Ann Richards was a one of a kind Texas original through and through. Born in a small town, she graduated from Baylor University in 1953 and taught school in Austin until 1976, when she was elected to Travis County Commissioners Court. She was elected State Treasurer in 1982 -- the first woman elected to statewide office in Texas in more than 50 years. By then her alcoholism and workaholism put a fatal strain on her marriage, which ended in divorce. She got treatment and never touched alcohol again. In an interview with Houston Public Radio three years ago, Richards said she was able to deal with her personal problems because she's always worked at maintaining a positive outlook.
"For years I've been saying if I wake up in the morning and I'm in a bad mood, I change my mind. Because, literally, your outlook on life is in your head."
Richards became famous nationally in 1988 with her keynote speech to the Democratic National Convention, and her now famous joke that then Vice President George HW Bush was born with a silver foot in his mouth. She was elected Governor in 1990, but lost her bid for a second term to George W. Bush in 1994. Richards said that's when she took stock of her life, and decided she just wanted to keep working.
"I don't want to keep doing the same thing all the time. I think it wears you out, you get bored, you're not interesting anymore. The second thing is that I want to leave the world a better place. I don't feel like I'm responsible for all of it, I used to, and I want to work. I've always liked working. I enjoy working."
Retired TV journalist turned political consultant Neal Spelce covered Richards when she was on Travis County Commissioners Court, and he says people on both sides of the political aisle liked and respected Richards because she had the disarming ability to poke good natured fun at anything and everyone, including herself.
"Ann was a straight talker, and Texans liked that, and in fact the nation likes that. In these days of vacillating politicians who look at the polls, and then say 'oh that's what I'm supposed to say' and then parrot that, Ann was a breath of fresh air."
Richards worked for a number of social causes in her final years. She helped develop the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders, and wrote several books about her life in politics, her health, and her struggle with alcoholism. She's survived by her four children, their spouses, and eight grandchildren. In a statement from the White House, now President George W. Bush says Texas has lost one of its great daughters, and he and First Lady Laura Bush are deeply saddened by her passing.
Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.