Download Ann Richards
If one Mr. Bush closed out her political career, another figured into her rise, as a target of her barbs. “Poor George, he can’t help it,” Ms. Richards said at the 1988 Democratic convention in Atlanta, speaking about the current president’s father, former President George Bush. “He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.”
Her saucy, plain-spoken keynote address, borrowing from the great tradition of vernacular Southern oratory, was one of the year’s political highlights. “We’re gonna tell how the cow ate the cabbage,” she said at one point.
The speech transformed her, then the Texas treasurer, into a national figure. And it made her, a mother of four, an admired champion of feminism. “Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did,” she told the national audience. “She just did it backwards and in high heels.”
Her defeat in 1994, coming in a year of sweeping Republican success at the polls nationwide, did not dim her celebrity on the national stage. She continued to speak out on behalf of liberal causes, was a regular commentator on CNN and appeared in national advertising campaigns, including one for snack chips.
She also went to work as a senior adviser for the international law firm of Verner, Lipfert, Bernhard, McPherson & Hand (now DLA Piper) and later for the public relations company Public Strategies. She also served on numerous boards of directors, including those of J. C. Penney, Brandeis University and the Aspen Institute.
Dorothy Ann Willis was born Sept. 1, 1933, an only child, in Lakeview, Tex. She graduated in 1950 from Waco High School, where she showed a special facility for debate and met her future husband, David Richards. In her junior year, she attended the Girls State mock government program in Austin and was one of two delegates chosen to attend Girls Nation in Washington.
Ms. Richards went on to enroll at Baylor University in Waco on a debate scholarship and married. After graduating, she and Mr. Richards moved to Austin, where she earned a teaching certificate at the University of Texas in 1955 and taught social studies for several years at Fulmore Middle School. She reared her four children — Cecile, Daniel, Clark and Ellen — in Austin, and they were with her at home when she died, Ms. Bonner said.
Ms. Richards is also survived by eight grandchildren. Cecile Richards, who became president of Planned Parenthood this year, lives in New York; the other siblings live in Austin.
As a young woman, Ann Richards volunteered in several campaigns for governor: in 1958 for Henry B. Gonzalez and in 1952, 1954 and 1956 for Ralph Yarborough. She then helped Mr. Yarborough’s senatorial campaign in 1957.Photo
In the early 1960’s, she and a handful of other young Democrats founded North Dallas Democratic Women in an effort to give more power to women in the party. “The regular Democratic Party and its organization was run by men who looked on women as little more than machine parts,” she said later.
In 1972, she ran her first campaign, helping elect to the Texas Legislature Sarah Weddington, who had successfully argued Roe v. Wade before the United States Supreme Court.
In 1976, Ms. Richards defeated a three-term incumbent to become a commissioner in Travis County, which includes Austin. She held the job for four years. She also began drinking heavily, becoming alcoholic and putting great strain on her marriage, she said later. The marriage ended in divorce.
After entering rehabilitation, she stopped drinking in 1980 and later said that the decision to seek help had saved her life and salvaged her political career.
“I have seen the very bottom of life,” she said. “I was so afraid I wouldn’t be funny anymore. I just knew that I would lose my zaniness and my sense of humor. But I didn’t. Recovery turned out to be a wonderful thing.”
In 1982, she ran for state treasurer and received the most votes of any statewide candidate, becoming the first woman elected to statewide office in Texas in 50 years. She was re-elected in 1986.
In 1990, when Gov. William P. Clements Jr., the first Republican governor of Texas since Reconstruction, decided not to run for re-election, Ms. Richards challenged a former governor, Mark White, in the Democratic primary and won. She went on to defeat the Republican candidate, Clayton Williams, a wealthy rancher, in the general election after a brutal campaign.
As governor, among other achievements, she fulfilled her campaign promise to bring more blacks, Hispanics and women into public office. She appointed the first black regent to the University of Texas and installed the first blacks and women on the state’s legendary police force, the Texas Rangers. She also pushed for tougher penalties for polluters and gained control of the state’s insurance board in a drive to reduce the industry’s influence over state government.
Ms. Richards oversaw an expansion of the state’s prison system, increasing the space for prisoners by a third, and cracked down on the number of prisoners being paroled. She also instituted a major substance abuse program for prisoners and championed creation of the Texas lottery as a source of public school financing. She bought the first lotto ticket herself on May 29, 1992.
The same year, she was named chairwoman of the Democratic National Convention, which nominated Bill Clinton for president for the first time.
Two years later, she underestimated her young Republican challenger from West Texas, George W. Bush, going so far as to refer to him as “some jerk.” The comment drew considerable criticism. She later acknowledged that Mr. Bush had been more effective than she at “staying on message” and that he had made none of the mistakes that her campaign strategists had expected. She was beaten 53 percent to 46 percent.
Ms. Richards was a co-author of several books, including “Straight from the Heart: My Life in Politics and Other Places” (Simon & Schuster, 1989), with Peter Knobler, and “I’m Not Slowing Down: Winning My Battle with Osteoporosis” (Dutton, 2003), with Richard U. Levine, a doctor.
On her 60th birthday, she got a motorcycle license, an event that was commemorated in a cover photo in Texas Monthly showing Ms. Richards’s head superimposed on the body of a woman in a fringed jacket atop a Harley-Davidson beneath the headline “White Hot Mama.”
In recent years, Ms. Richards had worked to establish the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders, a public college preparatory school in Austin. It will open next year, giving priority to economically disadvantaged students. She was also a sought-after commentator and speaker whose observations had lost little of their tart humor since her national emergence two decades ago.
As she once explained, “I learned early on that people liked you if you made them laugh.”
Correction: Sept. 15, 2006 An obituary in some copies yesterday about former Gov. Ann Richards of Texas referred incorrectly to her later positions with the public relations company Public Strategies and the international law firm Verner, Lipfert, Bernhard, McPherson & Hand (now DLA Piper). She was an adviser to both, not a lobbyist and lawyer. She did not have a law degree. The obituary also misstated the middle initial of the co-author of her book “I’m Not Slowing Down: Winning My Battle with Osteoporosis.” He is Richard U. Levine, not Richard M. A full obituary appears today on Page A23.
A version of this article appears in print on , on Page D8 of the New York edition with the headline: Ann Richards, Flamboyant Texas Governor, Dies at 73.