Best of Houston®

Best Of 2009


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Best Of :: People & Places

Best Local Weathercaster

The only time a Houston weathercaster can truly earn his or her stripes is during hurricane season. A trained monkey could give you the forecast eight months a year. After all, how hard is it to say, "It's gonna be hot and humid and it might rain" over and over again? No, it's only when we get hit or menaced by a big blow that the wheat gets separated from the chaff, and Billingsley proved his mettle again last year during Hurricane Ike, much as he did in 2005 during Rita. While many of the other weathercasters milked the fear and paranoia of both storms for all the doomsday scenarios they were worth, Billingsley remained calm throughout. During Ike, he stayed most focused on Galveston and the coast, where the danger was greatest and where he owns a home. Nobody knew better than Billingsley that as real as the suffering was in Houston, things were much worse on the barrier islands and along the rims of the bays. As Houston Chronicle blogger Eric "SciGuy" Berger put it, Billingsley is the local weathercaster who demonstrates best how to inform rather than scare, and a hurricane-weary region loves him for it.

Best 15 Minutes of Fame

When Hurricane Ike was destroying lives and property in Galveston, one man thought to himself, A-ha! I can use this! And that man was Jacob Calle, although he is probably better known as Hurricane Bear. That's because he donned a bear costume with a pink bowtie and moonwalked along a Galveston beach while TV news crews were surveying the damage. It got him on CNN and in The Wall Street Journal. He sold T-shirts from his Web site and made himself available for parties — but he also included a link to the Red Cross's Web site, so people could donate. It's an interesting idea, and we're eagerly awaiting the appearance of Hurricane Platypus.

Best Bureaucrat

Heading up the public-health department for the third-largest county in the U.S. is never going to be an easy task, but Harris County brings its own special challenges, like hurricanes and, this year, its seeming to be Ground Zero for the swine-flu pandemic/panic (take your pick). Herminia Palacio handles these duties with competence and class — during Ike, she and staff members were at TranStar headquarters full-time; during Katrina she supervised operations at the Dome, an experience she still is asked to lecture about to public-health organizations nationwide. And when the swine flu hit, she worked closely with cities and school districts in her jurisdiction to keep things a lot calmer than they might have been. She's loved by her staff, and she keeps them up-to-date by ensuring they have the opportunity to get the latest training. Handling public-health issues in Harris County demands a calm and capable leader; luckily, we have one.

Best Cemetery

The idea of "best cemetery" may sound a bit grim, but there's nothing gloomy about Glenwood. It's just as much of a tranquil park and beautiful place to visit as it is a spot to bury loved ones. Built in what was then rural Houston in 1871, Glenwood's graves sit nestled amongst some of the city's only lush, rolling hills, which lead down to Buffalo Bayou off of Washington Avenue. Visitors can slowly drive along the winding roads throughout the cemetery underneath cascading trees and get a glimpse of where local and international luminaries are interred. Such notables include DeWitt Harris, for whom Harris County is named, former Texas governor William Hobby, Hollywood actress Gene Tierney Lee and billionaire eccentric Howard Hughes.

Best City Park

What Houstonian isn't proud of this beautiful, expansive, multifaceted park? Located on a former military camp where soldiers trained for battle in World War I, the park is dedicated to those soldiers' honor. Today, the park has something for just about everyone — an 18-hole golf course, 2.93-mile jogging trail, mountain bike paths, tennis, soccer, baseball, croquet, volleyball and a playground for kids. There's even a fitness center, with daily or monthly memberships that won't hurt your wallet. Or you can just chill in the Picnic Loop and people-watch.

6501 Memorial Dr., Houston, 77007
Best Civil Attorney

Okay, you've committed a crime. Quick, check your shirt: Is the collar white? If so, there's only one attorney in town to contact: Joel Androphy. You may have seen him on TV as a legal expert both locally and nationally, but ironically enough, a lot of his most important work goes unnoticed. He specializes in whistleblower lawsuits, and while those suits often bring bad-behaving corporations to heel — and give help to people brave enough to take them on — they are usually settled with confidentiality agreements that prevent media coverage. And they are civil cases, so even though he's mostly known from criminal stuff, Androphy easily qualifies as a top-rank civil attorney. Besides whistleblowers, he is an expert on all types of corporate crime; he's honest, tough and knows how to get things done. If you've stabbed your crack dealer because he shorted you two rocks, Androphy's probably not your man, but if you find yourself in a courtroom because of things that happened in a classier setting, he's who you need to see.


Best Local Weathercaster: Frank Billingsley, KPRC-Channel 2


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