Skip to main content

In Remembrance of Governor Mark White

Governor Mark White

Governor Mark White

Mark White, Bill Hobby, and Jim Granato

Memories

Mark White was one of Texas' greatest governors. We were close friends for many years. Texas and Linda Gale (former Texas First Lady) will miss him. 

HB 72, (no pass, no play) was the greatest piece of education legislation passed in many years.

 

-Former Lieutenant Governor Bill Hobby

On August 5, 2017, former Texas Governor Mark White passed away. He was a prime example of Texas leadership based on statesmanship, democratic ideals, and good government.

You can read in-depth coverage honoring the life and legacy of Governor Mark White in the New York Times and Houston Chronicle. I reflect on one of my most cherished memories here:

On February 26, 2008, former Governor Mark White publicly backed Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential nominee. I was honored to attend a press conference with Governor White at Houston’s St. Joseph Hospital to announce his support for then-Senator Obama in his pursuit of the Democratic presidential nomination.

While most of the Texas political establishment was backing Hillary Clinton, Governor White said this about President Obama:

“Barack’s vision is exactly what our nation needs right now. He offers America the opportunity to move beyond the divisive politics and moneyed special interests and start addressing the many great challenges we face as a nation.”

Governor White's courage to do what was best instead of what was easy or popular made him a great statesman.



- State Representative Garnet Coleman, Texas House District 147

I feel personally honored to have served in at least some small capacity with such a great man. He was a true gentleman, a scholar, a genuine public servant and a great story-teller. He was never afraid to do “the right thing”, which embodies the mission of The Hobby School. I also had the privilege of serving with his wife, Linda Gale, on the Communities in Schools Board of Directors. Linda Gale is Mark’s equal in every sense, especially when it comes to quality public education. Texas needs more leaders like Mark and Linda Gale White.

I am personally saddened and wish that I had another opportunity to learn more from him.

“Do right and risk the consequences.”

 

-Alice Aanstoos, Chair, Hobby School of Public Affairs Advisory Board

Governor White was energy in action.  That energy has left a lasting and positive impact on the state of Texas. 

He was also one who could turn a phrase with a good deal of wit and humor, and leave you wanting to hear more. 

While there is enormous sadness with his passing, his contributions and memorable voice will no doubt be part of our future discussions when issues regarding Texas --- and education in Texas --- come up.  

You just don't forget people like Governor White.

 

-Jim Granato, Executive Director, Hobby School of Public Affairs

Texas has lost a great leader with the passing of former Gov. Mark White. While he was a staunch Democrat, he had admirers across the aisle as well as fellow travelers over many decades. My husband's Republican father Al Cross, and brother to Lyndon Johnson's pilot Underwood "Jim" Cross, was an early fan. He served as one of White's very first law clients and supported his appointment as secretary of state.

White won an important case for Cross' business and was forever admired and respected by the entire family. My Republican aunt spoke highly of her family's interactions regarding their concrete business with the state while White was in office. My sister, an HISD administrator, applauded his leadership of the "no pass, no play" legislation as well as mandatory teacher testing.

My very first political campaign endeavor was placing "Mark White for Governor" signs throughout Houston's East End and south side. Decades later, I was fortunate to get to know White while he served as an advisory board member of the University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs. His attention and dedication to our students was awe-inspiring. White spoke to our students whenever he was invited - a talk with former Lt. Governor Bill Hobby with my Texas Politics students; a discussion with a colleague's Education Policy class; panel discussions at UH and the University of Houston-Downtown; and many more. White also spoke to the Hobby School's Austin and Washington interns, and he was definitely a rock star among the congressional interns when he visited them on Capitol Hill.

With his death, Texas truly lost one of its favorite sons. Thank you, Governor White. In my book, you are in the elite group of Texas heroes including Sam Houston, Sam Rayburn and Lyndon Johnson.

God bless Texas and Mark White.

 

-Renée D. Cross, Associate Director, Hobby School of Public Affairs

Governor White was a friend and I was greatly surprised and saddened by his passing.  Like all of us, I was honored to serve with Governor White on the Hobby School of Public Affairs Advisory Board.  I had also enlisted Mark to serve on an Advisory Committee for the LBJ Monument in downtown Houston and we regularly met on that topic and he was always helpful and full of stories.  Mark honored me early in my career by appointment to serve as Chairman of the State of Texas Task Force on Immigration appointing Mayor Louie Welch as its Vice Chair.

Not only was Mark a great leader of the Texas Democratic Party, but he was a better man and would always put America and Texas first.  We will all miss him.

 

-Charles C. Foster, Chairman, Foster

Not only was he a great governor—one willing to do the right thing and take the consequences—he was a great guy who only got better with age.  He never forgot his principles, and he was a truly funny man.  I will always remember what he said on a panel at the Hobby Center with Bill Hobby, Don Adams and I.  The discussion was about turning down federal money for expansion of Medicaid.  Someone in the audience opined that low taxes were good for the economy.  “Slavery was good for the economy but that doesn’t make it right,” White said.

 

-Saralee Tiede, Former Director of Communications at the Wildflower Center

I admire politicians who do the right thing even though they know it is going to cost them needed support. When I was in high school, our coach addressed the team and asked the group how our semester grades were going.  He said, “You’re not failing more than one class, are you?  If you fail two classes, you’re off the team.  Be sure not to fail two classes.”  I was shocked.  How could you fail one class and still be on the team?  Mark White knew that education needed changes, and he knew that making those changes was likely going to cost him votes.  He didn’t care.  He made those changes anyway.  He lost the next election but he was absolutely right.   Thank you for your service, Governor White.

 

-David Branham, Sr., PhD, Professor of Political Science, University of Houston-Downtown; Chair, Department of Social Sciences, University of Houston-Downtown

Governor Mark White with Leland Fellow Aide Meza

Ross Perot, Mark White, and Bill Hobby, 1984.

Jim Granato, Don Adams, Ramona Davis, and Mark White

Mark Wells White, Jr
1940-2017

Mark Wells White, Jr., who served Texas as secretary of state, attorney general and as a governor who transformed education in his beloved state, died Aug. 5 of a heart attack in his Houston home. He was 77.

Mark White served as governor from 1983 to 1987, following his surprising victory over incumbent Republican William Clements. Mark committed himself to the transformation of the Texas political landscape. During his term of office, he appointed more members of minority groups to high positions in government than had been appointed by all of his predecessors combined, including 500 appointments of women to offices. From the instant of his swearing-in, he made inclusiveness a Texas reality by walking from his inauguration ceremonies to his new home at the nearby Governor's Mansion and ceremoniously cutting the chains that barred public entry to the mansion. Over the balance of his life, Mark's commitment to an inclusive and dynamic Texas never waned.

Mark was the first of the post-World War II generation to hold the position of governor in Texas. He brought to the Governor's Mansion a young family, a beautiful and gracious wife, three energetic children and a sense of revitalization and new promise. Nowhere was this effect more transformative than in the field of education.

At the time Mark took office, standard aptitude tests for Texas school children had been declining for 10 years. By any measure, educational performance in the Lone Star State ranked at, or near, the bottom among the states. In Mark's view, generations of Texas youth were being denied an opportunity to participate in the economic and technological march of progress occurring elsewhere in the nation.

The son of a school teacher, Mark was determined to open an antiquated and underfunded public education system to new ideas. As a first order of business, he appointed an independent commission with the specific charge of identifying opportunities that could be turned into law and action. In Mark's words, "Our goal must be to build the best educational system that the mind of man can devise – from first grade through graduate school."

Influential Texans, both in and out of government, Democrat and Republican, were brought together to form a ramming rod for change. With the help of committed colleagues, such as Lt. Gov.William Hobby and a resolved legislative body, House Bill 72 became law. There was little about public education that House Bill 72 did not change. Teacher salaries increased by an average $5,000 per teacher. Class sizes were reduced and, in many ways, educational priorities shifted from where the money was to where the students were. Poor school districts received new hope. All school districts were given new purpose.

The effect was immediate and has proven to be enduring. Standard test scores moved upwards. Texas teachers, who had historically stood at the bottom of the states in terms of compensation, advanced above the national average. New initiatives and policies encompassing everything from pre-schooling to curriculum were brought under the umbrella of change. But within the winds of progress, a storm formed.

The new education law required teacher testing, ongoing measurement of student performance, and an emotionally burdensome requirement which came to be known as "no pass - no play." It seemed to many that a gauntlet had been thrown down on every high school football field in Texas commanding that "you can't play on this field unless you first succeed in the classroom." The reaction was swift.

In many places, including rural counties that contributed to Mark's success as a candidate, the governor became a pariah. School teachers, who previously supported him in his race for governor, rallied against what they considered to be onerous testing requirements. Suits against the law were filed in the courts. School boards hesitated to implement its provisions. But in the end, the law held, as it continues to hold today, not just in Texas but in states across the nation that have emulated many of its ground-breaking initiatives.

Against this backdrop of change, Texas experienced a sharp drop in state revenues as a consequence of falling oil prices. Rather than abandon education reforms and economic development initiatives, Mark elected to take a new direction in the financing of state expenses. He boldly proposed tax increases totaling $4.6 billion, asking the legislature to pass the measure and "blame it on me". They did both. Mark did not win reelection in a second contest with Clements in 1986.

Generations have passed since Mark occupied the governor's office, but the benefit of his stewardship lingers. Austin continues to benefit from his recruitment of high tech companies, which launched the city's subsequent development into a center for technology. The need for protective services for children, first championed by Linda Gale and Mark, remains a Texas priority. The great universities of Texas continue to honor the importance of research so emphasized by Mark. Texans travel safer following his seat belt law and advice that "a click of the seatbelt is your best insurance." He modernized the Texas highway system from a "farm to market network" to a super-paved grid supporting economic growth. And who can forget the anti-litter campaign – "Don't Mess with Texas" – that he initiated; it remains a battle cry today.

Like Texas, Mark changed. As governor, he upheld the death penalty but over the last several years, he lost his belief in the equity and benefit of capital punishment. One of the last uses he made of his legal talents was in defense of people who had been found guilty of capital offenses in which the verdict and the facts did not appear to coincide.

Early in his career, Mark White served Texas as an assistant attorney general. Later, he was appointed Secretary of State by Governor Dolph Briscoe, and in 1977 was elected the youngest-ever president of the National Association of the Secretaries of State. In 1978, the 37-year-old Mark won a heated primary election for Texas Attorney General and went on to defeat Republican James Baker in the general election. During his term as attorney general, Mark gave new priority to consumer issues, particularly those concerning utility rates, a cause he again addressed forcefully as governor. Mark was elected chairman of the Southern Conference of Attorneys General in 1981. He once described his philosophy of government as "basic and uncomplicated. It asks two questions before any others: Is it right? Is it fair?"

In keeping with the educational traditions of his family, Mark received a public education and graduated from Lamar High School in Houston. He received a bachelor of arts degree in business administration from Baylor University in 1962 and a degree in law, also from Baylor, in 1965. He remained an active participant in the affairs of Baylor University until his death. Many of the friends made at Baylor during his student years continued to be his closest friends.

Mark made attempts to regain public office, but the magic of the 1980s had moved on to bless others. He returned to the practice of law at Reynolds, White, Allen & Cook. A few years later, he left to put his entrepreneurial talents to the test with varying degrees of success. He founded Geovox Security to sell the Heartbeat Detector, a product still in use protecting the borders of England, France, Spain and China by detecting people hiding in fully-loaded tractor-trailers.

In truth, Mark never stopped being a public servant. It was his calling. He devoted himself to charities and worthwhile causes. It delighted him that the Mark White Elementary School in Houston carries his name. Mark took every opportunity to speak out for the important role that MD Anderson, UTHealth and Baylor College of Medicine play in leading the healthcare of Texas. He championed the importance of Texas history, including protecting the aging USS Texas battleship. No man or women in the last 40 years has run for major office in Texas as a Democrat without first receiving the advice of Mark White. Even some Republicans were known to call.

Ten years ago, Mark was diagnosed with a rare form of kidney cancer. He battled it and suffered the indignity and pain that befalls all cancer victims. In the end, he kept the cancer at bay. He died comfortably, without warning from an unrelated cause. His abiding Christian faith will take him to his next great adventure. He was, after all, a Baptist and a Baylor man.

Mark is survived by his wife of 50 years, Linda Gale Thompson White. He liked to call her "LG." Together they formed a loving partnership committed to family, charity, their many friends and the State of Texas. Mark's friends agree Linda Gale was the foundation behind every great moment of his life. Mark is also survived by sons Mark III and Andrew, and daughter Elizabeth Marie Russell; daughters-in-law Melanie and Stacey; son-in law Seth Russell (who Mark loved as much as his own sons); grandchildren Charles Luke White, Zachary Wells White, George William White, Emma Claire White, Robert Thompson White, Mark Wells White IV, Catherine Marie Russell, Houston Wells Russell and Christopher Pierce Russell. He loved taking his grandchildren on their 8th birthday to Washington DC to visit our country's seat of government and to instill in them his belief in public service. Mark was born on March 17, 1940 in Henderson, TX to Sarah Elizabeth Wells White and Mark Wells White, Sr. He also is survived by a sister, Betty Gerlach.

Published in Houston Chronicle on Aug. 8, 2017

Mark White, 1982.

Bill Hobby and Mark White

Former Governor Mark White at the Texas Capitol Rotunda