"He will be missed beyond words."
TxDOT chairman Williamson dies
By JOHN MORITZ
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
AUSTIN -- Ric Williamson, one of Gov. Rick Perry's closest friends and advisers and his point man at the Texas Department of Transportation, died early Sunday of an apparent heart attack.
He was 55.
Williamson, a seven-term state lawmaker from Weatherford, had suffered two heart attacks since being appointed to oversee one of the state's largest bureaucracies during a period of intense controversy, and earlier this year expressed concern that a third one might prove fatal. Still his death at a hospital near his home in Weatherford sent shockwaves through the Capitol communities that had been largely dormant during the holiday season.
"Anita and I are heartbroken at this sudden loss of a confidant, trusted advisor and close personal friend of ours for more than 20 years," Perry said in a statement. "Ric's passion to serve his beloved State of Texas was unmatched and his determination to help our state meets its future challenges was unparalleled.
"He will be missed beyond words."
Added House Speaker Tom Craddick, who had served with Williamson during his career in the Legislature from 1985 until 1988: "He dedicated his life to public service, and I have fond memories of the time we served in the Legislature together."
Williamson, who in the private sector operated a natural gas production company, was a conservative Democrat in 1984 when he first won a seat in the Texas House representing a largely rural district west of Fort Worth anchored by Weatherford. He came to the House at age 33 as Texas was reeling from a slump in the oil industry, which strained the state budget.
Along with a coalition of other conservative Democrats and many of the then-outnumbered Republicans in the Legislature, Williamson pushed for steep cuts in state spending in an effort to hold the line on new taxes.
It was during that period that he befriended Perry, another rookie lawmaker with similar West Texas roots and conservative Democratic leanings. Both would change their party affiliations to Republican as their careers advanced.
Perry was elected state agriculture commissioner in 1990 and lieutenant governor eight years later. In December 2000, he ascended to the Governor's Mansion when George W. Bush left Texas to assume the presidency.
Within a few months of taking office, Perry named Williamson to the transportation commission, and then made him chairman in January 2004.
Leading the commission, Williamson became one of the chief crusaders for Perry's ambitious Trans Texas Corridor, designed to be a system of toll roads and free roads to break the choke hold on urban congestion.
The toll road aspect of the plan generated the most controversy with critics denouncing the state's contract with a Spanish firm to build and operate the toll roads and for what they called the massive usurping of private land needed for the new thoroughfares.
During the 2007 legislative session, Williamson often butted heads with some lawmakers who had expressed reservations over the pace of the toll road building plan.
State Sen. John Carona, a Dallas Republican who leads the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, said in January that Williamson's abrasive style was undermining his effectiveness.
Williamson, Carona was quoted as saying, "has worn out his welcome in many communities across the state. I think it would be in the best interests of the state that he step aside."
Carona and Williamson would later mend fences, and in a statement the senator praised his onetime adversary as a courageous leader.
"In over 20 years of service to Texas, during a time of conflict and sweeping change, Ric Williamson exemplified courage, commitment and dedication," Carona said. "His ability to see far into the future, coupled with his command of process and the here-and-now, ensure his place in our history books when the story of 21st century Texas is told."
In a column published in July, Texas Monthly's Paul Burka described the blunt-spoken Williamson as "the most hated person in Texas, public enemy number one to a million or more people" who had tried in vain to put the brakes on the frenzied dash to build privately run tollways.
But Burka, whose career covering Texas politics dates back more than 30 years, also described Williamson as a visionary who possessed "the most inventive mind that has passed through the Legislature" in modern history.
In the same column, Williamson candidly told Burka that the strain of sitting in the transportation department hot seat was taking a toll.
"Since I've started this," he said, "I've had two heart attacks, and I'm trying to avoid the third one, which the doctors tell me will be fatal."
Funeral arrangements for Williamson were pending Sunday. He is survived by his wife, Mary Ann; daughters Melissa, Katherine and Sara; and two grandchildren.
© 2007 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
Williamson, toll road champion, dies at 55
San Antonio Express-News
Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson, who, more than anyone else, has shaped and pushed plans to toll Texas roads, died Sunday.
The 55-year-old was loved and admired as well as feared and hated, but friends and most enemies respected his intelligence, honesty and hard work.
"It's a tremendous loss for the state of Texas and for all of us who have served and learned and grown with him," Transportation Commission member Hope Andrade said. "He was a great man."
Williamson died of an apparent heart attack just after 1 a.m. at a hospital in his hometown of Weatherford. He had suffered two other heart attacks since joining the Transportation Commission in 2001.
Gov. Rick Perry appointed Williamson to the commission and named him chairman in 2004. The longtime friends served in the Texas House two decades ago and shared an apartment during several legislative sessions.
"Anita (Perry) and I are heartbroken at this sudden loss of a confidante, trusted advisor and close personal friend of ours for more than 20 years," Perry said in a statement. "Ric's passion to serve his beloved state of Texas was unmatched."
Toll road critics agree that perhaps nobody will be able to fill Williamson's boots.
"He wasn't some big, long, tall Texan, it was just the force of his personality," said Linda Stall of CorridorWatch.org. "Transportation is just not going to be the same. It's going to be very different."
Williamson was born in Abilene and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 1974 with a bachelor of arts degree. After school, he began building a natural-gas production company.
In 1985, at age 33, he began serving as a Democrat in the Texas House, where he was known as a fiscal conservative demanding reforms. His blunt style earned him the nickname "Nitro" but his brains and study habits got big notice.
Before he left the Legislature in 1998, as a Republican, Texas Monthly picked him twice as one of the best 10 legislators, the Dallas Morning News one year named him among the best state lawmakers, and the Texas Chamber of Commerce gave him its leadership award.
"I've never seen anyone quite like him," said House Transportation Committee Chairman Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock. "He was the smartest and most visionary public servant I've ever seen."
Krusee adopted Williamson as one of his mentors when he arrived in the House in 1993. A decade later, Krusee ushered in bills to shift highway funding from a pay-as-you-go system to one relying heavily on toll bonds and private leases.
It was Williamson, doing Perry's bidding, who was the front man for toll plans, and over the years he rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.
San Antonio officials argued with him on whether planned tollways here should be handed over to private corporations. Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, without naming names, once said state highway officials were being pushy and rude.
But at least you could trust what Williamson said, the county judge said Sunday.
"You knew where he was coming from, and he stuck by what he thought was the right thing to do," he said. "We still worked together."
Besides knowledge and experience, Williamson's clout was buffeted by a piercing stare and sometimes-brusque manners.
"He was certainly very intimidating to me, a housewife who isn't a civil engineer going up against the big dog," said Terri Hall of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom. "But he always treated me with professional courtesy."
Surviving Williamson are his wife, Mary Ann, three daughters and two grandchildren.
A memorial service is scheduled for 3 p.m. Thursday at the Weatherford High School auditorium. In lieu of other remembrances, the family asked that donations be made to the American Heart Association and the Alzheimer's Association.
© 2007 San Antonio Express-News:
Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Williamson dies
By Ben Wear
Austin American Statesman
Ric Williamson, the Texas Transportation Commission chairman and a take-no-prisoners advocate for his longtime friend Rick Perry’s toll road policy, has died.
Williamson, 55, who had been on the commission since 2001 and its chairman since January 2004, died of a heart attack, said state Rep. Mike Krusee, chairman of the House Transportation Committee. It was not clear today whether Williamson died late Saturday night or early Sunday.
Williamson, a Weatherford resident, had served in the Texas House for 14 years, leaving in 1999. He and Perry, who served in the House during a good deal of Williamson’s time there, roomed together in an Austin apartment during several sessions.
“Anita and I are heartbroken at this sudden loss of a confidant, trusted adviser and close personal friend of ours for more than 20 years,” Perry said in a statement released by his office. “Ric’s passion to serve his beloved State of Texas was unmatched and his determination to help our state meets its future challenges was unparalleled. He will be missed beyond words. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Williamson family during this very difficult time.”
Williamson dominated discussion of Texas transportation policy for most of this decade, holding forth at commission meetings in a curiously ornate but still straight-forward style that sometimes infuriated opponents of the toll road policy. Williamson, in particular, was four-square behind granting private companies long-term leases to finance, build and operate publicly owned toll roads, an approach that he said would raise billions for other roads but that others feared gave away too much control of public assets.
Texas Monthly in a June article had called him “the most hated person in Texas, public enemy number one to a million or more people.” In that same article, Williamson told writer Paul Burka, “I’ve had two heart attacks, and I’m trying to avoid the third one, which the doctors tell me will be fatal.”
People could question Williamson’s policy stands and his approach — and plenty of Texas legislators did just that over the past year — but no one could question the horsepower of the intellect behind those policies.
“Ric was the smartest and most farsighted person I’d ever seen in public life,” said Krusee. “I learned so much whenever I was around Ric, and I don’t just mean transportation policy.”
Transportation Department executive director Amadeo Saenz issued this statement this afternoon:
“Ric Williamson was a visionary. As a member and chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission, he brought passion and focus to meeting many of the challenges facing Texas today and for generations to come. The entire TxDOT family will miss his dedication and his leadership.”
© 2007 Austin American-Statesman:
Transportation Chairman Williamson dead at 55
Dec. 30, 2007
By MATT CURRY
The Associated Press
DALLAS — Texas Transportation Commission Chairman and former longtime state lawmaker Ric Williamson died Sunday of an apparent heart attack, officials said. He was 55.
Williamson died at Weatherford Regional Medical Center just after 1 a.m., Texas Department of Transportation spokesman Chris Lippincott said.
"It is a great shock, everyone is very surprised to hear this news," Lippincott told The Associated Press on Sunday. "He certainly left his imprint on the commission and on the state with the vision he had for transportation."
Gov. Rick Perry said Williamson was a longtime friend who will be greatly missed. The two were conservative Democratic colleagues in the Texas House during 1980s. Both later joined the GOP.
Williamson served in the Legislature for more than 20 years.
"Ric's passion to serve his beloved state of Texas was unmatched and his determination to help our state meets its future challenges was unparalleled," Perry said in a written statement. "He will be missed beyond words. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Williamson family during this very difficult time."
Perry named Williamson to the transportation commission in 2001, and he became chairman in 2004. The five-member commission oversees the Texas Department of Transportation.
State lawmakers heavily criticized state transportation policy on toll roads and private contracts during this year's legislative session.
The agency has traditionally been a pay-as-you-go organization, building roads with money collected from gas taxes and fees.
But under Perry and his appointees to the commission, notably Williamson, the agency has increasingly shifted to relying on toll roads and borrowed money to speed construction. The change has prompted intense criticism from the public and lawmakers.
Legislators from rural areas were concerned about private property rights. Those from urban districts complained of toll roads financed and owned by foreign companies.
"We were moving faster than most government agencies move and it spooked some people," Williamson said in June.
TxDOT Executive Director Amadeo Saenz said Williamson was a visionary.
"As a member and chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission, he brought passion and focus to meeting many of the challenges facing Texas today and for generations to come," he said.
John D. Esparza, president and CEO of the Texas Motor Transportation Association, called Williamson a genuine public servant.
"As an industry, we were proud to have had the opportunity to work with him," Esparza said.
Williamson served in the Legislature from 1985-98, and was on key committees such as the House/Senate Budget Conference Committee, Appropriations (vice chairman) and Ways and Means.
He received a bachelor's from the University of Texas at Austin in 1974 and went into the natural gas production business.
Survivors include his wife, Mary Ann; three daughters; and two grandchildren.
Services were pending.
© 2007 The Associated Press:
Texas Transportation Chair Ric Williamson Suffers Fatal Heart Attack
Dec 30, 2007
Texas Transportation Commission Chair Ric Williamson, a key and vocal leader in the state's fight over toll roads, passed away last night of a massive heart attack.
Williamson was larger than life, a key force in education, transportation and budget issues when he served in the Texas House as a representative from Weatherford. He was appointed to the Texas Transportation Commission by ally and friend Gov. Rick Perry in 2001 and rose to chair in 2004, according to his profile on the Texas Department of Transportation website.
Gov. Rick Perry announced Williamson's passing this morning. Perry and Williamson were close friends when both served as some of the younger lawmakers in the House, a friendship that continued during Perry's term as Governor.
"Anita and I are heartbroken at this sudden loss of a confidant, trusted advisor and close personal friend of ours for more than 20 years," Perry said. "Ric's passion to serve his beloved State of Texas was unmatched and his determination to help our state meets its future challenges was unparalleled. He will be missed beyond words. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Williamson family during this very difficult time."
Rep. Mike Krusee (R-Williamson County) called Williamson a visionary whose ideas were a decade ahead of most people. TxDOT Executive Director Amadeo Saenz also issued a statement on the passing of Williamson:
"Ric Williamson was a visionary. As a member and chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission, he brought passion and focus to meeting many of the challenges facing Texas today and for generations to come. The entire TxDOT family will miss his dedication and his leadership. At this time, our thoughts are with his wife, children and grandchildren."
Lt. Governor David Dewhurst today released the following statement regarding the passing of Texas Transportation Commissioner Ric Williamson.
"Ric Williamson loved Texas and gave two decades of his life in the Legislature, and most recently as Chairman of the Texas Department of Transportation, to make Texas an even better place to live. My thoughts and prayers are with the Williamson family at this difficult time. Texas will miss him."
Speaker Tom Craddick also released a statement today. "Nadine and I were very sorry to hear about Commissioner Ric Williamson's death. He dedicated his life to public service, and I have fond memories of the time we served in the Legislature together. We wish his wife, Mary Ann, and his family peace and comfort during this difficult time."
Williamson was not without his foes when it came to transportation policy, but even those who crossed swords with him expressed sincere regret at his passing. Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas), who chaired the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security and had a rather public run-in with Williamson early in the last session, praised Williamson's courage and commitment.
"His ability to see far into the future, coupled with his command of process and the here-and-now, ensure his place in our history books when the story of 21st Century Texas is told," Carona said.
Funeral arrangements are pending. Williamson is survived by his wife and three daughters.
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