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obituaries

RIP, George H.W. Bush

The 41st President passed away on Friday evening.

George Bush

George Herbert Walker Bush, whose lone term as the 41st president of the United States ushered in the final days of the Cold War and perpetuated a family political dynasty that influenced American politics at both the national and state levels for decades, died Friday evening in Houston. He was 94.

Bush was the last president to have served in the military during World War II. His experience in international diplomacy served him well as he dealt with the unraveling of the Soviet Union as an oppressive superpower, and later the rise of China as a commercial behemoth and potential partner.

His wife of 73 years, Barbara Pierce Bush, died April 17, 2018, at the age of 92.

Steeped in the importance of public service, Bush always felt the lure of political life. It snared him in 1962 when he was chosen to head Houston’s fledgling Republican Party. He spent the next three decades in the political limelight, a career largely free of scandal or great controversy, with one exception — his role as vice president in the Iran-Contra scandal.

The second of five children, Bush was born on June 12, 1924 in Milton, Massachusetts, to Prescott and Dorothy Bush.

There’s a ton more out there on former President Bush, you could spend all weekend reading about him and his distinguished life. There is much one can say about George H.W. Bush. I will say that he was a war hero, a family man, and someone who always heard and answered the call to service. I don’t know when we may see another Republican President like him. My sincere condolences to the Bush family and the many friends of George H.W. Bush. Rest in peace, sir.

RIP, Ray Hill

We have lost an icon.

Ray Hill

Ray Hill was in the cross hairs, and if the Louisiana hitmen actually showed up in Houston to rub him out, he wanted the media to be wise to what had happened. Hill breathlessly related the menace, obviously delighted that he could be the target of such a delicious conspiracy. Every UPS deliveryman, every knock on the door might be a summons to eternity. He’d hunker down in his apartment until we talked again — if we talked again.

Hill exuded drama like some people sweat. Whether he was telling tales of his career as an East Texas teenage evangelist or his escapades as a jewel thief, Hill kept an eye peeled for the best presentation. And as one of the city’s most visible advocates for gay, lesbian and inmate causes, he rarely failed to sharpen his talent to entertain into a formidable weapon.

Hill, who late in life eschewed leadership roles in activist circles to hone a career as a monologuist — a dramatic undertaking that gained him appreciative audiences in New York, Pennsylvania and New England — died of heart failure in hospice care Saturday. He was 78.

A legend in his own right — and in his own mind — Hill’s business card described his profession as “citizen provocateur,” a proudly worn label he received from a Supreme Court justice after a long-ago legal battle with the cops.

“I was born to rub the cat hair the wrong direction,” he once said.

Excerpts don’t do the man justice, so go read the whole thing, then go read Lisa Gray’s pre-obituary of Hill that came out on Tuesday. I met Ray a couple of times but didn’t really know him, which makes me kind of an outlier since basically everyone knew Ray Hill. The late Carl Whitmarsh called Ray “Mother” in his emails, a tribute to Ray’s role as an originator of LGBT activism in Houston. You can’t tell the story of Houston without at least a chapter on Ray Hill. He may be gone, but his legacy will live on. Rest in peace, Ray Hill.

RIP, Bob McNair

The Houston Texans owner has passed away.

The death of Texans owner and founder Bob McNair rocked the NFL, the city of Houston and his players and coaches Friday, sparking rich remembrances of his life and legacy.

McNair was 81 years old and had battled skin cancer for years. He had been in poor health for several months.

McNair leaves behind a first-place AFC South franchise that had been entrusted by him to stable leadership provided by his son, chief operating officer Cal McNair, coach Bill O’Brien, general manager Brian Gaine and longtime team president Jamey Rootes.

From his instrumental role in returning the NFL to Houston after the departure of the Oilers to Tennessee to his philanthropic contributions and warm, approachable personality, McNair was recalled fondly upon his death.

McNair is a seminal figure in Houston sports for bringing the NFL back to Houston. It’s not often mentioned these days, but at the time everyone assumed Los Angeles was going to get the expansion franchise that eventually became the Texans. He’ll be long remembered in Houston for that, and for his longtime civic and charitable participation. He also had a long history in Republican and conservative politics, none of which was mentioned in this story. That’s a topic for another time. For now, my condolences to the McNair family.

RIP, Barbara Bush

Former First Lady and mother of President George W. Bush has passed away.

Barbara Bush

Barbara Pierce Bush, matriarch of an American political dynasty that has produced presidents, governors and other high officials, has died in Houston. She was 92.

Bush was an outspoken public figure, often putting into words the thoughts that the elected men in her family were too cautious to utter. She did practically everything in politics short of running for office herself, organizing campaigns and “women’s groups” in the parlance of the day, riding herd on political friendships and organizations critical to electing her husband, George H.W. Bush, to the U.S. House, the vice presidency and ultimately, to the presidency itself. Her oldest son, George W. Bush, was the 43rd president after twice winning election as governor of Texas. His younger brother, Jeb Bush, was governor of Florida and, later, an unsuccessful candidate for president. And one of her grandsons, George. P. Bush, is currently the land commissioner of Texas.

Barbara Bush was the second American who was both the wife and mother of presidents; the other was Abigail Adams. She and George Bush, married 73 years ago in January 1945, had the longest-lasting marriage of any first couple. Both were from political families. Her grandfather, James Robinson, was on Ohio’s first Supreme Court, according to Richard Ben Cramer’s “What It Takes.” Her father, Marvin Pierce, was a distant descendant of President Franklin Pierce. George H.W. Bush’s father, Prescott Bush, was a U.S. senator from Connecticut.

The family had put out a statement earlier this week saying that Mrs. Bush had stopped taking treatment and was going to go into palliative care. She was loved and respected by many – see the bottom of the story for some of the statements that came out following the announcement of her passing – and she will be missed. My condolences to her family and friends. RG Ratcliffe and the Chron have more.

RIP, CM Larry Green

Very sad news.

CM Larry Green

Houston City Councilman Larry Green was found dead at his home late Tuesday morning, prompting an outpouring of sadness from City Hall to the southwest Houston district he represented for more than six years.

The cause of death was not immediately known, though Houston police said foul play was not suspected.

Green, 52, remains the only person elected to lead District K, one of two seats added after the 2010 Census led the council to grow from nine to 11 districts.

Green’s ubiquity at civic club meetings and dogged work ethic took a district created from the “stepchildren” neighborhoods of two former districts and made it “better than the sum of our parts,” as Westbury civic leader Becky Edmondson put it. Texting Green at midnight often would produce an answer, she said. Meyerland/Westbury civic leader Art Pronin agreed — but put the time at 1 a.m.

“He’s at my civic club meeting, he’s at the coalition meeting, he’s at the Super Neighborhood meeting,” Keswick Place civic leader Linda Scurlock said. “He’s there. He’s not on a pedestal. I’ve lived in this community for 41 years, and we’ve never had a council member like that. It was like your friend. I’d call him all the time.”

Even residents pleased with their representatives do not always view those politicians as “friends,” but Edmondson used the same word. When she informed her daughter of Green’s passing, her daughter wept. And when her 9-year-old grandson heard the news, he cried, too.

“He’s been planting trees with Larry since he was 2 years old. He considers Larry as his friend,” Edmondson said. “He was a leader for the city, he was our advocate in District K – and he was my friend. And he was a friend to hundreds of other people like me that met him during his tenure. I’ll really miss him.”

I interviewed CM Green in 2011, when he ran for the then-new District K, but I had met him a few years before that. He was thoughtful and passionate about his community. I liked him, both as a person and as a Council member. He won that race, for a new seat in a part of town that did not lack for political talent, with little opposition. Especially on a day where we’re all feeling positive about the political process, I’m stunned and saddened by the loss of CM Green. My sincere condolences to his family and many friends.

[Mayor Sylvester] Turner’s communications director, Alan Bernstein, said late Tuesday the city legal department still was reviewing the procedures for naming Green’s replacement. The city charter authorizes council to fill vacancies by majority vote, but does not specify a timeline for doing so.

To be honest, I had assumed there would be a special election, probably in November but possibly in May, to serve the remainder of CM Green’s term. That’s what happened with other vacancies in the past. I’m not sure if the process is different in the event of a member’s death, or if this was an effect of the term limits referendum. Whatever the case, that person will have to run again for a full term in 2019. There will be time later to think about that in more detail.

RIP, Ruth Jones McClendon

She will be missed.

Ruth Jones McClendon

Ruth Jones McClendon, the former longtime state representative from San Antonio, has died. She was 74.

State Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, McClendon’s successor, said she died this morning at her home in San Antonio.

“I think she’s best remembered by her candor, her ability to know what was needed in her community and to work with folks across the aisle,” Gervin-Hawkins said. “I am very proud to be part of what she’s left, and hopefully I can carry it on.”

McClendon resigned from the House last year after a years-long battle with cancer. She used a motorized scooter during the 2015 legislative session.

I’ve had some dealings with Rep. McClendon’s office, and I have nothing but good things to say about her. She was one of those people who worked hard, did what she could to make things better, and generally didn’t get much attention for it. I want to highlight this Statesman story that came out at the end of the 2015 session, as then-Rep. McClendon capped a long effort to get a bill that created a state panel to study wrongful convictions passed. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever read about the Legislature.

Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, was helped to the front microphone Thursday to move final approval of her HB 48. A cancer survivor, McClendon now is struggling with health issues that have affected her mobility and speech. In December, she underwent surgery to remove water from her brain.

Supported on her left by Rep. J.D. Sheffield, R-Gatesville, and her right by Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, McClendon needed help to get the bill across the finish line.

“You move to concur in Senate amendments,” Bonnen said quietly into her ear, followed by an awkward pause as the House waited for McClendon to form the words.

“You can do it,” Bonnen told McClendon. “We got you.”

They did, literally.

“You’re going to say, ‘Members, I move to concur,’” Sheffield told McClendon.

“Members,” McClendon, surrounded by supportive colleagues, said slowly, “I move to concur with Senate amendments.”

The voting bell rang. Bonnen again assured McClendon, “We got you,” and HB 48 was approved, to applause, by a 137-5 margin.

His right arm around McClendon, co-sponsor Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, called the vote “a tremendous victory for this House, for the Legislature and for this lady right here whom all of us know and love.”

“This is a wonderful, wonderful lady and many, many lives are going to be saved and changed because of her work on this issue,” said Leach, adding that serving with McClendon, with whom he shares little political common ground, “has been the honor of a lifetime.”

McClendon then spoke about this legislation in particular and legislative life in general.

“I just want to briefly say that I appreciate those who stuck with me,” she said slowly as a legislative battle she began seven years ago headed to successful conclusion. “Some said it wasn’t going to work, that we couldn’t do it.”

A class act and a damn good legislator. All respect to Ruth Jones McClendon. May she rest in peace. The Current has more.

RIP, Peter Brown

A dedicated public servant and a heck of a nice guy.

Peter Brown

Former Houston city councilman, mayoral candidate and civic leader Peter Brown has died, his family said Tuesday.

Brown, an architect and urban planner, was 81.

“A loving father, committed public servant, and fearless advocate, former Council Member Brown passed on to the next life the same way he lived in this one – surrounded by his family in the city he loved most,” his son, the elected City Controller Chris Brown, said in a statement.

“The Brown family would like to thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers, and asks for privacy during this very difficult time.”

You can see Chris Brown’s statement here. After the 2009 Mayoral election, Peter Brown went back to his roots, talking about urban design and making city streets safer and more user-friendly for people on his Pedestrian Pete website. He was a visionary and an advocate for building a better city to the end. Rest in peace, Pedestrian Pete.

RIP, Steve Mostyn

A terrible tragedy.

Steve Mostyn

Steve Mostyn, a top Democratic donor and prominent Houston trial lawyer, has died. He was 46.

According to a statement released by his wife, Amber, Mostyn died Wednesday after “a sudden onset and battle with a mental health issue.” She did not disclose the cause of death.

“Steve was a beloved husband and devoted father who adored his children and never missed any of their sporting activities. He was a true friend, and a faithful fighter for those who did not have a voice,” she said.

The statement also said: “If you or a loved one are thinking about suicide, or experiencing a health crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline right now at 1-800-273-8255.”

Mostyn is also survived by his daughter, Ava, his son, Mitch and his nephew, Skyler Anderson.

My heart breaks for the Mostyn family. May they find peace and comfort. Texas Monthly and the Chron have more.

RIP, Mark White

Former Texas Governor Mark White has passed away.

Mark White

Former Gov. Mark White, who championed education reforms while serving as Texas governor from 1983 to 1987, died Saturday in Houston. He was 77.

Julian Read, a close friend of White who served as press secretary to Gov. John Connally during the 1960s a confidant to many Texas governors since then, confirmed that White suffered a heart attack at his Houston home.

White, who was born March 17, 1940, graduated from Lamar High School and Baylor University. He received his law degree from Baylor Law School in 1965.

[…]

White’s signature legislation as governor was an education bill that implemented Texas’ first-ever statewide testing standards and the well-known “no pass, no play” rule that required students to maintain passing grades to play sports. It also mandated class-size limits and teacher pay raises — legislation that required a tax hike and ultimately cost White a chance at reelection.

I came to Texas in 1984, so White is the first Governor I experienced, though I don’t remember much of his tenure as I was a college student and not paying that much attention to state politics. Everyone I know holds him in high regard, and his education reform legacy lives on to this day. Rest in peace, Mark White. The Trib and RG Ratcliffe have more.

RIP, Manuel Rodriguez

Sad news.

Manuel Rodriguez

Every Tuesday at 8 a.m., Houston ISD Trustee Manuel “Manny” Rodriguez, Jr., would roll his maroon mobility scooter up to his favorite table at the Tel-Wink Restaurant & Grill in Southeast Houston.

Rodriguez always left the seat across from him empty. Constituents and complete strangers knew those were his office hours — the hours he set aside to visit with community members with questions about the school district, parents worried about new policies or those who just wanted to get Rodriguez’ opinion on the latest local news. If you were lucky, Rodriguez would buy your breakfast.

“That was like his little home away from home,” said Carlos Calbillo, a Latino community activist who described Rodriguez as a “dear friend.” “He did more work at that breakfast table than he did at his office or the HISD offices. He was a people person, just loved by everyone.”

Rodriguez, an HISD trustee since 2003 and a voice for the city’s Latino community for years before that, died Wednesday morning after suffering a massive heart attack, according to a statement released by the Houston ISD.

His unexpected death stunned the HISD community. Funeral arrangements had not been finalized as of Wednesday evening, and the district did not respond immediately to questions about the selection of a possible successor.

Trustee Anne Sung said Rodriguez’s death was “tremendously sad.”

“Manny has been such a long-standing servant on the HISD board,” said Sung, elected last year to represent District VII. “He is extremely committed to his community and has been a great mentor to me as I’ve joined the HISD board. I’m very sorry to hear about this great loss.”

Houston City Council Member Robert Gallegos announced Rodriguez’ death at Wednesday’s meeting. He, Mayor Sylvester Turner and other council members offered their condolences to Rodriguez’ family.

I interviewed Rodriguez in 2011, and we met at the Tel-Wink for it. I don’t know how audible any of it was over the background noise, but that was clearly his preferred place to hang out and be with people. There are many qualities that can make a person a successful politician, and the community Rodriguez had at the Tel-Wink was a fine example of one. My sincere condolences to his family and friends for their loss.

Rodriguez was last elected in 2015, so he was not going to be on the ballot this November. I expect the Board will appoint someone to serve for now, and that there will be a special election to finish out his term in the fall. We’ll know more after their next meeting.

RIP, Constable Ruben Davis

Sad news from Fort Bend.

Constable Ruben Davis

Constable Ruben Davis

At a time when the public and law enforcement officials contemplate how to best blend policing and community, Fort Bend County has lost a man many describe as a role model for the perfect mix of serving and protecting.

Longtime Fort Bend County Precinct 2 Constable Ruben Davis died on Tuesday morning. He was 61.

“He loved his community and, more importantly, he loved his family,” Precinct 2 Chief Deputy Rodney Pentecost said. “We are grieving right now. It’s obvious that he’ll be missed.”

Davis served as a Fort Bend constable since May 1996 and led a precinct that covers the county’s east side including Missouri City. His name, as an unopposed candidate, will remain on the November ballot.

He was known for his big personality, huge heart and love for the residents of Fort Bend County.

Sharon Davis said her husband was a provider and protector for their Missouri City household and beyond.

“I think the people will probably miss his generosity. Anything that he could do for you, he was going to do it,” she said. “He’s always been a sweet and caring person.”

[…]

The constable’s current term expires on Dec. 31. According to the Texas Elections Code, a vacancy occurs on the date of an official’s death. Davis appears unopposed on the Nov. 8 ballot. If he is re-elected as a deceased candidate to a four-year term, another vacancy will occur on Nov. 22 – the date that Fort Bend County election results will be canvassed by commissioners.

It is unclear whether Fort Bend commissioners will make an appointment for the last six weeks of the year.

According to Fort Bend County Judge Robert Hebert’s office and county elections administrator John Oldham, commissioners have the responsibility to appoint someone to serve until the next election in November 2018. The winning candidate in that race will have an abbreviated two-year term. The seat then returns to the usual four-year rotation for the 2020 election.

Sharon Davis said she would be willing to accept an appointment to her husband’s post.

As the story notes, Sharon Davis met Ruben Davis at HPD academy, so she has a law enforcement background. I did not know Constable Davis myself, but all of my Fort Bend friends on Facebook have been posting about him. He clearly left a big impression. My sincere condolences to his friends and family.

RIP, Carl Whitmarsh

This was certainly a shock.

Carl Whitmarsh

Carl Whitmarsh used to joke that when he died, there would be as many people ready to dance on his grave as to cry over his death. A towering figure in Harris County Democratic politics, Whitmarsh rarely held his punches against those he disagreed with, but was a loyal friend and supporter of those on his side.

Whitmarsh died over the weekend at 64. The cause was not immediately clear, but he had been in ill health for years. The Harris County Democratic Party announced Whitmarsh’s death in an email to members Sunday evening.

“He was a somewhat cantankerous and often polarizing figure, but his primary role was in keeping everybody honest,” said Lane Lewis, a close friend of Whitmarsh’s and chairman of the Harris County Democratic Party. “I suspect there are people sharpening their knives as we speak without him keeping them in check.”

Whitmarsh served as executive director of the county Democratic party; as an aide to Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, the vice presidential pick on Michael Dukakis’ 1988 ticket; and most recently, as president of the Oak Forest Area Democrats, a group active in northwest Houston. Throughout his decades behind the scenes in politics, he helped hundreds of candidates get elected, said State Sen. John Whitmire, a close friend.

[…]

“Carl Whitmarsh was a dear friend,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a statement. “There was no greater supporter than Carl. And no greater defender of the little person, those who were discriminated against and those who had nothing but their dignity. Carl was a mighty force of nature when he went after those he believed were hurting others or just plain wrong-headed about issues. But when he was your friend, Carl would go to the ends of the earth to help you.”

If you were at all involved in Democratic politics around here, you knew Carl. And if you knew Carl, you were undoubtedly stunned by the news of his death, announced via email from the HCDP on Sunday afternoon. Carl was as busy and active as he had ever been in these past weeks, so the odds are you saw him or spoke to him recently. He was doing what he always did, what he loved to do, which was supporting good Democrats and exhorting us all to get involved. If you could ask him right now, I’m sure he’d say is that his one regret is not being able to cast a vote for President Hillary Clinton. Carl was a force of nature, a stubborn old cuss, a hell-raiser to the bone, and a strong and loyal friend. Like so many others, I can’t quite believe there will be no more emails or phone calls or Facebook posts from him. You will be missed, Carl. Rest in peace, my friend.

RIP, Antonin Scalia

Wow.

Antonin Scalia

Associate Justice Antonin Scalia was found dead of apparent natural causes Saturday on a luxury resort in West Texas, federal officials said.

Scalia, 79, was a guest at the Cibolo Creek Ranch, a resort in the Big Bend region south of Marfa.

According to a report, Scalia arrived at the ranch on Friday and attended a private party with about 40 people. When he did not appear for breakfast, a person associated with the ranch went to his room and found a body.

Chief U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia, of the Western Judicial District of Texas, was notified about the death from the U.S. Marshals Service.

U.S. District Judge Fred Biery said he was among those notified about Scalia’s death.

“I was told it was this morning,” Biery said of Scalia’s death. “It happened on a ranch out near Marfa. As far as the details, I think it’s pretty vague right now as to how,” he said. “My reaction is it’s very unfortunate. It’s unfortunate with any death, and politically in the presidential cycle we’re in, my educated guess is nothing will happen before the next president is elected.”

Out of respect for the man’s family and friends, I will refrain from comment other than to say this is obviously a big deal. Rest in peace, Antonin Scalia.

RIP, El Franco Lee

The longest-serving and first African-American Harris County Commissioner passed away suddenly on Sunday.

El Franco Lee

El Franco Lee, Harris County’s first African-American commissioner and a popular mainstay in the political community, died Sunday morning of a heart attack. He was 66.

The Houston native served more than three decades as commissioner in Harris County’s Precinct 1, and though his official duties included the care of roads and parks, he was remembered most for his work through social programs for youth and seniors, helping extend access to health care and providing other services in traditionally poor inner-city neighborhoods.

“It’s a very sad day,” said Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack. “He made tens of thousands of people’s lives better. He was extremely interested in working with the community, and working with the poor and working with kids.”

Radack, who named a health care center in his Precinct 3 after Lee, noted his colleague “worked tirelessly” for the local hospital district. Lee was, for example, an instrumental supporter of the Baylor College of Medicine’s efforts to deploy satellite health care clinics at county-run facilities in the Fifth Ward, the Third Ward, Kashmere Gardens and other neighborhoods, said Peggy Smith, director of the Baylor College of Medicine Teen Health Clinic.

“He was a guardian angel. He would make it happen,” said Smith. “We worked side by side to make sure that not only was there a precinct business address but also that individuals who would never qualify for any health care would get the best care possible, and they would get it in his district, in his neighborhoods and in his facilities.”

In seven terms in Harris County government, Lee set up numerous partnerships between Precinct 1, nonprofits and other groups to create health and educational programs for seniors and youth in Harris County, including the county’s Street Olympics Program, which has expanded since 1986 into a myriad of programs that annually serve 10,000 in Harris County.

“Youth that might otherwise have a misspent summer break suddenly were given something to do,” Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said. “That wasn’t part of his job: He just felt it was important. He was proudest of the informal things.”

I did not know Commissioner Lee, but he was a trailblazer and a giant in the local political scene. He will be greatly missed. I received multiple statements regarding his death, from Mayor Turner, Sen. Sylvia Garcia, his former colleague on the Court, Rep. Gene Green, and District Clerk Chris Daniel. My sincere condolences to Commissioner Lee’s family.

We can’t avoid this discussion, however:

Emmett will have to decide soon who will serve the remaining 12 months of Lee’s term. After that, for the term that begins in 2017, the question of who will serve in Lee’s stead becomes more complicated.

A primary vote is scheduled for March, but Lee was the only Democrat on the ballot for his position. Emmett said it is too late to reopen filing so the Democratic precinct chairs will gather, as early as June, to select a replacement candidate who will go on the ballot in the November election.

As you may recall, Judge Emmett got to select Jack Cagle as a replacement for Jerry Eversole back in 2011. That was a different situation in several regards, including the fact that Eversole had been re-elected less than a year before, while Commissioner Lee’s term expires at the end of this year. We are too close to the March primary for their to be a reopening of filing for Democratic hopefuls, so as noted the HCDP precinct chairs get to name a new nominee, as delineated in state law. I’m not sure if the Republicans now get to pick a candidate as well, not that it matters in Precinct 1; the Greens already have a candidate, not that that matters, either. Whoever the precinct chairs pick will be the next Commissioner, quite possibly for a long time. I suspect Judge Emmett will prefer to select a true interim Commissioner, who will not put himself or herself up for the nomination, but stranger things have happened, and I suppose once Judge Emmett makes his choice, that person can and will do what they want. As I am still catching up on a bunch of stuff, I have not heard any chatter about who might put themselves out there for the job, but I feel confident saying there will be much interest in it.

RIP, Joe Jamail

A legal legend.

Joe Jamail

Legendary Texas lawyer Joe Jamail, known as the “King of Torts,” passed away today from complications from pneumonia.

Texas Lawyer in 2014 asked Jamail whether he ever planned to retire.

“You’ll read about it in the obituary,” Jamail replied. He tried a lawsuit this year shortly after he turned 90.

“He was everything they said he was, and then some,” said Houston attorney Robin Gibbs, one of Jamail’s close friends. “Joe’s success as a lawyer in my opinion was directly attributable to his love of people. He was energized by his relationships with people—friends and family alike. … He was the best judge of human nature and what made a person tick of anybody I have ever encountered. Joe could meet somebody and in talking to them for 30 seconds, could tell you more about that person—who they were and importantly, what kind of person they were—than anybody I’ve ever encountered. That quality and capability really was at the heart in my view of his tremendous success.”

Another one of Jamail’s close friends, Vinson & Elkins partner Harry Reasoner of Houston, said that the loss of Jamail’s friendship will leave a hole in his life.

“Joe was one of the greatest trial lawyers in American history. I was fortunate enough to try some cases with him. I will never forget his genius in the courtroom. But more importantly, he was one of the greatest friends anybody could have. He was always looking for opportunities to help his friends. He was one of the most interesting people: he was widely read, always interesting to talk to, had intelligent, interesting views,” said Reasoner.

The Times notes his most famous case.

The case, in which Pennzoil accused Texaco of improperly interfering with its 1984 deal to buy part of Getty Oil, was Mr. Jamail’s first on behalf of a major corporate client, and it elevated him overnight from the lone star of Texas courtrooms to near-mythical status in American jurisprudence. But if the size of the judgment, from Pennzoil’s point of view, seemed too good to be true — it indeed was.

The [$10.5 billion] judgment withstood appeals, unlike many large awards, but Pennzoil received only a fraction. Texaco, whose net worth was roughly equal to the judgment, was virtually wiped out. Unable even to post a bond to cover the award during appeals, Texaco filed for bankruptcy and settled the case for $3 billion in 1987. Mr. Jamail’s fee was said to be $345 million.

The Chron has a lengthy obituary, and this Texas Monthly profile from January is well worth your time. They don’t make ’em like that any more. Rest in peace, Joe Jamail.

Friday random ten: Gone too soon, part 5

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

1. Super Freak – Big Daddy (orig. Rick James, 1948-2004)
2. Just A Little Lovin’ – Dusty Springfield (1939-1999)
3. Suite of Old American Dances – Trinity University Wind Symphony (Dr. Eugene Carinci, 1952-2011)
4. Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing – Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell (Marvin Gaye, 1939-1984)
5. I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry – Cowboy Junkies (orig. Hank Williams, 1923-1953)
6. Listen Like Thieves – INXS (Michael Hutchence, 1960-1997)
7. Over the Rainbow – Julie Murphy (orig. Judy Garland, 1922-1969)
8. Tuesday’s Gone – Lynyrd Skynryd (Ronnie Van Zandt, 1948-1977; Steve Gaines, 1949-1977)
9. Dedicated To The One I Love – The Mamas & The Papas (Cass Elliot, 1941-1974)
10. Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley – Robert Palmer (1949-2003)

Today I’m just going to observe a moment of silence and spend some time thinking about all the good people we have lost before their time. Please join me if you will.

Friday random ten: Gone too soon, part 4

May 31 is the anniversary of my grandfather’s death. Charles Kuffner, Sr (I’m Charles III) was only 55 when he died, three months after I was born, and next year is the 50th anniversary of his passing. My father wrote about it the other day on Facebook, and it got me to thinking about it, which in turn led me to revisit the Gone Too Soon series of Friday Random Ten lists. I last did one of these in 2012, with prior lists in 2010 and 2011. Once I started going through my iTunes library, I couldn’t stop so I have two of these to present, and could probably come up with a third if I tried. Here’s the first:

1. Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap – AC/DC (Bon Scott, 1946-1980)
2. Hold Tight, Hold Tight – The Andrews Sisters (LaVerne Andrews, 1911-1967)
3. Whiter Shade of Pale – Annie Lennox (orig. Procol Harum; B.J. Wilson, 1947-1990)
4. Paul Revere – Asylum Street Spankers (orig. Beastie Boys; Adam Yauch, 1968-2012)
5. Planet Claire – The B-52’s (Ricky Wilson, 1953-1985)
6. Nights On Broadway – Bee Gees (Maurice Gibb, 1949-2003)
7. See You Later Alligator – Bill Haley & The Comets (Bill Haley, 1925-1981)
8. Try A Little Tenderness – The Commitments (pop. by Otis Redding, 1941-1967)
9. I Touch Myself – The Divinyls (Chrissy Amphlett, 1959-2013)
10. That’ll Be The Day – The Beatles (orig. Buddy Holly, 1936-1959)

I do have Procol Harum and Otis Redding songs in my library, but as you might infer from this list I sorted by artist name and scrolled down from the top, so Annie Lennox and The Commitments came up first. On the one hand it’s sad to realize how many talented people we lost at such young ages, and on the other hand it’s uplifting to know that their music still entertains and inspires us years and even decades after they died. I choose to celebrate what they did rather than obsess over what they might have done. Tune in next week for more.

RIP, Bob Lanier

Houston’s iconic Mayor of the 1990s has passed away.

Bob Lanier, a 6-foot-4 cowboy boot-wearing, sports-crazy political sharpshooter who rose from modest beginnings in blue-collar Baytown to become one of Houston’s biggest developers and most influential mayors, died Saturday. He was 89.

In January 1992, Lanier began a six-year tenure as mayor that, in its successes, was hailed as a model for reducing crime and revitalizing the inner city.

At various times, for various reasons, Lanier was likened to Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. The commonality was that Lanier, the son of a Methodist minister turned oilfield roustabout, invariably was measured against America’s greatest movers and shakers.

“I’d put him with (Chicago Mayor Richard) Daley and (New York City Mayor Fiorello) La Guardia as one of the great mayors in 20th century history,” University of Houston political science guru Richard Murray once said. “He has the ability to get things done.”

To former state Sen. Jon Lindsay, who entered public life as a county judge in 1975, Lanier was the most powerful person on the Houston scene in the century’s closing decades. To county Commissioner Steve Radack, he was “authoritarian with a smile.” For former city councilman and current Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan, Lanier simply was “the 800-pound gorilla.”

The news of his death Saturday prompted remembrances of his fierce intelligence and confident swagger.

Mayor Annise Parker said Lanier “left a lasting mark” on Houston.

“Never one to shy away from a tough battle, he used his strength and popularity to push through affirmative action protections, rebuild the city’s wastewater system, improve neighborhoods and add hundreds of officers to the police force,” Parker said in a statement.

Lanier’s wife, Elyse, whom he married in 1984, said in a statement that his decades of public service “brought a smile to his face and a twinkle to his eye these last few years.”

“Bob wanted me to pass on a final goodbye and a hearty, ‘Thank you for making a guy like me look good!’ ” she wrote.

Lanier certainly left his mark on Houston, and his influence on Houston politics continued well past his last day in office. I confess I wasn’t his biggest fan – he was not a friend to mass transit, to say the least – but now is not the time to get into that. He was an iconic figure in Houston politics, he did a lot of good, and he will be missed. My sincere condolences to his family and friends. Rest in peace, Bob Lanier. Texpatriate has more.

RIP, Father TJ Martinez

Some sad local news.

Father TJ Martinez

Father TJ Martinez seemed comfortable anywhere and with anyone. Raised in Brownsville and educated at some of America’s finest universities, he could charm princes of industry and encourage children born to paupers to study hard to make something of themselves and their community.

To greet first lady Laura Bush, he donned his familiar black jacket and Jesuit collar – but also a Texas-sized belt buckle.

Martinez, the charismatic founding president of Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory High School in Houston, died Friday following an eight-month struggle with stomach cancer. He was 44.

[…]

Cristo Rey, the only school of its kind in Texas, opened its doors in August 2009 to children whose families lived at or below the poverty level.

In 2013, every member of the school’s first graduating class was accepted to college, a feat the 2014 class also achieved. Supporters tied the success to Martinez’s exuberance and effectiveness.

“In everything he touched, he was dedicated, passionate and, above all, inspirational,” said Richard Kinder, a friend of Martinez who with his wife, Nancy, has supported the school.

Kinder’s company, Kinder Morgan, is one of many corporations around Houston that has hired students to give them real-world skills as they prepare for college.

Students pay no tuition to attend Cristo Rey, but they work one or two days a week for one of 150 companies around Houston, with their salary going to the school to offset expenses.

Four students fill one entry-level job at the company, each working one day a week and rotating the fifth work day every four weeks.

According to the school, the work finances 70 percent of each student’s education.

Martinez, who preferred that the periods be omitted from his initials, championed these partnerships and struck up friendships with Houston’s elite.

I did not have the opportunity to meet Father Martinez, though I was familiar with Cristo Ray – I frequently see their students in the downtown tunnels during the lunch hour, and they have my email address on their press list; here’s the press release they sent out on Friday to announce the news of Fr. Martinez’s death. I respect the work he did and I admire the success his school has achieved. I wish our society as a whole would show that level of commitment to our schools, our children, and our families that are living in poverty. The world would be a much better place if Father Martinez and Cristo Rey were less the exception and more the rule. Rest in peace, Father Martinez.

RIP, J. Kent Adams

J. Kent Adams, one of Harris County’s Justices of the Peace, passed away over the weekend.

J. Kent Adams

Judge J. Kent Adams, who presided over one of the Houston area’s busiest justice of the peace courts for 13 years, died Saturday morning at his home on Lake Livingston. He was 74 and had been ill with cancer, his family said.

A lawyer by training, Adams was appointed in March 2001 as presiding judge in Harris County Justice of the Peace Court, precinct 4, position 1. The court, which serves a population of about 1 million in the burgeoning Spring area, is often packed with people involved in cases ranging from traffic tickets to small civil claims.

The Harris County Commissioners Court appointed Adams to the bench, and voters reelected him three times, most recently in 2012 to a four-year term.

Precinct 4 Constable Ron Hickman, who for 13 years worked down the hall from Adams in the courthouse at 6831 Cypresswood Drive in Spring, remembered the judge as a dedicated public servant who treated his three dozen employees like family.

“He cared about kids and wanted to get them on the right path,” Hickman said.

[…]

Adams is survived by his wife, Pauline Adams; three sons, Jon Kevin Adams of Memphis, Tenn., Lee Cameron Adams of San Antonio and Allen Kent Adams of Panama City, Fla.; a daughter, Wenday Adams Riley of Raleigh, N.C.; and a stepson, Jerry Dunlap.

Services are scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday at Cypress Creek Christian Church, 6823 Cypresswood Drive.

Here’s the Chron obituary for Judge Adams. My condolences to his family and friends.

RIP, Randy Ertman

If you’ve lived in Houston long enough, this story will bring back a flood of memories and emotions.

Randy Ertman, a house painter who became a blunt-spoken, combative advocate for crime victims’ rights after his daughter and another teen were raped and murdered in a northwest Houston park, died Monday of lung cancer.

In the early 1990s, Ertman became a familiar figure to Houstonians as he appeared in news photos confronting relatives of his daughter’s killers, who had suggested the victims’ families bore some responsibility for the girls’ deaths.

Ertman’s advocacy led to changes in state law, allowing crime victims’ families to direct comments to convicted offenders in the courtroom and permitting relatives of homicide victims to witness executions.

[…]

Ertman was catapulted into his advocacy role by the June 24, 1993, murders of his 14-year-old daughter, Jennifer, and her 16-year-old friend, Elizabeth Pena. The teens were killed in T.C. Jester Park after they blundered into a nighttime gang initiation rite as they made their way home from a nearby party.

Six gang members were convicted in the crime – an episode so horrendous that it deeply shocked a city that routinely shrugged off acts of violence.

Three of the killers – Derrick O’Brien, 31; Jose Medellin, 33; and Peter Cantu, 35 – have been executed. Two others are serving life sentences; a sixth was given a 40-year sentence.

Ertman, 61, died one day after the anniversary of Cantu’s 2010 execution.

The murders of Jennifer Ertman and Jennifer Pena were just horrible. I have no connection to either family, it’s been almost 25 years, and I still can’t read about them without getting worked up. As you know, I have a lot of problems with the death penalty. Racial disparities, bad forensics, unreliable eyewitnesses, coerced confessions, an appellate system that cares far more about “getting a result” than getting that result right, the list of reasons to oppose the death penalty goes on and on. And yet, while I think our system of justice would be just fine without a death penalty, I can’t quite bring myself to call for its abolition. I have always felt, and I continue to feel, that there are some crimes and some criminals for which it is the appropriate response. I would not have been able to tell Randy Ertman, or a member of the Pena family, that the killers of their daughters deserved to have their lives spared. Maybe that’s a failing on my part, but if it is, I accept it. Rest in peace, Randy Ertman. I wish the same peace to your family and the Pena family as well. Doug Miller, who has a nice tribute to Randy Ertman on his Facebook page, has more.

RIP, Bum Phillips

A sad day in Houston.

Oail Andrew “Bum” Phillips Jr., who spent half his adult life as a football coach and every waking moment as the personification of all things Texan, died Friday at his ranch in Goliad.

Phillips was three weeks past his 90th birthday and more than three decades removed from his heyday as head coach of the Oilers from 1975 through 1980. But he will be remembered as the personification of a time, a place and a team that remains deep in the hearts of everyone who saw them play.

The end came on a cool autumn football weekend as Houston’s current pro team, the Texans, prepares to play Sunday with his son, Wade, serving as defensive coordinator. Family members said Wade Phillips visited with his father before rejoining the team for its trip to Kansas City.

“Bum is gone to Heaven-loved and will be missed by all -great Dad,Coach, and Christian,” Wade Phillips, whose Twitter handle is @sonofbum, tweeted shortly after 10 p.m.

Bum Phillips was a product of a family that traced its roots to Texas’ frontier past, and he did his job dressed in boots, jeans and a white Stetson – except at the Astrodome, since his mama told him it was impolite to wear a hat indoors.

He was, said one admirer, the “Will Rogers of the NFL,” justly famous for such sayings as, “There’s two kinds of coaches: them that’s been fired, and them that’s gonna be fired.”

But it was his relationship with his players – and theirs to him – and his ability to relate to fans that cemented his place among the legends of Texas football coaches with the likes of Darrell Royal, Tom Landry and Gordon Wood.

“Bum Phillips’ Oilers succeeded in a way that will never be measured by percentages and trophies,” wrote former Chronicle columnist Ed Fowler in a book about the team. “They symbolized a city rather than merely representing it.”

They called it “Luv Ya Blue,” and from 1978 through 1980, it was the biggest thing in Houston sports. In truth, the city has not seen anything to top it.

There’s a ton more out there – here, here, here, and here for starters, but if you only read one other thing about Bum Phillips, make it Dale Robertson’s column, which includes many of Phillips’ famous quotes. Sometimes, sports icons don’t live up to their billing. Sometimes you find out, often years later, that they weren’t at all the person you thought they were from what you’d seen and heard. If anyone had anything bad to say about Bum Phillips, I’ve not seen it. By every account I’ve come across, he was exactly who he seemed to be. He will be missed. Rest in peace, Bum Phillips.

More tributes for Mike Anderson

Here’s the full Chron story on the death of Harris County DA Mike Anderson.

DA Mike Anderson

DA Mike Anderson

“We all have suffered a terrible loss today of a devoted public servant, husband and father,” first assistant Belinda Hill said in a statement from the office. “His sense of justice, his wisdom and support, his easy laugh, and, most of all, his friendship were his gifts to us.”

In an email to staffers, Hill mourned the loss of “a good man doing great things.”

[…]

Condolences poured in Saturday from Houston officials, including Sheriff Adrian Garcia.

“We are all grateful for his years of integrity-driven and dedicated public service,” Garcia said, adding, “he and his leadership will be missed.”

Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland said he had known Anderson for more than 25 years.

“He has contributed so much to the criminal justice system in Harris County and will be sorely missed,” McClelland said. “The community has lost a true champion for justice.”

[…]

Retired district attorney Johnny Holmes, described Anderson as a conscientious, hard-working and competent prosecutor.

“I had faith in his judgment and that’s why I came out so strong in support of his candidacy,” said Holmes.

The loss of Anderson is a shock, and it will take time to recover from it. The political process will go on, however, and with the brouhaha in Travis County over Rosemary Lehmberg, we know what the process to replace a District Attorney is.

By state law, the vacancy means Hill is now in charge of the office, said Rob Kepple, executive director president of the Texas District & County Attorneys Association.

She will run the office until Gov. Rick Perry appoints a replacement. Because Anderson was just beginning his four-year term, the post will be on the ballot in the next general election in November 2014, Kepple said. It will be up for a vote again in 2016, when it was normally scheduled.

It’s too early, and too insensitive, to speculate about anything at this point. This will be a high profile race in Harris County next year, but there will be plenty of time to talk about it later. Texpatriate has more.

RIP, Mike Anderson

Very sad.

DA Mike Anderson

DA Mike Anderson

Harris County District Attorney Mike Anderson, who announced in May that he had cancer, died Friday, sources said.

The Texas District & County Attorneys Association on Saturday posted the news on Twitter: “We have just learned that Harris Co DA Mike Anderson passed away. Our prayers are with his wife & kids & the entire Harris Co DA family.”

Anderson, 57, took office Jan. 1, following his election in November.

He announced his illness by releasing an email which did not include details about the type of cancer or when it was diagnosed.

[…]

Anderson spent 12 years as a felony criminal court judge, following his 16 years as a prosecutor.

His wife, Devon Anderson, is a criminal defense attorney and also a former state district judge. They have two children.

Anderson revealed that he had cancer in May, but did not give any details about it. As you know, I interviewed Anderson last year during his primary against then-DA Pat Lykos. I wound up voting for him in November after the Dems screwed up their DA primary race, and while I had serious disagreements with him about policy, I was comfortable that the office would be in capable hands. I found him to be thoughtful and engaging during the interview, and I enjoyed chatting with him for a few minutes after we concluded the on-the-record conversation. We talked about our families; he told me about his baseball-playing sons, and it was easy to see how much he enjoyed that part of his life. I am stunned and saddened by this news. My deep condolences to his family, friends, and coworkers. Rest in peace, Mike Anderson.

UPDATE: Texpatriate and Murray Newman share their thoughts.

UPDATE: BOR has more.

RIP, Jack Pardee

A sad day for Houston sports.

Jack Pardee

Jack Pardee, a legend of Texas football from the six-man playing fields of Christoval to the barren wasteland of Junction to the Astrodome in Houston, has died of cancer, his family disclosed today.

Pardee, 76, was diagnosed with terminal gall bladder cancer in November.

“My dad was committed to football, but he was always close to his family,” Pardee’s son, Ted Pardee, said. “He had a lot of love to give. He was a sweet guy who was never afraid to give us a hug and kiss. He fought a tough battle, and we’re going to miss him.”

Pardee recently moved to a hospice facility in a Denver suburb, where two of his daughters reside.

Pardee’s family moved to Texas from Iowa in the mid-1940s so his father, Earl, could receive treatment for rheumatoid arthritis in Christoval’s mineral baths. Pardee scored 57 touchdowns for the town’s regional six-man champions in 1952 and then played three seasons for Texas A&M, enduring coach Bear Bryant’s infamous training camp in Junction in 1954 and winning all-Southwest Conference honors in 1956. He then played for the Rams and Redskins, with a two-year break in 1965-66, from 1957 through 1972, winning NFC Defensive Player of the Year honors in 1972.

He went on to coach the World Football League’s Florida Blazers (1974), the Chicago Bears (1975-77) and Redskins (1978-80) and, in 1984-85, the run-and-shoot Houston Gamblers of the United States Football League, winning coach of the year honors in 1984. After the USFL disbanded, he succeeded Bill Yeoman at UH, where quarterback Andre Ware won the 1989 Heisman Trophy, from 1987 through 1989.

In 1990, he returned to the NFL with the Oilers, leading the team to the playoffs in his first four seasons before losing his job following a 1-9 start in 1994. His career NFL coaching record is 87-77.

Pardee’s Oilers were ultimately a frustrating team to watch, and if you were in Houston in January of 1993 you probably still bear the scars of that playoff game, but they sure were fun. Paredee’s teams featured some iconic players from the Oilers’ history, and his run of success came after a multi-year run of futility. He made an indelible mark on football history here in Houston and in Texas, and he will be missed. Rest in peace, Jack Pardee.

Friday random ten: Gone too soon #3

After a recent Coverville episode on Jimi Hendrix, who would have been 70 years old this year, I thought I’d take another trip down Gone Too Soon lane, in which I highlight musicians in my library who died at too young an age. My first two entries are here and here, which I suppose means this is now an annual event. Be that as it may, here’s the list this time:

1. Foxy Lady – Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970)
2. Me and Bobby McGee – Kris Kristofferson (Janis Joplin, 1943-1970)
3. Come As You Are – Midnight Juggernauts (orig. Nirvana, Kurt Cobain, 1967-1994)
4. The Rainbow Connection – Kermit the Frog (Jim Henson, 1936-1990)
5. Rhapsody In Blue – Trinity University Wind Symphony (George Gershwin, 1898-1937)
6. Return of the Grievous Angel – Gram Parsons (1946-1973)
7. Sugar Magnolia – Grateful Dead (Jerry Garcia, 1942-1995)
8. Can’t Stop Killing You – Kirsty MacColl (1959-2000)
9. Self Control – Laura Branigan (1957-2004)
10. Willin’ – Little Feat (Lowell George, 1945-1979)

As always when I compile one of these lists, I find myself wondering what some of these people would be doing if they were still with us today. If the Rolling Stones can embark on a 50th anniversary tour, it’s hard to imagine that the likes of Hendrix and Joplin would not still be out there making music. Maybe from our perspective as music consumers, it’s better that they burned out instead of faded away, but I can’t quite bring myself to believe that. Anyway, I suspect I’ll have enough material to do yet another one of these lists next year, without much if any repetition. I just hope there aren’t any new names to add to the list.

RIP, Marvin Miller

Marvin Miller, whom Red Barber said was “one of the two or three most important men in baseball history, along with Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson”, has died at the age of 95.

Marvin Miller

It is impossible to overstate Miller’s impact on Major League Baseball. While some — including Hall of Fame voters — have long given Miller short shrift (or piled on utter disdain), baseball today cannot be understood without understanding Marvin Miller’s contributions. He was a truly transformative figure who, after Jackie Robinson, did more to correct the excesses and injustices delivered onto players by baseball’s ruling class than anyone.

When Miller took over as the head of the MLBPA in 1966 there was no free agency. Players were told by ownership what they would make the following year and if they didn’t like it, tough. They couldn’t switch teams. They couldn’t do what any other worker can do and shop their services elsewhere. They were stuck thanks to baseball’s reserve clause and the ridiculous Supreme Court decision which exempted baseball and its owners from the antitrust laws.

Miller took all of that on and he won. He started small, negotiating the union’s first collective bargaining agreement with the team owners in 1968, which raised the game’s minimum salary from $6,000 to $10,000. In 1970 he got the owners to agree to arbitration for the first time. In 1970 Curt Flood, with Miller’s support and guidance, challenged baseball’s antitrust exemption — and the dreaded reserve clause, which kept players tied to one team against their wishes — in the courts. Flood ultimately lost that case in the landmark 1972 Supreme Court decision. The decision did not, however, blunt Miller’s resolve, and he took his fight to other forums.

In 1974 he exploited a loophole — and an oversight by Oakland Athletics owner Charlie O. Finley — to get Catfish Hunter free agency and baseball’s first $1 million contract. Up next: the whole enchilada. In 1974, he got Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally to play out the season without contracts, placing them in cross-hairs of the reserve clause and giving them standing to fight the provision in arbitration. In 1975 they won, with the Seitz Decision ushering in the age of free agency. Baseball players’ indentured servitude was over.

In all Miller led the union through three work stoppages: two short ones — 1972 and in spring training 1980 — and then the long, season-altering strike in 1981. In all three stoppages, the union prevailed. Overall during his tenure the average players’ salary rose from $19,000 to $241,000 a year and their working conditions improved dramatically. It is no understatement to say that Miller turned the MLBPA into the most effective and successful labor union in the United States. Not just in sports: in the entire United States.

The New York Times has a thorough obit that you should read as well. Truly, Miller was one of the giants of the game, who changed it for the better in a profound way. His exclusion from the Hall of Fame is a monument to pettiness and spite, but he took it in stride. Rest in peace, Marvin Miller.

UPDATE: Keith Olbermann remembers Marvin Miller.

RIP, Larry Hagman

Farewell, JR.

Larry Hagman

J.R. Ewing was a business cheat, faithless husband and bottomless well of corruption. Yet with his sparkling grin, Larry Hagman masterfully created the charmingly loathsome oil baron — and coaxed forth a Texas-size gusher of ratings — on television’s long-running and hugely successful nighttime soap, “Dallas.”

Although he first gained fame as nice guy Major Tony Nelson on the fluffy 1965-70 NBC comedy “I Dream of Jeannie,” Hagman earned his greatest stardom with J.R. The CBS serial drama about the Ewing family and those in their orbit aired from April 1978 to May 1991, and broke viewing records with its “Who shot J.R.?” 1980 cliffhanger that left unclear if Hagman’s character was dead.

The actor, who returned as J.R. in a new edition of “Dallas” this year, had a long history of health problems and died Friday due to complications from his battle with cancer, his family said.

“Larry was back in his beloved hometown of Dallas, re-enacting the iconic role he loved the most. Larry’s family and closest friends had joined him in Dallas for the Thanksgiving holiday,” the family said in a statement that was provided to The Associated Press by Warner Bros., producer of the show.

The 81-year-old actor was surrounded by friends and family before he passed peacefully, “just as he’d wished for,” the statement said.

I was never into “Dallas” back in the day, though I admit that the “Who shot JR?” story line drew me in, and I watched the episode that revealed the answer like everyone else in America. It was hard to watch Larry Hagman do anything and not get the impression that he was just having more fun doing what he did than most of the rest of us. I’m sure there will be many great stories told about him in the next few days. Harold Cook, who didn’t know Hagman but knows people who did, has more, and you really owe it to yourself to read Mark Evanier’s Larry Hagman story. Rest in peace, Larry Hagman.

RIP, Sen. Mario Gallegos

Sad news.

Sen. Mario Gallegos

State Sen. Mario Gallegos, 62, a Democratic lawmaker whose 22-year career in the Texas Legislature was marked by courage, controversy and dogged commitment to issues of importance to the Hispanic community, died Tuesday afternoon at Methodist Hospital in Houston from complications of liver disease.

Gallegos, the first Hispanic elected to the state Senate from Harris County, took a special interest in public education, minority hiring, criminal justice, redistricting and other issues he believed would have an effect on the lives of the predominantly working-class residents who made up the majority of his state Senate district.

“Sen. Gallegos had a long and dedicated record of service to the people of Houston, both as a firefighter and long-time member of the Texas legislature,” said Houston Mayor Annise Parker in a statement.

In 2007, only weeks after undergoing a liver transplant, a sick and weakened Gallegos ignored a doctor’s call to return to Houston and installed a hospital bed in the office of the Senate sergeant-at-arms so he could cast his vote against a bill requiring voters to show photo identification. Gallegos argued the bill would discriminate against minority voters.

Sen. Gallegos’ courage in 2007, literally putting his life on the line for something he believed in, is one of the most enduring and inspiring political acts of recent memory. I was his constituent since moving into the Heights in 1997, and I had the pleasure of interviewing him a couple of times, most recently in 2010. He was a fighter, a friend of the working man and woman, a trailblazer, and a stalwart defender of progressive values. I am one of many, many people who will miss him. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.

I have received numerous statements and tributes to Sen. Gallegos in my inbox, all of which you can see beneath the fold. Harold Cook, the Trib, PDiddie, Burka, and BOR have more. Rest in peace, Sen. Mario Gallegos.

(more…)

Friday random ten: To the moon

In honor of Neil Armstrong, for whom Texas Liberal has a nice roundup of obituaries, here are ten songs about the moon:

1. Fly Me To The Moon – Trinity University Jazz Band
2. Yellow Moon – Neville Brothers
3. Blue Moon Revisited – Cowboy Junkies
4. How High The Moon – The Manhattan Transfer
5. Bad Moon Rising – Thea Gilmore
6. Walking On The Moon – The Police
7. There’s A Moon In The Sky (Called The Moon) – The B-52’s
8. Rising Of The Moon – Maggie Drennon
9. Man On The Moon – Ferraby Lionheart
10. The Man In The Moon – Andy M. Stewart

I have many more moon songs – it’s quite a popular theme for musicians – but I thought these were a fair representation. What are your moon songs?

Saturday video break: Mustang Sally

Song #54 on the Popdose Top 100 Covers list is “Mustang Sally”, originally by Mack Rice and covered by Wilson Pickett. Here’s the original:

Yet another song I hadn’t realized was a cover and whose original was unknown to me. Unlike many of the others, this one isn’t bad. I grooved to it. Still, it’s not quote right, is it? This one is:

That’s more like it. As was the case with Try A Little Tenderness, The Commitments did an awesome version of this as well:

Sorry about the cutoff and naughty word at the end there, but that was a clip from the movie, so there you have it. Here’s the uninterrupted song. You do know that singer Andrew Strong was 16 at the time of filming/recording, right? Take that, Justin Bieber. Oh, and yes, that is Mr. O’Brien from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Deep Space Nine” jamming in the background of that video.

If you’d like something a little different, here’s the great Buddy Guy with his rendition:

Consider this all a somewhat belated tribute to the late Dr. Sally Ride, trailblazer and inspiration to us all. I have no idea what she thought of this song – my guess is that people sang “Ride, Sally Ride” to her more often than she needed to hear it – but it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to hear it and not think of her. Rest in peace and forever may you ride, Sally Ride.

Friday random ten: Honky Tonk Angels and more

Country music pioneer and superstar Kitty Wells passed away this week. She was the first woman to break through as a solo performer in country music, and the first to have a hit song written from a distinctly female perspective. In doing so, she helped pave the way for future generations of female singers and songwriters, and it’s in her honor that I present this week’s random ten.

1. I Fall To Pieces – Patsy Cline
2. Bridge Over Troubled Waters – Aretha Franklin
3. Cherry Bomb – The Runaways
4. Gloria – Patti Smith
5. Red Letter Year – Ani DiFranco
6. Brave And Crazy – Melissa Etheridge
7. Back On The Chain Gang – The Pretenders
8. God Bless The Child – Billie Holiday
9. Feel So Different – Sinead O’Connor
10. Mothers, Daughters, Wives – Ceili’s Muse

Rest in peace, Kitty Wells.

RIP, State Rep. Ken Legler

Very sad news.

Rep. Ken Legler

State Rep. Ken Legler, R-Pasadena, passed away Friday, according to the Texas House speaker’s office. He was 54.

The cause of death is believed to be a heart attack, according to his office.

Legler was first elected to represent part of Harris County in 2008. He announced in March that he wouldn’t seek re-election.

Legler was president of Houston Wire Works in South Houston. Before his election, he served as chairman of the Federal Environmental Protection Agency National Advisory Board and on the boards of the Texas Association of Business and the National Federation of Independent Business.

Legler’s survivors include his wife, Barbara, three children and one grandchild.

My sincere condolences to Rep. Legler’s family and friends. BOR has a statement from Mary Ann Perez, Democratic nominee for HD-144, and you can see a lot of other tributes and reactions on Twitter. Rest in peace, Rep. Legler.

Friday random ten: The best little random ten list in Texas

A moment of silence, please, for Edna Milton Chadwell, the last madam of the Chicken Ranch brothel in La Grange, Texas, who passed away this week at the age of 84. In her memory, I bring you this list:

1. Best Damn Fool – Buddy Guy
2. Little Beggarman – Great Big Sea
3. The Best Is Yet To Come – Frank Sinatra and Count Basie
4. Little Bird – Annie Lennox
5. Best o’ The Barley – Jiggernaut
6. Little Brown Jug – Glenn Miller
7. The Best Of Me – Eddie From Ohio
8. Little By Little – Southside Johnny and The Jukes
9. Best Song Ever – Katie Armiger
10. Little Dreamer – Van Halen

If there are any Aggie boys in heaven, they’re probably dancing right about now. (Warning: The following contains gratuitous glimpses of Aggie ass. Those of you with delicate constitutions, you have been warned.)

No more miles until you get to heaven, Miss Edna. Rest in peace.