Former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, the witty and flamboyant Democrat who went from homemaker to national political celebrity, died tonight at her home surrounded by her family after a battle with cancer, a family spokeswoman said. She was 73.
Richards was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in March and underwent chemotherapy treatments.
The silver-haired, silver-tongued Richards had said she entered politics to help others - especially women and minorities who were often ignored by Texas' male-dominated establishment.
"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,'" Richards told an interviewer shortly before leaving office in January 1995.
Richards rose to the governorship with her come-from-behind victory over millionaire cowboy Clayton Williams in 1990. She cracked a half-century male grip on the Governor's Mansion and celebrated by holding aloft a T-shirt that showed the state Capitol and read: "A woman's place is in the dome.''
In four years as governor, Richards championed what she called the "New Texas,'' appointing more women and more minorities to state posts than any of her predecessors.
My favorite Ann Richards story is one that Molly Ivins told years ago, and which appears in Ivins' book Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She? I found a transcription of it here:
Several years ago there was a big political do at Scholz Beer Garten in Austin and everybody who was anybody in political Texas was there, meetin' and greetin' at a furious pace. About halfway through the evening, a little group of us got the tired feet and went to lean our butts against a table by the back wall of the Garten. Like birds in a row were perched Bob Bullock, the state comptroller; me; Charlie Miles, a black man who was then head of Bullock's personnel department (and the reason Bullock had such a good record on minority hiring); and Ms. Ann Richards.
Bullock, having been in Texas politics for thirty some-odd years, consequently knew every living sorry, no-account sumbitch who ever held office. A dreadful old racist judge from East Texas came up to him, "Bob, my boy, how are yew?" The two of them commenced to clap one another on the back and have a big greetin'.
"Judge," said Bullock. "I want you to meet my friends. This is Molly Ivins with the Texas Observer."
The judge peered up at me and said, "How yew, little lady?"
"This is Charles Miles, who heads my personnel department." Charlie stuck out his hand and the judge got an expression on his face as though he had just stepped into a fresh cowpie. It took him a long minute before he reached out, barely touched Charlie's hand and said, "How you, boy?" Then he turned with great relief to pretty, blue-eyed Ann Richards and said, "And who is this lovely lady?"
Ann beamed and said, "I am Mrs. Miles."