Friends, politicians, reporters remember Gov. Mark White

FILE: Former Texas Gov. Mark White at the LBJ Civil Rights Summit in 2014. (KXAN Photo)
FILE: Former Texas Gov. Mark White at the LBJ Civil Rights Summit in 2014. (KXAN Photo)

HOUSTON (KXAN and AP) — Former Texas Gov. Mark White has died at age 77.

His wife Linda Gale White said he died Saturday in Houston.

The 43rd governor of Texas took office in 1983.

Mark White had served in state government for the 14 previous years, first as secretary of state then as attorney general.

FILE: Former Texas Gov. Mark White and his grandson at the LBJ Civil Rights Summit in 2014. (KXAN Photo)

During White’s four years in office the Texas economy was in recession, due in large part to the collapse of oil prices.

The lifelong Democrat made improving public education one of his top priorities.

White pushed for higher teacher pay and saw the SAT scores of Texas students rise during his time in office.

In a 2011 interview with The Associated Press, White said he tried to model his education platform on what his mother, a former first-grade teacher, talked about what she experienced in the classroom.

“It was all designed around what a first-grade teacher needs,” White said. “It was probably the broadest-based education program in modern U.S. history. … I was very proud of what we accomplished.”

But his policy of “no pass, no play” for public school athletes resulted in an angry backlash.

White appointed Dallas billionaire Ross Perot — who ran for president as an independent in 1992 — to lead a special panel on education that developed some of the key changes. The no-pass, no-play initiative, which barred students from playing school sports if they were failing a class, was a politically tricky and unpopular move in a state crazy about its high school football. It had to survive a challenge in the state Supreme Court.

FILE - In this June 19, 1985 file photo, Texas Gov. Mark White gestures while speaking before the environment and public works in Washington. Former Texas Gov. Mark White, a Democrat who championed public education reforms, including the landmark "no-pass, no-play" policy for high school athletes, has died, Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017. He was 77. (AP Photo/Lana Harris, File)
FILE – In this June 19, 1985 file photo, Texas Gov. Mark White gestures while speaking before the environment and public works in Washington. Former Texas Gov. Mark White, a Democrat who championed public education reforms, including the landmark “no-pass, no-play” policy for high school athletes, has died, Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017. He was 77. (AP Photo/Lana Harris, File)

White underestimated the passionate resistance to no-pass, no-play that sparked protests and a few threats of violence.

“It was horrible,” White said in 2011. “I misread the intensity of it until I saw it for myself in West Texas. My security people thought I should go by myself: ‘Here’s my gun. You go.'”

That, coupled with the weak economy and other factors motivated the man White succeeded in the Governor’s Mansion to run against him.

In 1987, Bill Clements was again sworn in as governor returning the seat to Republican hands.

White returned to Houston to practice law, and in 1990 ran in the Democratic primary in an attempt to move back to the Governor’s Mansion.

But his comeback bit was thwarted by Ann Richards.

After Richards won the general election, White dropped out of public life and went into private business as owner of a security company.

As governor, White supported the state’s use of the death penalty. While Texas executed 20 inmates during his administration, White later said the death penalty was most distasteful thing I had to do” as governor.

By 2009, White had reservations about capital punishment. He urged lawmakers to reconsider its use and the risk that the state could send an innocent person to their death. White worked with the Innocence Project on behalf of wrongfully convicted inmates.

Texas Gov. Mark White official state portrait. (Image: Legislative Reference Library of Texas)
Texas Gov. Mark White official state portrait. (Image: Legislative Reference Library of Texas)

Mark Wells White Jr., was born in Henderson on March 17, 1940. His family moved to Houston where he attended public schools before attending Baylor University, where he earned degrees in business administration and law.

After several years as an assistant attorney general, White went into private practice. He was appointed secretary of state by Gov. Dolph Briscoe in 1973 and was elected state attorney general in 1979.

In December 2006, Mark White was diagnosed with kidney cancer.

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