Ann Richards: Governor, trailblazer and Baylor legend
It’s been 25 years to the day since trailblazing Baylor alumna Ann Richards, BA ’54, was sworn in as the 45th governor of Texas (with the Baylor Golden Wave Band leading the inauguration parade!). And although a quarter-century has passed since that day, her legacy as an iconic Texas figure lives on in a variety of ways.
Most people came to know Richards in the late 1980s and early ’90s, when her quick wit and spirited personality made her a natural on the political stage. But long before she became the state’s first female governor since the 1930s, her Baylor classmates and professors probably had a sense that she’d be successful in the political arena.
Richards, a Waco native, attended Baylor on a debate scholarship and made a name for herself as one of the best on the long-successful Baylor debate team. Her experience at Baylor left an indelible imprint on her life. In a 2003 visit back to her alma mater, she recalled two of her favorite professors — Glenn R. Capp, the longtime head of Baylor’s debate program, and Dr. Ralph Lynn, BA ’32, a longtime Baylor history professor — remembering that Lynn “taught me what to say” and Capp “taught me how to say it.”
Richards began her political career in 1976 when she became the first woman elected to the Travis County Commissioners Court in Austin. Six years later, she was elected as state treasurer, a position that made her the first female statewide-officeholder in 50 years and served as a springboard for her historic 1990 gubernatorial run.
As governor, she became known nationwide for her wit, humor and plainspoken speaking ability, skills honed many years before in Baylor debate contests. Today, she’s remembered as a pioneer who opened the door for generations of women to follow in her footsteps in Texas politics and as a champion for people who had traditionally been left out of the political process.
At Baylor, she’s also remembered for her part in helping usher Baylor into the Big 12 when it was formed during her time in office. Richards was the fifth Baylor alum to serve as Texas governor; no other school can claim more.
Nearly a decade has passed since she lost her battle with cancer in 2006, but her legacy lives on. Three years ago, a play about her life debuted on Broadway. A biography, Let the People In: The Life and Times of Ann Richards, also tells the story of her rise from a Waco childhood to the statehouse and beyond.
Her tombstone in the Texas State Cemetery is emblazoned with words from her inaugural address, 25 years ago today: “Today we have a vision of Texas where opportunity knows no race, no gender, no color – a glimpse of what can happen in government if we simply open the doors and let the people in. “
Sic ’em, Ann Richards!