Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee Dies

In 1985, Lee was elected and sworn in as the first African American Harris County Commissioner.


To embed this piece of audio in your site, please use this code:

<iframe src="" style="height: 115px; width: 100%;"></iframe>
Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee passed away Sunday morning in Houston.
Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee passed away Sunday morning in Houston.

Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee has died.

A spokesman for the Harris Health System confirmed that Lee was pronounced dead at 10:01 Sunday morning at Lyndon B. Johnson General Hospital in Houston. He would not confirm the cause of death, but other media outlets are reporting the 66-year-old died of a heart attack.

Lee served as commissioner for Harris County Precinct 1 for 30 years. He began his political career in the Texas Legislature where he represented District 142 for five years. In 1985, Lee was elected and sworn in as the first African American Harris County Commissioner.

Lee was a native Houstonian and a graduate of Phillis Wheatley Senior High School. He is survived by his wife Ethel Kaye and two children.

Joe Stinebaker is with Harris County Judge Ed Emmett's office. He was stunned to learn of his passing.

"He was a heck of a guy," Stinebaker says. "This is really sad news for all of us who have known him for any length of time."

Stinebaker says Lee will be remembered for his commitment to serving his constituents.

In a statement, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett writes:

"Gwen and I were shocked and truly saddened to hear of the death of Commissioner El Franco Lee. Not only has Harris County lost a tireless and devoted public servant, but many of us have lost a true friend. Our prayers go out to his family and staff."

Houston Mayor-elect Sylvester Turner released the following statement on Lee's passing:

"My heart is deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee. I first met El Franco more than three decades ago when he was serving in the State Legislature. In 1984, we ran against each other for Harris County Commissioner and he beat me.

El Franco was a beloved public servant who never sought the limelight, preferring a low key approach that put the needs of his constituents above self-promotion. His passion was helping seniors and improving quality of life for underserved youth and young adults in the inner city. His unmatched programs for thousands of seniors include everything from health and fitness initiatives to arts and crafts and music tutorials to holiday celebrations and other special events. El Franco's dedication to improving social services, health care, educational and vocational needs for Harris County youth is exemplified by his wonderful Street Olympics Program. He grew the Street Olympics from a summer-only recreation activity into a comprehensive event that impacted the lives of more than 10,000 young adults every year.

El Franco served Harris County well for 30 years and will be greatly missed. On behalf of the City of Houston, I send condolences and prayers to his family. I have directed that flags at City of Houston facilities be lowered to half-staff."

State Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) released the following statement:

"I'm shocked and saddened by the tragic passing of Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee," said Ellis. "El Franco was a personal friend and mentor – someone I always turned to when considering big decisions in my life, so I'll miss him greatly."

"His legacy will be that of public service, as he was always a stalwart advocate for Harris County and Precinct One. He positively impacted the lives of countless residents each year, whether through the Street Olympics, public park upgrades, or senior programs. El Franco used the power of his office for the greater public good, and our community is better off thanks to his dedication and desire to serve."

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Subscribe to Today in Houston

Fill out the form below to subscribe our new daily editorial newsletter from the HPM Newsroom.

* required