Willie Nelson Honored by UT

by John Lucas

The Daily Texan Online
by Christopher Crawford 

When Annie Nelson addressed the crowd of Austin’s business leaders, academics and entertainers at a dinner to honor her husband Friday night, she reminded the audience that working for peace is not always peaceful. Nelson remembered calling her husband Willie for help when protesting landed her in jail.

“I’ll be at an event where sometimes some of us get arrested for advocating for peace, which is sort of curious,” Annie Nelson said. “When I call him, he says, ‘Don’t worry honey. If I can’t get you out, I’ll get in there with you.'”

Willie Nelson’s outlaw country music and freewheeling spirit made him a national icon, but it is how Nelson used his music and fame as a platform for humanitarian work that earned him the first Bridging Divides Award from UT’s Project for Conflict Resolution.

Student groups, the Society of Professional Mediators and the Willie Nelson Center Students for Peace and Conflict Resolution also helped organize Friday’s award dinner at the Frank Erwin Center.

Madeline Maxwell, a communication studies professor and the project’s founder, said Nelson’s work with Farm Aid, his concert and album Songs for Tsunami Relief: Austin to South Asia and his biodiesel company were notable examples of his efforts to aid in peaceful conflict resolution, the aim of the award.

“He’s got involved in a lot of things you don’t hear too much about,” Maxwell said. “He’s also kind of a symbol of the common man. You don’t have to be Gandhi or Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King to do some good. He seems to be somebody who’s looked around to do some good when he could.”

Willie Nelson’s daughter Amy treated the audience to a rare live performance of the song she co-wrote with him, titled “A Peaceful Solution.”

Reflecting on his childhood in Abbott, Texas, Willie Nelson considered himself an unlikely candidate for an award honoring an individual for representing peace.

“We fought everything from each other to bumblebees,” he said.

Like Maxwell, Willie Nelson emphasized the importance of individual action and community involvement.

“I learned in the Air Force the term ‘police your own area.’ I think that’s important that we all look around us and police our own area,” Nelson said. “So if there’s anything wrong in your own area, fix it.”

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