Governor Ann Richards was a Texan from birth. Ann was born in 1933 in Lakeview, Texas and grew up in Waco. Proving from an early age that good things do come from all parts of Texas.
I was born during the Depression in a little community just outside Waco, and I grew up listening to Franklin Roosevelt on the radio. Well, it was back then that I came to understand the small truths and the hardships that bind neighbors together. Those were real people with real problems and they had real dreams about getting out of the Depression. I can remember summer nights when we’d put down what we called the Baptist pallet, and we listened to the grownups talk. I can still hear the sound of the dominoes clicking on the marble slab my daddy had found for a tabletop. I can still hear the laughter of the men telling jokes you weren’t supposed to hear talkin' about how big that old buck deer was, laughin' about mama puttin' Clorox in the well when the frog fell in.
Ann went to college at Baylor and eventually moved with her husband David Richards to Austin. Once in Austin, Ann received a teaching certificate from the University of Texas.
Ann was a leader and great political mind early in her career. She helped elect Sarah Weddington and Wilhemina Delco to the State Legislature. She campaigned aggressively to ensure Texas ratify the Equal Rights Amendment in 1976. After serving as the Travis County Commissioners Court she became the first woman elected in a statewide office in 1982 when she became the State Treasurer.
In 1988 Richards exploded on the national stage when she gave an impressive keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention.
Two years later, incumbent Governor Bill Clements announced he would not run for re-election which opened the door for Ann to show the state what she could do. As Glenn Smith described a night on the hard road to victory, you understand everything that made Ann a Texas legend in life.
I drove Ann to dinner one night, just the two of us. The election outcome was very much in doubt. It was raining, and my wipers screeched on the windows.
“I don’t know, I don’t know,” she said.
“Know what?” I mumbled.
“Know what to do if we lose. There are so many people depending on me. Young people. Women. Texas. We just can’t lose.” If WE lose, she said. I didn’t respond. I didn’t know what to say. We rode along in silence, with the damned windshield wipers shreeking.
Ann wasn’t worried about her losing. She was worried about us. She didn’t want US to lose, and by “us” she meant all Texans who had been so casually forgotten by an ignorant good-old-boy system, by a racist past that still haunts us today, by a cold-as-coffin-nails callous state government somehow always trumped old small-town Texas neighborliness.
The rest is history. Winning and working hard for Texas during her term as Governor. Kelley Shannon of the AP describes Ann's successes simply.
In four years as governor, Richards championed what she called the "New Texas," appointing more women and more minorities to state posts than any of her predecessors.
She appointed the first black University of Texas regent; the first crime victim to join the state Criminal Justice Board; the first disabled person to serve on the human services board; and the first teacher to lead the State Board of Education. Under Richards, the fabled Texas Rangers pinned stars on their first black and female officers.
She polished Texas' image, courted movie producers, championed the North American Free Trade Agreement, oversaw an expansion of the state prison system, and presided over rising student achievement scores and plunging dropout rates.
After hearing the news of her passing last night Mayor Will Wynn was quick to say:
Ann Richards was my friend, an advisor and an inspiration. In fact, my very first $100 contribution to my first city council campaign in 2000 was from Ann. Her passing is devastating for so many of us and serves as a reminder to cherish the people we love. I will think of what she unknowingly did for me by setting a very high bar of public service to the community.
After all that she had accomplished in life, she still found time last year to lead a Mayor's Book Club discussion of "Writing Austin's Lives" as well as volunteering down at the Austin Convention Center sorting donated clothes during the Hurricane Katrina exercise.
I am asking that flags at City facilities be flown at half-staff until further notice in memory of our Governor; a public servant and Texas legend. We will keep her family in our thoughts and prayers.
The current chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, Boyd Richie, added, “we lost a true Texas hero in Ann Richards. Ann knew the real meaning of public service, and her dedication to empowering others was evident throughout her entire political career. Ann was a trailblazer and a real treasure, and I know people of all political persuasions are saddened by her passing”
Governor Richards leaves a lasting legacy behind. Ann once said,"I did not want my tombstone to read, 'She kept a really clean house.' I think I'd like them to remember me by saying, 'She opened government to everyone.'"
She did just that.
Ann inspired a generation of young men and, more importantly, women to become involved in politics. Her daughter Cecile Richards is the current president of Planned Parenthood and will surely continue her mothers mission.
Ann Richards left this world doing everything she could to make Texas a better place, and she will be greatly missed.