Former Gov. Mark White remembered in Houston
Mark White was praised as a rumbler, a risk-taker and a raconteur as friends, colleagues and fellow political figures — past and present — joined hundreds of mourners Wednesday to salute the late leader.
Former Texas Gov. HOUSTON — Mark White was remembered as a rumbler, a risk-taker and a raconteur Wednesday as friends, colleagues and fellow political figures — past and present — joined hundreds of mourners at Second Baptist Church on Wednesday to salute the late leader.
White, who died Saturday of a heart attack at 77, was respected by and close to Texans across the political spectrum, universally hailed as a nice guy who came from an era in which partisanship did not preclude friendship.
That was underscored by the bipartisan attendance at Wednesday’s service, which included former President George W. Bush, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry.
“Mark White had courage,” Bush said in the final of four eulogies during the service. “He could rumble with the best of them and then extend the hand of friendship.”
A portrait of White hangs in the state Capitol alongside a list of all of his accomplishments, Bush noted. But if you were to ask White, Bush said, he’d say his
most meaningful accomplishment would be in Houston: a school named Mark White Elementary.
Earlier, White’s son Andrew White said his father loved to be the life of the party. “His one biggest regret is dying and not being able to attend his own funeral.”
Andrew White said his father always put God first in everything he did, then country, then family. His father, he said, believed in doing right, taking risks while not being afraid of taking the consequences.
He then turned to his mother, noting that his father’s achievements would not have been possible without the support of his wife of 50 years.
“Because of you, Mom, Dad was able to take those risks,” he said.
Mark White served a single term as governor, both defeating and then being defeated by Bill Clements, his polar opposite in many respects.
He once described the guiding principle of good government as “basic and uncomplicated. It asks two questions before any others: Is it right? Is it fair?”
During his brief eulogy, Bush said, “As Governor 46, I’m thankful to be here for 43. Any serious study of Texas history will note that White was well-suited to be governor.”
White also served as Texas attorney general, beating fellow Houston lawyer James Baker in the latter’s lone bid for elected office. Baker went on to serve in the presidential administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
White was the last male Democrat elected governor, serving from 1983 to 1987. He also was the last one to come from Houston. His term marked the end of centrist rule, with fellow Democrat Ann Richards — who defeated him in the primary race — offering a final liberal salvo four years later before the state became a Republican bastion.
Luci Baines Johnson, daughter of former President Lyndon Johnson, gave the first of four planned eulogies, speaking of her decadeslong friendship with White.
“He may have retired from public office, but he never retired from public service,” she said.
Likegovernors before and since, White was faced with the hercu---- lean task of improving Texas education. He fought for a teacher pay raise and the taxes to pay for it, believing it was the duty of state government to shoulder the bulk of the financial burden for K-12 education. In the years since, neither the Legislature nor its leaders have felt such allegiance, with state support dropping from two-thirds to about a third.
White’s determination to pass a package of education reforms under the legislative title of House Bill 72 not only brought teachers better compensation but also reduced class size and instituted a broad system of accountability. White believed it to be axiomatic that minimal educational attainment trumped participation in sports, a notion that at the time was considered heresy across much of the state.
The “no pass, no play” policy was roundly attacked by many coaches, parents, administrators and school trustees. Likewise, teachers disliked the new regime of student tests that became standardized and mandatory. Yet both have remained policy ever since.
White’s tenure coincided with the oil and real estate bust of the 1980s. The resulting drop in state revenue meant that new taxes totaling $4.6 billion had to be imposed if the education reforms and other important measures were to be realized. He accepted responsibility for the increase, knowing it made re-election less likely.
White’s tenure was notable for the appointment of a record number of women and minorities to public office. He also pushed for greater attention to consumer issues, and for the diversification of the Texas economy.
The son of a schoolteacher, White graduated from Lamar High School in Houston and received undergraduate and law degrees from Baylor University. After leaving public office, he worked as a lawyer in the firm of Reynolds, White, Allen & Cook, and in a variety of business ventures. He alsoserved on numerous boards.
He is survived by his wife, Linda Gale Thompson White; three children; and numerous grandchildren. His body will lie in state beneath the Texas Capitol Rotunda in Austin on Thursday before burial in the Texas State Cemetery.
DPS Honor Guard members escort the casket of former Texas Gov. Mark White into the memorial service in Houston Wednesday.
Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, arrive for Wednesday’s service for former Texas Gov. Mark White at Second Baptist Church in Houston. He gave a eulogy.
Texas Department of Public Safety Honor Guard members salute as the hearse arrives Wednesday bearing the late Texas Gov. Mark White to his memorial service at Second Baptist Church in Houston.