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Tinsley’s Legacy: The Greening of Houston

A true servant of the people has died. Longtime Houston Councilwoman Eleanor Tinsley is being remembered as a champion for the environment, from removing billboards to the development of parks and green space. Pat Hernandez has the story.


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Harris County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia broke the news about the passing of the 82 year old Tinsley. She then lead the Court in a moment of silence. Garcia called Tinsley a role model for women.

“A woman who broke barriers; a woman who just was about getting things done; a woman who was just honest, high integrity, and really was just there to serve people. She was a true public servant.”

During her 16-years on council, Tinsley spearheaded the non-profit Spark program. It uses school grounds to create new neighborhood parks throughout the city. Former Mayor Bob Lanier remembers when she introduced the idea.

“Michael Yarborough had just gotten on city council and he jumped on the idea and questioned her, acted like he didn’t think they were worthwhile. After the council meeting was over, he must have gotten hundreds of calls and letters, and what not, telling him ‘Don’t jump on Eleanor Tinsley or the parks program’. And the next council meeting, he came in and he stood up and he said,’I want to make a personal privileged statement’..he said,’I think Spark are wonderful.”

Sue Lovell occupies Tinsley’s at large seat on council.

“I’ve never thought of it, nor does my staff of it as our council seat and that whenever we have tough decisions, we pretty much ask the question…’What would Eleanor do?’, and then we know we’ll do the right thing.”

An HISD school is named in her honor. Attorney Jonathan Day says Tinsley’s public life began in 1969 when she and other candidates of a group he founded called Citizens For Good Schools were elected to the Houston School Board to to speed up integration. He says it was a very sensitive period in the district.

“They not only were able to integrate the schools. They also instituted a good many long lasting school reforms.”

image of Eleanor Tinsley

Although she left public office years ago, Tinsley remained active in causes dear to her heart. Less than a month ago, she was on hand for the removal of a giant billboard on the East side. In the 80s, she helped the city lose its reputation as the billboard capital of the world.

“We’ve gone from 15-thousand billboards to 15-hundred, but the proliferation of billboards was tremendous.”

Harris County Commissioner Garcia says her commitment to the greening of Houston is a lasting legacy.

“Every time anybody drives by Allen Parkway and sees Eleanor Tinsley Park, I mean, that will be a living testimony to all her work for green space, for a good quality of life for all people.”

I asked Garcia if heaven was a little greener.

“She’s probably already making changes.”

Pat Hernandez, KUHF…Houston Public Radio News

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