Eagerness to share is Briscoe’s legacy
Dolph Briscoe made a lot of money. And, to the benefit of all of us, he donated a lot of it to institutions that will continue to make life better for a lot of people.
We join our fellow Texans in mourning the death of our 40th governor and recognizing the lasting impact his life will have on the state he loved.
Briscoe, 87, died at home in Uvalde on Sunday after a long illness that left him hospitalized most of this year. He is to be buried in his native county today. Born into political power and personal wealth produced by oil and land, Briscoe’s political career began with his 1949 election to the Texas House and culminated in six years as governor. As a Democratic lawmaker, he helped create the Farm-to-Market road system that revolutionized transportation in this state but is now taken for granted.
As governor from 1972 to 1978 (one twoyear term and one four-year term after the law was changed), he presided in the post-Sharpstown scandal era, a period when public confidence in the Texas Legislature had been shaken by widespread influence peddling. For his efforts, Briscoe eventually suffered rejection by his own party. Running from the conservative wing that long controlled the party, Briscoe in 1978 faced a serious challenge from then-Attorney General John Hill, who was favored by moder- ates and liberals. In what was the first step in the monumental shift toward GOP dominance in Texas, Briscoe lost to Hill.
And Hill then lost to Republican Bill Clements, who became Texas’ first GOP governor since Reconstruction.
The defeat by Hill sent a bitter Briscoe back to his Uvalde ranch. But it did not remove him from working to make the state a better place. The Briscoe family philan- thropy has touched many Texans. In 2009, the University of Texas System Board of Regents honored Briscoe, Class of ’42, with the Santa Rita Award, the top distinction the board hands out.
“The University of Texas System and its institutions have prominence on a world scale because people like Gov. Briscoe and his late wife Janey — a former regent on this board — contributed selflessly their time and resources for the benefit of higher education,” said H. Scott Caven Jr., then the board’s chairman.
The Briscoes gave more than $26 million to the UT System, highlighted by $15 million to what was renamed the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at UT-Austin. The center houses one of the nation’s great collections of historical documents. It is truly a treasure, one widely used by researchers from around the world. The center also includes the Institute for Studies in American Military History here in Austin, the Sam Rayburn Library and Museum in Bonham, the John Nance Garner Museum in Uvalde and the Winedale complex in Round Top.
Briscoe’s donations also have paid for faculty and scholarship endowments at UT-San Antonio, cardiovascular research at UT Health Science Center at San Antonio and medical programs at UT M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
His giving was selfless, though at a 2008 ceremony thanking him for a $5 million donation to the health science center in San Antonio, Briscoe, who helped create the center, spoke emotionally about a personal reward for his donation.
He recalled how Janey had fallen ill in their kitchen on Jan. 1, 1998. It was a heart attack, and a local cardiologist told her not to travel to the specialist she’d been seeing.
“They said she wouldn’t survive,” Briscoe said at the event. Instead, she went to the closer University Hospital, a branch of UT’s San Antonio facility. Briscoe said doctors there, through their care and as a result of research they had done there, gave Janey the two more years she had until her death in 2000.
The man who had given millions to the medical facility that treated his wife said “no price” could be put on the additional time he and his children and grandchildren had with his wife.
“It was really the most wonderful thing in the world that has happened to me,” Briscoe said as he honored those who honored him.
Some of us never know how we are to be repaid for good deeds. Dolph Briscoe found out in a most personal way. Many Texans will continue to benefit from his good deeds for many years.
Dolph Briscoe, shown with his wife, Janey, prior to being sworn in as Texas’ 40th governor, made his greatest imprint on the state with his philanthropy. Brisco and his wife gave more than $26 million to the University of Texas System.