AUSTIN (KXAN) — “You have to give a damn about something and work to make it happen.” That’s how 104-year-old Shudde Fath lives her life. It’s her mantra. She is one of Austin’s most well-known environmentalists and respected equal rights leaders.
When asked what she is most proud of, Shudde says it’s her lawsuit against the Texas Employment Commission for equal-pay. She was the first woman in the state of Texas to win a lawsuit for sex discrimination.
At the time, Shudde didn’t know she was well on her way to living out the life mantra that has served her and others so well.
“You can’t do it alone. You need help from others, and you don’t win them all but things might be worse if you haven’t tried,” she said.
Sitting in her living room with a burnt orange University of Texas blouse over her thin frame, her silver hair tightly wound in curls straight from the hair salon, Shudde showed us her latest passion project.
It’s restoring old photos of her late husband Conrad “Connie” Fath.
“It keeps me out of the pool hall, as they say!” she said through a big belly laugh.
Shudde’s coffee table is covered in black and white photos, old newspaper clippings divided into categories. Her daughter Betsy searched for one in particular.
“Oh here it is — ‘Prominent UT Students Marry,'” she said.
Shudde smiled, her bright blue eyes opened wide and she said, “Oh, I need to tell you about that!”
In 1937, Shudde graduated with a business degree (with highest honors) from the University of Texas business school.
“I think there were 18 women out of my senior class at UT of probably 160. That’s kind of amazing in itself,” she said.
Shudde and Connie married a short time after graduation. She started her career at the Texas Employment Commission but the couple didn’t announce their marriage right away.
“There was a state law that any woman that worked for the State of Texas that was married would lose their job. This was the depression, and meant to spread the jobs around,” she explained.
That was just the beginning of Shudde and Connie’s life long commitment to support each other.
While working for the Texas Employment Commission, she was also the bookkeeper for their boat and motor shop in Austin. She became an advocate for keeping electric rates low. It was an effort that would eventually lead to her serving on Austin’s Electric Utility Commission for decades fighting for residential ratepayers, but not before taking on another battle.
Throughout her career, Shudde says she was struggling to advance while working for the Commission. She says she kept getting passed up for management positions while men kept advancing. After the Equal Employment Opportunity rulings came down, Shudde said nothing changed on its own until her husband gave her this advice: “He gently said, ‘Those bastards mistreated you and I don’t think you ought to stand for it,'” she said.
Shudde worked for the Commission for more than 42 years before retiring and winning an out-of-court cash settlement of $200,000 from her lawsuit — the first suit of its kind in Texas.
It also came with retirement pay. At 104 years old and decades into her retirement, Shudde jokingly said, “I’m the State Retirement System’s greatest loss — that they wake up every morning and look in the paper and see if I’m gone. It been fun.”
It’s been rewarding, too, she said. Shudde describes being at her beloved Barton Springs years after winning her lawsuit, “and this young woman came up and she was in management at Texas Workforce Commission and she said, ‘You are our hero.’ So, you can’t beat that.”
It was a compliment at one of Shudde’s favorite Austin spots, a lifelong activist for Barton Springs. She served for 29 years as treasurer of the Save Barton Creek Association.
There is even a 77-acre tract bordering the Barton Creek Greenbelt in Southwest Austin named in her honor.
“That’s pretty cool,” she said.
These days Shudde puts her mantra to use as she works to restore the old photos of Connie. They were married for 52 years before he died in 1990. Their only daughter Betsy nominated Shudde for KXAN’s Remarkable Woman Contest.
“I’m an eternal optimist. I don’t know why, but thank goodness I always think things will get better,” Shudde said.
Sponsored by Daniel Stark Law.