Trail­blazer, civic leader Dionne Bagsby dies at 82

Star-Telegram - - Front Page - BY LUKE RANKER [email protected]­

Called “a men­tor and friend,” Dionne Phillips Bagsby, the first woman and first African-Amer­i­can elected to the Tar­rant County Com­mis­sion­ers Court, died Thurs­day morn­ing. She was 82. In a state­ment, the fam­ily said Bagsby was sur­rounded by her loved ones and close friends when she died.

“We are grate­ful for the over­whelm­ing out­pour­ing of love and sup­port from friends and fam­ily from all over the coun­try,” the state­ment said. “Our mother had an affin­ity for all peo­ple and com­mit­ted her­self to im­prov­ing the lives of women and chil­dren. She leaves a legacy of pub­lic ser­vice that will im­pact and em­power res­i­dents of Tar­rant County and Texas for gen­er­a­tions to come.”

At the time of her elec­tion,

Bagsby un­seated a 20year in­cum­bent and be­came the only AfricanAmer­i­can fe­male county com­mis­sioner in the state of Texas.

Bagsby, orig­i­nally from Illi­nois, had a life­long pas­sion for education. After she moved to Fort Worth with her hus­band, Jim Bagsby, in the 1960s, she worked to in­te­grate Fort Worth schools, where she worked as a speech ther­a­pist.

She spent much of her time re­cruit­ing and en­cour­ag­ing oth­ers to run for of­fice or be­come in­volved in com­mu­nity groups.

Spurred by com­mu­nity sup­port, Bagsby de­cided to run for of­fice and en­tered the race for County Com­mis­sioner Precinct 1. She won the 1988 race, de­feat­ing 20-year in­cum­bent Richard “Dick” An­der­sen in the Demo­cratic pri­mary.

Roy C. Brooks, who took Bagsby’s seat on the court in 2005, remembered her fondly.

Brooks worked for 14 years as her chief of staff while she served on the court, where she was an ad­vo­cate for health care, education and in­creas­ing mi­nor­ity em­ploy­ment.

“Dionne al­ways said she was a not a politi­cian, she was a pub­lic ser­vant,” Brooks said.

Among Bagsby’s great­est ac­com­plish­ments was work­ing to de­cen­tral­ize John Peter Smith Hospi­tal ser­vices from one lo­ca­tion down­town to com­mu­nity clin­ics spread out across the county. Bagsby fo­cused on get­ting ser­vices to peo­ple in their com­mu­ni­ties, he said.

Brooks ran for the com­mis­sion­ers court when Bagsby re­tired in 2005. Even after he took of­fice, he turned to her for guid­ance, he said. Bagsby taught him a lot about build­ing part­ner­ships.

“It was not enough to have an idea or plan. You also have to bring the com­mu­nity along with you and make sure your idea com­ported with their idea,” he said. “She was a great men­tor and friend.”

Bob Ray Sanders, a for­mer Star-Tele­gram ed­i­tor and colum­nist, called Bagsby “an in­cred­i­ble force in the com­mu­nity” whose work to break down race and gen­der bias paved the way for oth­ers like Brooks.

“The word ‘trail­blazer’ has be­come trite now, but the truth is she was a real trail­blazer,” Sanders said. “She didn’t toot her own horn. She just went out and did — of­ten with some­one else in mind.”

Though Bagsby broke down bar­ri­ers and was known as a strong leader, Sanders said she was al­ways mod­est and quick to give credit and en­cour­age­ment to oth­ers.

“Dionne was al­ways a lady, in my mind,” he said. “No mat­ter what, she al­ways ex­uded the qual­i­ties of a lady — kind and con­sid­er­ate.”

Bagsby’s love for education and pas­sion for the com­mu­nity was well­known.

Chris­tene Moss, a mem­ber of the Fort Worth school board, said Bagsby was a strong leader in Fort Worth’s African-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity and one ad­mired by many young women.

“She was just re­ally out­stand­ing,” Moss said.

She was also a strong ad­vo­cate for the un­der­priv­i­leged, par­tic­u­larly for women and chil­dren, her fam­ily said in a state­ment de­tail­ing her life and ac­com­plish­ments.

Bagsby was “deeply com­mit­ted to im­prov­ing the lives of those in need,” her fam­ily wrote in the state­ment. For ex­am­ple, she was one of the early pi­o­neer ed­u­ca­tors who worked for a peace­ful in­te­gra­tion of the Fort Worth In­de­pen­dent School Dis­trict, the fam­ily said.

Gwen­dolyn Mor­ri­son, a trustee on the Tar­rant County Col­lege Dis­trict board, de­scribed Bagsby as ”a ster­ling role model of com­mu­nity ac­tivism.” She said Bagsby helped her get ac­cli­mated in the Fort Worth com­mu­nity years ago when she moved to the area and that her wel­com­ing na­ture was shared with many young women.

“There are so many things that she did,” Mor­ri­son said. “The great­est thing that she did was en­cour­age other women to de­velop them­selves and to take their right­ful place in the ed­u­ca­tional, civic and cul­tural life of the com­mu­nity.”

Bagsby was a sup­porter in or­ga­niz­ing the Greater Fort Worth Area Ne­gro Busi­ness and Pro­fes­sional Women’s Club. In 1975, when the or­ga­ni­za­tion re­ceived its na­tional char­ter from the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Ne­gro Busi­ness and Pro­fes­sional Women’s Clubs, Bagsby opened her home in south­east Fort Worth for the first gen­eral mem­ber­ship meet­ing.

Mor­ri­son said Bagsby was se­lected by the club as the 2019 “We Speak Your Name” honoree.

When she re­tired from the com­mis­sion­ers court in 2005, the Texas Leg­is­la­ture hon­ored her with a res­o­lu­tion mark­ing her “dis­tin­guished 16-year ten­ure that has been char­ac­ter­ized by in­tegrity and ex­cel­lence.”

In Oc­to­ber, The Fort Worth Cham­ber of Com­merce awarded Bagsby the Legacy Award for “deep com­mit­ment and ded­i­ca­tion to Fort Worth.” The sub-court­house in south­west Tar­raant County is named after Bagsby.

Dionne Bagsby

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