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A local police officer, who knew Carroll from his sheriff's duties, shouted, "He's one of us." The agent glanced at Carroll again and replied, "He sure doesn't look like it."
Bush got Carroll's calling card, although it was a group of HPD officers who quickly commissioned him to make the VP a set of boots. That was one of the frantic eight-hour rush jobs for Carroll, who had them ready for Bush's departure from Ellington Field. The results paid off permanently.
Bush commissioned 51 more pairs of boots from Carroll, so many that he has worn out the model of the ex-president's 11D foot. Earning early fame as the president's boot maker, Rocky supplied his tuxedo and black patent inaugural boots and was in Washington when the president pulled up his pants leg to show them off.
"They were so nice to me that I told them I came there as a Democrat but was leaving as a Republican," he says. Carroll credits Bush for a new boom in boot popularity, saying professionals traded their patent leather shoes for the western wear when the then-president sported boots. And Carroll gained his moment of international publicity when he cobbled up boots for the world leaders who came to Houston for the economic summit.
The political boot business is for the most part bipartisan. Each time Clinton comes to town, Rocky boards Air Force One, with the latest entourage boarding in January to outfit the crew. Clinton, who has 25 pairs, stopped to talk to Carroll, telling him that Hillary took one set of Rocky's comfortable walking boots on a recent trip to South Africa.
Carroll, of course, is now a campaigner for Governor George W. Bush in his presidential bid. He gave the governor, who prefers a conservative look, a pair that feature a miniature Texas with flag and filigree gold overlay. The boot maker's products can be seen on preachers as well as politicians. The late John Osteen of Lakewood Church got a pair, thanked him on one of his television shows and aired Carroll's logo. A follower confused the telephone numbers and called Rocky's shop to offer prayers for Lakewood Church. Carroll recalls his response: "Lady, you got the boot line, but let me give you the prayer line."
For some charities Carroll has been the answer to their prayers. He estimates that he gives away about 200 sets of boots yearly to a variety of nonprofit causes. Many of his boots for celebrities also are gratis, though they regularly generate paid orders -- and ample news coverage.
If some of his stories sound outlandish, it's because the listeners don't know Carroll, friends say. "The guy has got a heart of gold," says Vickers. "That man hasn't told a lie a day of his life."
Carroll admits that the gift boots to presidents and premiers have produced incredible interest, and income, for his shop. "I had so much publicity, I'd be stupid to charge for them," he says. "I couldn't buy that much advertising. When they had the economic summit here, I was in every paper in the world."
But savvy marketing has nothing to do with it, he says. Nor does the urge to be a groupie.
"I met all these people I would have never met otherwise," he explains. "From the first, those boots for George Bush and Reagan, I felt very honored that they like them -- like I was doing something for my country. And it just mushroomed from there.
"But never in my wildest dream did I think I'd get to meet all those people. I didn't do it expecting anything in return. I just did it because I wanted to. And I guess that's why I'll keep on doing it."