Tuesday, August 9, 2022 Aug 9, 2022
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One of the best female swimmers on the planet, Tracy Rowlett gets serious with Laura Miller, Dallas’ lonliest owl, the top ocularist in the country, and more.
By D Magazine |

Slippery When Wet

At a table at a La Madeleine, wearing a red t-shirt with a glittery “guess” across the front, Martina Moravcova says she couldn’t do this in her home country. “In Slovakia, I am a celebrity,” she says in lightly accented English. “The tabloids would say, ‘Who is this man she was eating lunch with?’” Moravcova (more-rahv-SO-vah), 28, happens to be one of the best swimmers on the planet: six-time Slovakian “Sportsperson of the Year,” 16 European records, three world records, and two Olympic silver medals. She’s also the winningest female swimmer in the modern history of the NCAA. She moved to Dallas in 1995 to swim for SMU, where she earned a BA in business and an MA in applied economics. After graduation, she continued training with SMU women’s coach Steve Collins, who recruited her. Moravcova will compete one last time for Slovakia at the Athens Games in August, swimming the 100-meter butterfly and the 50-, 100-, and 200-meter freestyle. “Being from a small country puts more pressure on you to win at the Olympics,” she says. “Everyone is counting on you.” The man she is eating with says he can only imagine and points out that she has mayonnaise on her mouth. The scandal goes completely unnoticed by the Americans lunching nearby. —Tim Rogers

Photo: James Bland


A Few Questions from Tracy Rowlett

Laura Miller has come a long way, baby. Six years ago, she was a firebrand city columnist for the Dallas Observer, attacking City Hall like a bulldog in Donna Karans. Today, she’s the mayor. She herself admits she’s grown up. But she’s still fighting: to revitalize downtown, to fix the Trinity, to sack City Manager Ted Benavides. We sat down to talk about leadership and the controversial report “Dallas at the Tipping Point,” recently published by the Dallas Morning News.

ROWLETT: Dallas looks pretty bad in this research. What was your gut reaction when you first saw the report?
MILLER: I was horrified. I said, “We are going to take the best of the recommendations, and we’re going to act on them.” But my biggest disappointment with the whole section was: you proved your point, it was a thorough job, but you didn’t pull the trigger. What is the solution? Well, the solution is one of two things. You either go to a strong mayor form of government and totally change how we do business here, or you call for a new management. Or you do both. The report didn’t suggest any of those things. My message to the Morning News is help us get there. Take it to the next step. And I hope the Council goes there, too.

ROWLETT: You seem to have more support now to get rid of Benavides. Who’s building this coalition?
MILLER: It’s not being built. I’ve literally walked into council members’ offices and broached the subject, and they would leap out of their chairs in a panic and run for the door. So I’m not counting votes anymore. You know, we sat in a public forum, taking the report card that Ted has created for himself. We’re tweaking it. But it’s like my 11-year-old daughter who doesn’t like to do her homework. And it’s like her doing her report card for herself: “I’ll get 20 points if I think about doing my homework. And I’ll get another 20 points if I form a focus group to tell me how to tackle my homework.” But at the end of the day, is the homework done? I find it kind of embarrassing, quite frankly, to be sitting there going through this.

ROWLETT: Many of us have watched you change from a shoe-leather populist into the belle of the establishment. Which is more fun?
MILLER: I’m having a lot of fun. I really like my job.

ROWLETT: But now you are best buddies with Belo CEO Robert Decherd. What happened?
MILLER: It’s really funny. I would never have imagined in my whole life that I would have regular conversations with Robert Decherd about the future of downtown Dallas. I’ve grown up a lot. Five years ago, everything was black and white. Everything was a conspiracy. When I was at the Observer, I was always looking for the underlying agenda. When you get inside this building and you really know what’s going on, the frightening thing is that there is no agenda. There is no conspiracy. There is no person pulling the levers behind the curtain. That’s what’s really scary.

ROWLETT: There are leaders in the African-American community who say you are racist. Are you?
MILLER: No. Last week, I did something I should have done two years ago. I went to a luncheon hosted by the community newspaper that has led the push for a recall election. I met with about 30 people or so, and we talked about a lot of issues. Afterward, they said they saw things differently and asked if I would come back once a month. I said sure.

ROWLETT: You seem to have an eye toward consensus building. And I haven’t seen that in you before.
MILLER: Well, it didn’t exist before. When I first came onto the City Council, I was very optimistic. I really thought that when I went to the Council meetings I would be one of the gang. That wasn’t so. Clearly, I wasn’t a welcome addition to the Council, and everything I tried to do early on was a disaster. I didn’t build coalitions for three and a half years. I was typecast. I fought with Ron [Kirk]. I still carried my reporter’s notebook. They thought I was a know-it-all and just a pretend council member so I could go write about them. I knew that when I became mayor, I’d have only one shot to change that. I could either grow up and learn how to build consensus, or I could fail.


The Loneliest Owl
Hunters at White Rock left one bird wondering, “Who?”
by Allison Hatfield

For a while last winter, things looked grim at the Old Fish Hatchery on the south end of White Rock Lake. A birdwatcher found a female barred owl slumped over in a fork of a giant cedar tree, her bereaved widower nearby (barred owls mate for life). An autopsy revealed that a rock, most likely from a slingshot, had broken her spine.

The slaying of the owl was the second strange occurrence at the hatchery, 26 long-abandoned and mostly dried-up ponds that have flourished as an unofficial nature preserve. The first was the theft of a brass dedication plaque at the entrance to the 40 acres. “In hindsight, it was an ominous omen,” says Kelly Cotton, a former president of Audubon Dallas who still leads treks through the area.

Nine days after the discovery of the dead owl, a group of hikers, led by Cotton, stumbled upon a raccoon struggling to free a mangled paw from a steel trap. Trying to help the raccoon, the hikers stepped into a minefield near the edge of a beaver pond—five more traps snapped shut in succession.

A week later, Chris Runk, who had discovered the owl, heard gunshots coming from the direction of the same beaver pond. Runk called the cops. Police arrested a camo-clad hunter carrying a duck call, a .22-caliber rifle, and a dead squirrel. He’d chopped down several small trees to create a clear line of fire—toward a paved trail only 50 yards away that hundreds of people walk, run, and bike each day.

But since that February evening, the “cloud of evil that descended on this place for a month” has lifted, Cotton says. A new red and white sign on the 6-foot chain-link fence that surrounds the hatchery warns: “No poaching or trapping.” Cotton recovered the stolen plaque. No more traps have been found, and there have been no further hunting incidents. Best of all, birders report that the widowed barred owl recently found a new love. A younger, unattached female happened across his territory and was wooed by his lonely song. She came too late in the season for the pair to produce a brood this year, but next spring their nest, high in a sycamore tree, will be home to another generation. Woo-hoo.


SOFT FOCUS: Barrett has a casual, unscripted, private moment with Ted Strauss.

Her So-called Life
A new TV show about Dallas? Starring Angie Barrett?
by Tim Rogers

Undefeated heavyweight socialite Angie Barrett has been making the rounds lately with a camera crew in tow. For those who haven’t wandered into the limelight with her and been forced to sign a release, here’s the skinny:

A few months ago, producers working on a CBS reality series called The Will approached Barrett. The concept has family members competing for a favored spot in a wealthy relative’s will. “Everyone in my family thought it was kind of morbid,” Barrett says. “So we said no to that. But we just all kind of fell in love with each other—the director, the producer, and me—and they said, ‘You need to be on TV. You’re so hilarious.’”

Thus was born Inside Dallas, a series for which she’s been shooting a pilot. The show would feature, for instance, Barrett hobnobbing with Ted Strauss at the Family Gateway Luncheon, then show her interviewing actual families at the Gateway.

“It’s a kind of a picture of Dallas that maybe will get rid of some misconceptions that people have,” Barrett says. “We’re showing the glamour, but then we’re showing why we go to these luncheons and why we go to these balls—the whole reason for everything.”

The pilot also ventures into matters more Barrett. She says, “I cooked, which is hilarious, since the only reason we have a kitchen in our house is for resale value. I cooked penne vodka with darling Michael Abruzese from Il Mulino. They actually let me near an open flame and vodka.”

Barrett is co-executive producer with Niki Marvin, who produced The Shawshank Redemption. Marvin also directed the pilot, which Barrett will begin pitching to TV execs later this month. Stay tuned.

Photo: Dana Driensky


The Eye Guy
Randy Trawnik brings new meaning to the phrase trompe l’ oeil.
by Stacey Yervasi

Randy Trawnik sits in his Preston Center office, beaming like a proud father as he leafs through albums containing before-and-after photos of his patients, many of whom are children. But Trawnik is not a doctor; he’s an artist. He makes fake eyes—or, more properly, ocular prostheses. And if the images in the albums aren’t vivid enough, Trawnik can pop out his own left eye for closer inspection.

When he was 17, Trawnik was shot in the face with a blank during an ROTC training exercise. The injury required the removal of his eye, and it ended his military career. But it also introduced Trawnik to the little-known field of ocularistry. After receiving a degree in art, he began a five-year apprenticeship under John O’Donnell, the pioneering Dallas ocularist who had treated him.

Trawnik is now considered one of the best ocularists in the country. His creations, custom-made to match the patient’s remaining eye, have even fooled ophthalmologists. Each prosthetic piece begins as a plain acrylic orb cast from a wax model designed to fit perfectly in the patient’s eye socket. Layers of translucent paint give the iris a 3-D look. Trawnik uses red thread to produce the wispy blood vessels. “I consider myself the ultimate stealth artist,” he says, alluding to the realism of his prosthetics, allowing his patients to wear them in anonymity. The only easily discernable difference: the pupils can’t dilate.

Trawnik’s reputation attracts people from around the world, from Saudi Arabian princes to American beauty queens. “I am a big fish in a small pond,” he says. His skill and an empathy capable only of a wounded healer are their reward. As if to highlight the bond he shares with his patients, Trawnik introduces me to one, an older gentleman in for a follow-up appointment. The man proudly rolls and crosses his eyes, then asks if I can tell which is artificial. I assure him that I cannot. He and Trawnik exchange knowing winks, content to leave me in ignorance.


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