Baylor Mourns Death of 'Legendary' Baylor Law Grad

June 21, 2006

by Alan Hunt, associate director of media relations, (254) 710-6271
Gov. Bill Daniel, the famed, flamboyant Texas trial lawyer and Baylor law graduate who served as the governor of the U.S. Territory of Guam, died at his home in Liberty, Texas, on Tuesday, June 20. He was 90.

Daniel is survived by three daughters, Ann Daniel Rogers, Susan Daniel and Dani Daniel Brister, all of Liberty, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Visitation will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday, June 22, at Allison Funeral Home on North Travis Street in Liberty. Funeral services will be at 2 p.m. Friday, June 23, at First United Methodist Church in Liberty.

Daniel, a sixth-generation Texan, said it was always one of his ambitions as a child to go to Baylor. And, true to his word, he hitchhiked to the Baylor campus during the 1930s with just $7 in his pocket and a determination to secure a Baylor education.

As a first-year Baylor law student, Daniel helped to pay his way by serving the nationally ranked 1935 Baylor football team as trainer and manager. His picture once appeared in Life magazine, showing him racing across Baylor's Carroll Field with armfuls of football equipment. Daniel also was helped by then-Baylor President Gov. Pat Neff, who arranged for him to tend the campus flower beds, cut grass and do janitorial work. In addition, Daniel helped to look after the Baylor bear mascots, "Betty Coed" and "Joe College." In 1938, Daniel graduated from Baylor Law School with a law degree.

Like his father, Marion Price Daniel Sr. (1882-1937), Daniel set out to serve as a loyal benefactor and an "ambassador" for Baylor University. Setting up his law practice in Liberty, Daniel quickly emerged as an impressive courtroom figure, and, later, as a state representative for Southeast Texas, defending the interests of the public and his beloved Baylor University at every opportunity.

He completed more than 60 years as a practicing trial lawyer, receiving numerous tributes and awards from the State Bar of Texas. He was named Baylor Lawyer of the Year in 1985. In 1991, the State Bar honored his efforts to preserve Texas legal history by naming its new state-of-the-art historical repository in Austin as "The Gov. Bill and Vara Daniel Center for Legal History."

The year of Daniel's graduation from Baylor, 1938, also saw his first meeting with Miss Vara Faye Martin, a young lady from Hillsboro who had moved to Liberty to take up a new post as music director for the school system. The two were married the following year. Miss Vara, his devoted wife of nearly 50 years, died in 1987 at the age of 69.

Appointed by President John F. Kennedy as governor of the U.S. Territory of Guam, Daniel took pride in the fact that the island began to blossom economically and socially during his term as governor. The Guam Legislature lauded him as their "Eagle Governor."

Daniel also was proud of the starring role he had in John Wayne's acclaimed film, "The Alamo." He played the role of Col. Neill in the film and also furnished more than 400 Longhorn cattle, hundreds of horses and other rare props for the film from his sprawling ranch along the banks of the Trinity River.

Several facilities at Baylor reflect Daniel's love for his alma mater over many decades. The Gov. Bill and Vara Daniel Historic Village at the Mayborn Museum Complex was donated by the Daniel family in 1984 and was moved, by road, to Waco from Liberty. The relocated village is now a major tourist attraction beside the Brazos River. At their previous location in Liberty, the 23 donated buildings formed the heart of the Daniels' Historic Plantation Ranch Village and were designated as one of the earliest permanent Anglo settlements in Texas.

Other campus facilities bearing the family name include the Bill Daniel Student Center, and the Hon. M.P. Daniel Esplanade, a major campus artery named in honor of Daniel's father. Gov. Bill and Miss Vara also made possible the restoration of the George W. Carroll Science Hall. A plaque inside the building recognizes the couple who "have given substantially of their time, professional talents and resources for the betterment of this university."

Dr. Herbert H. Reynolds, president emeritus of Baylor, said, "I knew and worked with Gov. Bill for many years and he was truly sui generis. He loved and supported Baylor University for 70 years and was always generous with his time, talents and resources. He added a significant dimension to the life of Baylor and he and his contemporaries were among our most ardent advocates."

"We have witnessed the passing of a genuine Texas original, who has greatly enriched the landscape of our lives and times," said Brad Toben, dean of Baylor Law School and The Gov. Bill and Vara Faye Daniel Professor of Law. "Gov. Bill served his nation, state and Baylor with an indomitable spirit and a zest for leaving all that he touched in some fashion better. A man and a lawyer of many gifts and talents has passed from the scene, but we are left richer by his life and spirit."

Former Baylor historian Dr. Eugene W. Baker, who worked with Daniel on a number of Baylor-related projects, described him as a true Renaissance man.

"Although the legal profession was Gov. Bill's first love, he was involved in so many aspects of life," he said. "He was never afraid to assist anyone who needed help and he always devoted his full energies to whatever activity in which he was engaged. He had a special place in his heart for anything Texas and anything Baylor University. Our state and its oldest institution of higher education will truly miss him."