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Date of Birth: September 1, 1933, Lakeview, Texas
Date of Death: September 13, 2006, Austin, Texas
Birth Name: Dorothy Ann Willis
Parents: Robert Cecil Willis and Mildred Iona Warren
Children: Cecile, Daniel, Clark, and Ellen
The trailblazing and outspoken Texan Dorothy Ann Willis Richards got her start at Baylor University with a scholarship — not surprisingly — for the debate team. After graduating, she moved from Waco to Austin with her husband (and high-school sweetheart), David Richards, and received a teaching certificate from the University of Texas. She spent the next couple of decades teaching history, raising four children, and campaigning for Texas Democrats. Of everything she’d ever done, Richards said teaching was the hardest.
By 1980, Richards publicly announced her addiction to alcohol — blaming it at least in part for the failure of her 30-year marriage — and sought treatment through Alcoholics Anonymous. The irrepressible Richards became only stronger, taking the Waco Women’s Club motto as her own: “If we rest, we rust!”
After serving two terms as Travis County commissioner, Richards was elected state treasurer in 1983, becoming the first woman to hold statewide office in Texas in more than fifty years! Thanks to her progressive and feminist stance (in a macho, conservative state, no less), Richards started making quite a name for herself. But it wasn’t until she gave the keynote address at the 1988 Democratic National Convention that she became a household name outside the Lone Star State. Referring to Republican presidential nominee George H. W. Bush, she bluntly stated, “Poor George, he can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.”
With her popularity soaring, Richards ran for and was elected governor of Texas in 1991. She went to work pulling Texas out of an economic slump while the rest of the U.S. economy lagged. She bolstered the state’s school-funding policies, reformed the prison system, and signed the Texas Financial Responsibility Law. Despite making a lasting impact on Texas legislation, she would lose the 1994 governorship to George W. Bush during the nationwide Republican landslide.
Never afraid to speak her mind, the quick-witted Richards spent her later years campaigning for other candidates, serving as an advisor to a number of communications and law firms, and advocating for issues such as health care and women’s rights. In September 2006, surrounded by family at her home in Austin, Texas, Richards lost a battle with esophageal cancer. But her legacy lives on.
Ann (Play, 2016): Cardinal Stage Company’s 10th Anniversary Season season kicks off September 1 to 9 with a Texas-sized bang! Bloomington’s own Diane Kondrat (Our Town, boom, The Grapes of Wrath, Red Hot Patriot) returns home to headline a no-holds-barred portrait of trailblazing Texas Governor Ann Richards. Ann was originally produced, written, and performed in 2010 by Emmy-award winning Holland Taylor (Two and a Half Men).
- Limited, nine-day run
- Age recommendation: 10+
- Run time: About 2 hours, including one 15-minute intermission
- Show location: Ivy Tech Waldron Arts Center Auditorium
- Get tickets here
All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State (Documentary, 2014): “The 83-minute film features extensive footage and first-person interviews with Richards, whose natural charm, ‘can do’ attitude, and trademark coif of shocking white hair made her an icon around the country.” —HBO
Ann Richard’s Texas (Documentary, 2012): “In a state where even the road signs are macho, an unlikely political outsider emerged to take on the power structure. The leader who came of age during the high tide of modern conservatism, changing Texas and the country — did it in heels.” —IMDb
Barbecue: A Texas Love Story (Documentary, 2004): Richards narrated this humorous and popular film on Texas culture for young Austin director Chris Elley.
- “Let me tell you that I am the only child of a very rough-talking father. So don’t be embarrassed about your language. I’ve either heard it or I can top it.”
- “Teaching was the hardest work I had ever done, and it remains the hardest work I have done to date.”
- “If you give [women] the chance, we can perform. After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.”
- “I am not afraid to shake up the system, and government needs more shaking up than any other system I know.”
- “I get a lot of cracks about my hair, mostly from men who don’t have any.”
- “I’ve always said that in politics, your enemies can’t hurt you, but your friends will kill you.”
- “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.”
- (On why she started riding a Harley-Davidson motorcycle at age 60): “I thought I needed to do something kind of jazzy.”
- “I have very strong feelings about how you lead your life. You always look ahead, you never look back.”
- Taught history at an Austin High School at the beginning of her political career
- Considered the first woman elected governor of Texas because Miriam “Ma” Ferguson, the first to serve, was called only a proxy of her husband, the impeached Governor James “Pa” Ferguson
- Introduced the Texas Lottery as a means of supplementing school finances
- Was deeply involved with Texas film, bringing Hollywood attention to the state for the first time
- Helped create The Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders, a college prep school for girls in grades 6-12 in Austin, Texas
- Received the Texas NAACP Presidential Award for outstanding contributions to civil rights
- Received the National Wildlife Federation Conservation Achievement Award
- Named honoree for public service by the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame
- Daughter Cecile Richards became president of Planned Parenthood in 2006
- Congress Avenue Bridge was renamed Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge following her death
by Benjamin Beane
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