was born, but Armstrong’s work was not yet finished.
He soon followed his twelve years of service as Land Commissioner with an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for governor, losing to then-Attorney General Mark White. White would go on to win the gubernatorial election, but appointed his former rival Armstrong to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission in 1985. From this post, he encouraged the state to purchase 212,000 of ranch land north of the Big Bend National Park, an acquisition that formed the biggest state park in Texas, the Big Bend Ranch State Park.
Armstrong was remembered by many for being among the earliest public officials to promote protection of Texas’ environmental interests. He also helped increase the state’s revenues from oil and gas production, helping to fund Texas universities and schools.
In 1993, Armstrong continued his public service, having been appointed by then-President Bill Clinton to serve as assistant secretary for land and minerals management at the Department of the Interior in 1993, where he served for five years. At the same time, the famous dip also made it’s way to the nation’s capitol.
Following his service in Washington, Armstrong returned to his native Austin, where he lived with his wife, Linda Aaker, until his passing the first Sunday of March, 2015.