Ea­ger­ness to share is Briscoe’s legacy

Austin American-Statesman - - OPINION -

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.

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