With a mixture of laughter and tears, but mostly laughter, former Gov. Ann Richards was remembered Monday for her deep love of Texas and her sense of fairness for all.
Former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, who served as master of ceremonies, described Richards as an “advocate for justice” who embraced every person with dignity, love and compassion.
“She gave inspiration to all of us, gave face to our dreams and she elevated our state from the Lone Star State to rock star status and thank God we all got to come along for the ride,” Kirk said.
Former columnist Liz Smith wiped away tears as she offered parting words about her longtime friend.
“I think Ann Richards was the greatest woman I’ve ever known,” Smith said.
If Richards could have shaken the hands of everyone in the US,” Smith said, “she could have been president or anything else she wanted to be.”
Addressing Richards’ family, Smith said, “She loved you all so much.”
“I think she considered you her greatest legacy.”
Former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros said Richards “made a big difference with her life.”
US Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York, said Richards led the way for a generation of women in politics.
“Ann Richards sent out a message to young women that is reverberating today--set your own course, dream your own dreams, go places where you want to go even if nobody has gone there before, stand your ground, but never forget you’re no better than anybody else,” Clinton said.
Richards’ oldest granddaughter Lily Adams, one of what the former governor often called her eight “nearly perfect grandchildren,” said campaigning was always part of life with her grandmother.
“She wanted us to see what she saw, learn what she learned and know what she knew,” Adams said.
The most important lesson Richards imparted to her grandchildren, Adams said, was to be the very best people they can.
She told us, Adams said, “‘This is your life. It is the only one you get, so no excuses and no do- overs.”
Thousands of Richards admirers streamed into the University of Texas Frank Erwin Special Events Center for the memorial service.
Former US Commerce Secretary Don Evans of Midland attended on behalf of President Bush.
Other mourners included Gov. Rick Perry and US Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.
Two huge photographs of Richards in her political prime hung on each side of the stage.
A private burial service is planned at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.
Richards, 73, was born in 1933 in the Waco suburb of Lakeview, graduated from Waco High School and Baylor University, earned a teaching certificate from the University of Texas and taught school for a year in Austin.
She began to campaign for such progressive Texas candidates as Henry B. Gonzalez and Ralph Yarbrough, and emerged as a political figure in her own right when she was elected state treasurer in 1982, the first woman elected to statewide office in 50 years.
She won a second term without opposition and then stepped into the national spotlight in 1988 when she delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, a speech that included a memorable reference to George H. W. Bush.
“Poor George,” Richards said to the cheering delegates, “he can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.”
Richards ran for governor in 1990, defeating Attorney General Jim Mattox and former Gov. Mark White in the Democratic primary and multi-millionaire rancher Clayton Williams in the general election.
She served just one term, losing her bid for reelection to George W. Bush, who parlayed his tenure in Austin into a successful presidential race.
Win or lose, however, her humor always on display.
"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.'
In her last 10 years, Richards worked for many social causes and helped develop the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders.
Richards was diagnosed with cancer in March and had undergone chemotherapy.
Richards is survived by her four children, Cecile Richards, Daniel Richards, Clark Richards and Ellen Richards; their spouses and eight grandchildren.
The family requests that memorial gifts be made to the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders through the Austin Community Foundation, P.O. Box 5159, Austin, Texas 78763,
Mary Beth Rogers