AUSTIN — Mourners filled the main level of the Texas Capitol for a solemn procession Thursday afternoon as they filed by to pay their final respects to former Texas Governor Mark White.
Legislators, family members and simple admirers of White waited up to an hour to honor White, who died Saturday at the age of 77.
“(White) was a person of the people,” said Betty Gerlach, White’s sister. “He never forgot that. I always thought he was as comfortable, or more so, in the kitchen as he was in the boardroom or the ballroom. He loved being with the real people of Texas.”
White was a larger than life character who defined Texas politics in his roles as secretary of state, attorney general and governor during the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Luci Baines Johnson, friend of White and daughter of former President Lyndon B. Johnson, said White was defined by his work during and after his time in the Governor’s office.
“He may have left public office, but he never left public service,” Johnson said. “You could laugh, and you could learn, and you could love in his presence. He welcomed the big tent of folks. He was not a divider, he was a uniter.”
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In the long line to honor White, Texans spoke about the former Governor and why his death drove them to the Capitol to commemorate his life.
“He is absolutely the greatest governor we have ever had,” said Lael Hasty, a former administrative assistant to White’s wife, Linda Gale White. “He was like a family member to all Texans … Honestly, I’m going to miss everything about him because he represented all of us so well.”
Hasty, who became emotional when talking about White, said his personality and legacy of improving Texas public education made him stand out in a state full of larger-than-life former governors.
White’s time as governor is often remembered by its impact on public schools by passing legislation that created teacher pay raises, limited elementary school class sizes, created standardized testing for high school students, increased taxes to fund schools and implemented the famous “no pass, no play” rule for high school athletes.
“He was ahead of his time working on behalf of teachers,” Hasty said. “I came from a family of educators … so he represented all of us and his agenda was fabulous.”
A former worker for White’s campaigns, Linda Jann Lewis, said his record of supporting civil rights in Texas should also be mentioned when discussing his legacy.
“I couldn’t not be here because he changed the face of Texas government,” Jann Lewis said. “I think there are two men, Bob Bullock and Governor Mark White, who made Texas look like Texas. He hired so many people of color and women and appointed them to real positions with power and authority, and he tried to make sure he was working for all the people.”
Jann Lewis also said White’s with voting laws and expanding early voting has had a profound effect on Texas.
After three hours, the line of grieving Texans dwindled, and White’s body was taken to the Texas State Cemetery for a private burial.
“We can all agree upon the fact that Mark White loved his state and served and gave it his all, and we’re better people for it” Johnson said. “Now, let’s see how can give him the just tribute he deserves: the willingness to do that ourselves.”