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RIP, Sen. Mario Gallegos

Sad news.

Sen. Mario Gallegos

State Sen. Mario Gallegos, 62, a Democratic lawmaker whose 22-year career in the Texas Legislature was marked by courage, controversy and dogged commitment to issues of importance to the Hispanic community, died Tuesday afternoon at Methodist Hospital in Houston from complications of liver disease.

Gallegos, the first Hispanic elected to the state Senate from Harris County, took a special interest in public education, minority hiring, criminal justice, redistricting and other issues he believed would have an effect on the lives of the predominantly working-class residents who made up the majority of his state Senate district.

“Sen. Gallegos had a long and dedicated record of service to the people of Houston, both as a firefighter and long-time member of the Texas legislature,” said Houston Mayor Annise Parker in a statement.

In 2007, only weeks after undergoing a liver transplant, a sick and weakened Gallegos ignored a doctor’s call to return to Houston and installed a hospital bed in the office of the Senate sergeant-at-arms so he could cast his vote against a bill requiring voters to show photo identification. Gallegos argued the bill would discriminate against minority voters.

Sen. Gallegos’ courage in 2007, literally putting his life on the line for something he believed in, is one of the most enduring and inspiring political acts of recent memory. I was his constituent since moving into the Heights in 1997, and I had the pleasure of interviewing him a couple of times, most recently in 2010. He was a fighter, a friend of the working man and woman, a trailblazer, and a stalwart defender of progressive values. I am one of many, many people who will miss him. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.

I have received numerous statements and tributes to Sen. Gallegos in my inbox, all of which you can see beneath the fold. Harold Cook, the Trib, PDiddie, Burka, and BOR have more. Rest in peace, Sen. Mario Gallegos.

Official statement from Sen. Gallegos’ office:

Senator Mario V. Gallegos, resting comfortably at Houston’s Methodist Hospital and surrounded by family members and close friends, passed away this afternoon, following complications associated with his liver transplant performed in 2007.

The Senator’s family is enormously grateful for the outpouring of support, thoughts, and prayers expressed
during the last few days, and respectfully requests media to continue respecting their privacy as they work through this difficult time.

He is survived by his wife, Theresa Gallegos, daughter Ali Templer, daughter Melissa Gallegos, son Mario Elias Gallegos, five grandchildren: Jake Gallegos, Hollis Templer, Jesse Gallegos, Teresa Hernandez, and Cristina Hernandez. The Senator is also survived by his mother, Olga Gallegos, sister Maria Gallegos, sister Olga McGee, sister Lillian Villarreal, brother Joel Gallegos, brother Michael Gallegos, sister Cynthia Trevino, and a host of extended family.

Senator Gallegos was pre-deceased by his father, Mario Gallegos, Sr.

Details on services for the Senator are pending; they will be announced when finalized. It is the intention of the Gallegos family to hold funeral services in Houston, and a memorial service in Austin. The Senator will be buried in Houston.

From Sen. Rodney Ellis:

“I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of a dear friend and colleague, Senator Mario Gallegos. The people of Texas have lost a champion today, and the Texas Senate has lost a piece of its heart. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Theresa, his children — Ali, Melissa and Mario — and to his extended family during this time of deep grief and sorrow.

“Mario was tough, passionate and dedicated to the cause of building a better Texas. He was a good friend, good man and tremendous advocate for education and equality. We didn’t always agree, but you always knew where you stood with Mario. When he was on your side, you knew you had a pugnacious and dedicated defender; if he was on the other side, you knew you had to be prepared to vigorously defend your position, because he would fight like a bulldog for what he believed.

“Mario was a good and dedicated public servant who truly fought for those who did not have a voice in Austin. He was a powerful champion for working families and our school children. He had the will and determination of the firefighter he was, and his no nonsense style and courage made him a tremendous advocate for the people.

“He fought a long, courageous battle against liver disease, and his strength and determination to continue working and living was an inspiration to us all. Even as his body began to fail him, Mario’s spirit never wavered. Mario leaves a tremendous legacy of love, friendship, courage, dedication and passion, and he will be sorely missed.”

From Sen. Jose Rodriguez:

Sen. Mario Gallegos, who passed away in a Houston hospital today at age 62, was a role model and mentor. Sen. Gallegos was elected to the Texas Senate in 1994, and prior to that served two terms in the Texas House. He was a firefighter for 22 years with the Houston fire Department, where he retired as a captain.

He fought for his community and for communities across the state to access education, health care and jobs. He also refused to allow Texas to regress towards the discrimination of its past, and always stood with those of us who seek to progress toward the New Texas of access and opportunity for all of its citizens.

He proved that, unforgettably, in 2007, when just a few weeks after a liver transplant he set up outside the Senate Chambers in a hospital bed, knowing his vote was crucial to block a Voter ID bill. He did, and it took four years to pass the unconstitutional law, which the courts ended up striking down. If they would just have listened to Sen. Gallegos, and responded to his remarkable courage, they could have saved the state time, energy and money.

We have lost a champion, and he will be long remembered.

From Mayor Annise Parker:

I extend condolences to the family of Texas State Senator Mario Gallegos and offer my support to the residents of his district. Sen. Gallegos had a long and dedicated record of service to the people of Houston, both as a firefighter and long-time member of the Texas legislature.

From Rep. Carol Alvarado:

“Today’s unbearable news creates an eternal void in the hearts of anyone who had the pleasure of knowing Mario Gallegos. Mario was more than just my Senator – he was my friend, my mentor, and a member of my extended family – his presence in all our lives will be painfully missed. I’ll always smile when I remember our time together, his infectious laughter, and our long conversations about shared passions – our families, Milby High School, the East End, public service, and of course politics.

In our darkest moments, when true friends reveal themselves, Mario Gallegos was there. Learned at a young age as a firefighter, Mario’s first instinct was always to rush in and stand in the way of danger for those he loved.

The legacy that Senator Gallegos leaves behind is one of fierce conviction and compassion for his family, his friends, and his community. We lost a giant today, and my deepest sympathies go out to the Gallegos family who mourn not the loss of their Senator, but rather their son and brother, husband, father and grandfather. ”

From Rep. Garnet Coleman:

“Today we lost a fearless Texas Senator who believed in the importance of education, civil rights, and healthcare for our state and our city.

As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, he used his seat to ensure that people have access to higher education. In 1993, there was something called the South Texas/Border Initiative to provide upgrades to universities across the Rio Grande Valley. Then-Representative Gallegos successfully argued that Houston was a part of the border because of our city’s growing Latino population. He was able to get $22 million to expand the University of Houston-Downtown. This expansion along with Mario’s continued advocacy paved the way to make UHD the designated Hispanic-serving institution of higher learning it is today, with a business college offering an MBA, several new departments offering PhD’s, and many new facilities on campus. When he was in his 50’s, Mario gathered the courage to return to college and graduate from UHD, demonstrating to his constituents both the importance of earning your college degree and that it is never too late to do so.

He took on the challenges that others shied away from. They weren’t always popular, but being an elected official isn’t about being popular; it’s about accomplishing goals for your constituents. There simply isn’t enough space here to mention all of his accomplishments. Mario has stood against the powerful, and it has been a personal honor for me to stand with him in good times and bad times for the past 21 years. Senator Gallegos was a pioneer in elected politics – the first Latino from Houston to serve in the Texas Senate – and he served his constituents well.

May the love of God ease the pain of his family and friends. We’re all going to miss my good friend and colleague, Senator Mario Gallegos.”

From Rep. Armando Walle:

“Senator Gallegos’ passing leaves an outsized void in the Texas Senate for champions of education, firefighters, law enforcement, and Latino issues. He was a tireless advocate for his district, never afraid to lay himself out to protect his constituents. It was a genuine honor to not only serve with Senator Gallegos in his district, working together to improve our parts of Houston, but to count Mario as a friend as well. I am deeply saddened by today’s loss, and my prayers are with the Senator’s family, friends, and staff during this difficult time.”

From CM James Rodriguez:

I mourn the passing of my good friend State Senator Mario Gallegos. My sympathies are with Mario’s family and friends this evening.

I’ve known Senator Gallegos for many years. Together we have worked closely on numerous projects that helped the East End constituents we served. He was a tireless advocate and champion for those that needed a voice. My fondest memories of Senator Gallegos were those from the campaign trail where Senator Gallegos never wavered in his support for candidates that shared his vision of fighting for a better future for all. Senator Gallegos will be missed.

From Becky Moeller, President of the Texas AFL-CIO:

“The Texas AFL-CIO joins the state in mourning the death of Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston.”

“As a former firefighter and a legislator who fought for ordinary working people with all his might, Sen. Gallegos was a hero to working families across the state. He brought passion to his advocacy on every piece of legislation and his heart was as big as they come in both victory and defeat.”

“We will miss him greatly. We offer our condolences to the Gallegos family and to all who benefited from his service to the State of Texas.”

A late entry from Sen. Judith Zaffirini:

“I am deeply saddened by the death of my friend and colleague, Senator Mario Gallegos.

“My son and I travelled to Houston on Sunday to spend time with Senator Gallegos and his family. He was resting peacefully and was surrounded by some of the countless relatives and friends who loved him and treasured his friendship—myself included.

“When he began his career, his goals and desires were to save lives—plain and simple. Saving lives was what he did for 22 years as a firefighter with the Houston Fire Department, and it was what he did in the Texas Senate. Ask anyone familiar with his work in the Texas Senate and they certainly will tell you that Senator Gallegos was a dear friend of law enforcement and public safety. Anyone familiar with his work in the Texas Senate will tell you that he fought passionately for health and human services for the very poor, the very young, the very old and persons with disabilities.

“Senator Gallegos never quit. Even those who disagreed with him politically admired his passion, his generosity and his sense of duty to his constituents. His firefighter’s perseverance brought to mind Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem The Ladder of St. Augustine:

‘We have not wings, we cannot soar;

But we have feet to scale and climb

By slow degrees, by more and more,

The cloudy summits of our time.’

“May God bless Senator Mario Gallegos, his family and his constituents.”

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One Comment

  1. Bill Shirley says:

    Leticia Van de Putte:

    I am profoundly grief-stricken at the passing of my friend and colleague, Senator Mario Gallegos. This is truly a tragic day for Houston, the Senate, and Texas.

    Above all else, Mario Gallegos was a man of matchless generosity who worked tirelessly for his district. What he did for the people of Houston ran even deeper than what could be seen at the Capitol. I’ve never known anyone who fought harder for the underdog — for the most vulnerable in our state. He knew every inch of his district, and his constituents saw that. There’s a reason the voters of Houston kept returning him to the Senate election after election. They knew that when their needs were on the line in Austin, Mario would be their champion.

    We came into the Legislature in the same year, 1991. Since that time, we shared legislative victories and defeats. But even more importantly, we also shared baptisms, graduations, and weddings as our families became friends. He adored his family.

    They broke the mold with Mario. He was a character who lived life to the fullest — whether he was having fun or working for his constituents, he did everything to the max. He took on the big battles, no matter the risk, and he didn’t care whose feathers he was rustling. He fought to the end and even tried to cheat death.

    I feel very privileged to have been there with Mario at the end. Mario Gallegos leaves some very big shoes to fill, and a hole in our hearts.