Baylor Mourns Death of Baylor Graduate and Former Texas Gov. Ann Richards

September 14, 2006

by Lori Fogleman, director of media relations, (254) 710-6275

Waco native Ann Richards, the 1954 Baylor University graduate and champion debater who became the first woman elected as Texas governor in her own right, died Sept. 13 after a six-month battle with cancer. She was 73.

Baylor President John M. Lilley released the following statement on behalf of Gov. Richards' alma mater:

"Baylor University extends its deepest sympathy to the family and countless friends of distinguished Baylor graduate, Gov. Ann Richards," said Baylor President John M. Lilley. "It was here at Baylor that Gov. Richards sharpened her considerable debate skills and laid the groundwork for her historic political career. Whenever she came back to Baylor, she provided inspiration, encouraging young men and young women to consider a life of public service. Ann Richards was a generous alumna who was dedicated in her service to Texas and to her alma mater. The entire Baylor family mourns her loss."

Richards' family announced today that the body of the former Texas governor will lie in state in the State Capitol Rotunda in Austin, Texas, from 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 16, and from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 17.

A public funeral will be held at noon Monday, Sept. 18, at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin. Burial will be private.

Richards graduated from Waco High School in 1950 and attended Baylor on a debate scholarship. After graduating, she earned a teaching certificate from the University of Texas. Her first job was teaching social studies and history at an Austin junior high school, which Richards said was the hardest work she had ever done.

Richards' career in politics began when she served on the Austin planning and zoning commission. In 1976, she ran for a seat on the Travis County Commissioners Court, defeating a three-term incumbent to become the first woman to serve as commissioner in the county's 136-year history.

In 1982, she made history again when she was elected state treasurer, becoming the first woman to win a statewide office in Texas in half a century. She was reelected without opposition in 1986, then burst onto the national scene in 1988, when she delivered the keynote address to the Democratic National Convention.

Richards left the treasurer's post in 1990 to run for governor. On Jan. 15, 1991, she was sworn in as the state's 45th governor - the first woman elected to that job in her own right.

After leaving the governor's office, Richards worked with a Washington law firm as an adviser, taught a popular course at Brandeis University and expanded an already busy speaking schedule. She also worked as a senior adviser with Public Strategies Inc., an Austin-based consulting firm that helps companies analyze, develop and implement their public agendas.

Richards was a special guest at Baylor in April 2002, when she served as Law Day keynote speaker as the university dedicated the Sheila and Walter Umphrey Law Center. In April 2003, she returned to her alma mater to deliver the second lecture in the Public Leadership Series, delighting the standing-room-only crowd in Barfield Drawing Room with anecdotes from her Baylor days, as well as her colorful and challenging career in politics.

(Read about Gov. Richards' April 15, 2003, Public Leadership Lecture at Baylor by clicking on Richards Remembers Baylor Days; Encourages 'Ideal' Of Public Service.)

Richards' Public Leadership appearance was held in conjunction with the annual Women's Day celebration, sponsored by Mortar Board, a national honor society for seniors based on scholarship, leadership and service. That evening, Mortar Board members presented Richards with an honorary membership to the society.

The gesture led Richards to quip, "That was the only way I could ever have become a member of Mortar Board."

In 1998, the Baylor Alumni Association presented Richards with the Price Daniel Distinguished Public Service Award, presented annually to a person whose record in public office exemplifies the spirit of selfless dedication to public service represented by the life and career of the late Gov. Price Daniel.

Dr. Karla Leeper, who served as director of the award-winning Baylor debate program before becoming chief of staff this summer to President Lilley, said Richards was a truly unique figure.
"She had a gift for speaking to people in a voice that was distinctly Texan and that represented those that weren't normally represented in the political arena. She had an opportunity to use that voice as a competitive debater at Baylor," Leeper said. "We have always been proud to count her as one of our alumni. She was funny and courageous and ordinary people felt as if she understood them. In a generation where it might be hard to tell one politician from another, Ann Richards stood out. She broke barriers, changed expectations and challenged business as usual. She took a chance to make a difference and her legacy should inspire others to do the same."

Richards is survived by her children, Cecile, Daniel, Clark and Ellen; their spouses; and eight grandchildren.