Magazine article The Progressive

Ann Richards Remembered

Magazine article The Progressive

Ann Richards Remembered

Article excerpt

Dorothy Ann Willis was born the only child of Cecil and Mildred Iona Willis, in a small town near Waco, at the depth of the Depression. Her daddy was a salesman and her mother sewed all Ann's clothes. Her father always told her she could do anything she wanted.

"I was in college before I found out he was wrong," she said.

She and Dave Richards had dated in high school. She went to Baylor on a debate scholarship, and they were married as undergraduates.

Ann got a teaching certificate and taught junior high, which I regard as a thankless assignment. But she had a real empathy for kids at that impossible age.

As governor, she took around a class of gifted and talented kids, mostly black and brown, who were visiting the capitol for the day.

"Who owns this building?" asked Ann.

"The taxpayers," the kids finally concluded after much nudging.

"Who are the taxpayers?"

"My parents pay taxes!" shouted one kid.

"What about you? If you go to buy a candy bar, do you pay taxes on it?"

A candy bar receipt was finally produced, and sure enough it had tax added on it. "WE own the capitol," they all shouted.

An Richards's public life was mostly about gender. She was outrageous and courageous on behalf of women everywhere. When Ann first ran for state treasurer in 1982 you could feel it: the start of a movement. Those women with big hair and big purses in Amarillo and Abilene flocked to hear her. Running the treasurer's office was just like balancing a checkbook "except more zeroes," she said, adding: "Women are trained to detail, and we are expected to juggle a lot of balls at once." She attended to the details, actually listened to the civil servants, and made the place run better.

The 1990 campaign for governor was a real nail-biter against Claytie Williams. Ann was running for "a new Texas," and Claytie, with his good ol' boy racism and sexism, kept defining "old Texas" in the most helpful way. …

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