Ten reasons we already miss Ann Richards

One former Texas governor we'll never want to forget.

Published September 14, 2006 4:38PM (EDT)

Ann Richards, the famously silver-tongued and silver-haired former governor of Texas, died Wednesday from complications of esophageal cancer. She was 73. Here's just some of what we'll remember and miss about her:

1. Richards used her wit not only to disarm her political opponents but to encourage other women to get into politics: "Let me tell you, sisters, seeing dried egg on a plate in the morning is a lot dirtier than anything I've had to deal with in politics," she said.

2. As a homemaker raising four kids, Richards became politically involved by volunteering on campaigns, including helping elect Sarah Weddington, the 25-year-old lawyer who had successfully argued Roe v. Wade before the Supreme Court, to the Texas House. Richards called Weddington the first "out-and-out feminist activist" she'd ever met, according to the Washington Post.

3. Two years after undergoing rehab for alcoholism in 1982, Richards was elected state treasurer, making her the first woman elected to a statewide post in Texas in 50 years. Of her return from addiction, she said: "I believe in recovery, and I believe that as a role model I have the responsibility to let young people know that you can make a mistake and come back from it."

4. When Richards gave the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 1988 -- where she zinged the elder George Bush -- "Poor George. He can't help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth" -- she also reminded the audience that she was only the second woman to give the keynote address at the convention in 160 years. The first was Barbara Jordan.

5. Richards may have lost her reelection bid to George W. Bush in 1994, but she beat another rich Texas oilman in her first governor's race: Clayton "Claytie" Williams, who during the campaign compared rape to the weather: "As long as it's inevitable, you might as well lie back and enjoy it." That race was dubbed a match between "Claytie and the Lady," in which "the Lady" prevailed by a narrow margin. Sixty-one percent of women voters supported her, and she became the second woman ever to be governor of Texas.

6. As a feminist, Richards championed ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment in Texas. She led workshops for women campaign managers and political candidates before being elected to office herself. When she became the first woman in half a century to serve as governor, she celebrated by holding up a T-shirt that showed the State Capitol and read: "A woman's place is in the dome."

7. As governor, Richards made it a priority to appoint more women, African-Americans and Hispanics to state boards than any previous Texas governor. Before she left office in 1995, she said: "I did not want my tombstone to read, 'She kept a really clean house.' I think I'd like them to remember me by saying, 'She opened government to everyone.'" According to KWTX-TV she appointed "the first black University of Texas regent; the first crime victim to join the state Criminal Justice Board; the first disabled person to serve on the human services board; and the first teacher to lead the State Board of Education."

8. For her 60th birthday, Richards got a license to ride a motorcycle.

9. Late in life, Richards continued her advocacy for reproductive freedom. Appearing at a pro-choice rally in Austin in 2003, she denounced the influence of "a small group of religious right-wingers" on the Bush administration's policies and on Texas' abstinence-only sex education programs. One of her daughters, Cecile Richards, is now president of Planned Parenthood.

10. In her later years, Richards established the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders, which will open in 2007. Her family requests that memorial gifts be made to the school, through the Austin Community Foundation.

There'll never be another Ann Richards, but here's hoping her school graduates generations of her successors.

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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