The latest installment in our yearlong Capital Cities travel series takes us to the booming college town of Austin, Texas. We loved catching up with First Lady Cecilia Abbott about her volunteer initiatives, her favorite rooms in the Texas Governor’s Mansion, her dear First Dogs, and more. Read highlights from our chat below—and pick up the July/August issue of Southern Lady to explore Austin in detail!
SL: During your college years in Austin, did you ever dream that you might one day be living in the Governor’s Mansion?
CA: I first moved to Austin in August of 1978 to begin my freshman year at the University of Texas. I was the quintessential college student, so I didn’t really know what career I would choose. Needless to say, I had no idea that my path would lead me from teaching to where I am today—proudly serving as the First Lady of Texas and living in the beautiful Texas Governor’s Mansion. It is an immense honor for Greg and me to serve the people of Texas. We have made it a priority to open the Governor’s Mansion to the people of Texas and share its history with those it belongs to.
SL: When Texans and other guests visit the Governor’s Mansion, what is your personal style of welcoming them? Have you created new entertaining traditions, and does your proficiency in music play a role?
CA: The Governor’s Mansion really belongs to the people of Texas. Greg and I are so honored to serve as its stewards. Whether for public tours or state dinners, we love to welcome guests to the Governor’s Mansion and share its history and treasures. Because Greg and I both love to entertain, we try to make each event personal to the particular group. We enjoy hosting many different types of events from a wide variety of cultures. For our first Christmas in the Governor’s Mansion, the house was decorated with papel picado, colorful paper flowers, and other traditional Mexican Christmas elements in a nod to my heritage and my hometown of San Antonio.
We always love to incorporate music and entertainment into the events, and have had the pleasure of having many talented visitors perform while at the Mansion. Whether it’s a local high school choir serenading guests or a pianist playing the piano that was so generously lent to the Governor’s Mansion, we feel most at home when the house is filled with guests and Texas-sized cheer.
SL: Tell us about how you balance your volunteer work and dedication to service with the demands of your schedule as First Lady.
CA: As First Lady, my schedule is quite busy with speaking engagements, meetings, and travel all across Texas. I am blessed to be able to meet so many wonderful Texans. However, I make sure that I still have time to honor my bi-weekly commitment to deliver meals as a volunteer with Meals On Wheels. I also work with my team to ensure that my schedule is focused on ways that I can promote volunteerism and service throughout the Lone Star State.
SL: Since residing at the mansion, what have become your favorite rooms to spend time in, and your favorite elements?
CA: I love to spend time in the library because of its cozy and comfortable environment, and because it brings back fond memories of my first-ever visit to the Governor’s Mansion. Greg and I were invited by then-Governor George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush, and our visit took place in the library. I also love the large parlor because it holds the piano that was lent to us, as well as one of the two breakfront cabinets housing the Governor’s Memento Collection, which is the collection of objects gifted to the Governor’s Mansion by each former governor or their family.
Finally, I adore the Pease and Sam Houston bedrooms, the two public bedrooms in the upstairs of the Governor’s Mansion. The rooms are beautifully decorated and are filled with personal reminders of these giants of Texas history who graced the halls of the Governor’s Mansion before us.
SL: We understand you’re devoted to animals. Have you brought pets other than your dogs to live at the mansion with you?
CA: The First Dog of Texas, Oreo, has been a part of our family for over 11 years, since she was a puppy. When we moved into the Governor’s Mansion last February, Oreo was our only pet. But we soon welcomed the First Puppy of Texas, Pancake, into our hearts, just a few weeks later. Those are the only two pets we currently have…although I once had a Nubian goat named Petunia.