Thursday, January 03, 2008

Eighty New Toll Roads and a Funeral

Ric Williamson remembered at Weatherford High School

Gov. Perry, others praise fallen state transportation chairman

January 03, 2008

Galen Scott
The Weatherford Democrat
Copyright 2008

At the front of a quiet, dimly-lit auditorium inside Weatherford High School Thursday, Gov. Rick Perry and other friends eulogized the late Ric Williamson.

Perry borrowed a quote from author Jonathan Swift to describe Williamson, who, as chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission, was often at the center of controversy.

“When a genius comes into the word, you will know him by this sign: that the dunces are all in confederacy against him,” Perry recited. “Jonathan Swift didn’t know Ric Williamson, but he pegged him.”

Williamson, 55, was pronounced dead on Sunday after suffering an apparent heart attack while at home in Weatherford.

After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin in 1974, Williamson moved to Weatherford and co-founded RAW Energy. Later, he started his own natural gas production company, MKS Consulting, which continues to operate locally.

Williamson spent 14 years representing Parker and Wise Counties in the State Legislature. In 1998, he decided not to seek another term and Perry made him a transportation commissioner in 2001. He was named the commission’s chairman three years later.

Perry recalled the days when he and Williamson shared an apartment as freshman legislators in the mid-1980s. After a long day in committee meetings, Perry described how he and his other legislator roommates would want to, “kick back and watch football with a cold one.”

“Nope,” Perry said. “Here comes Ric with a flip chart giving a lesson on how the world ought to be. He would challenge us, he would tease us, he would sometimes even lecture us.”

The Governor compared his relationship with Williamson to the bond between soldiers on a battlefield.

“He was like a brother to me,” Perry said.

Perry claims Williamson was the person who convinced him to run for Lt. Governor.

“One-on-one, he was probably the most persuasive individual I’ve ever been around in my life,” Perry said.

A series of speakers, including Williamson’s daughters, Melissa, Katherine and Sara, shared personal memories with an audience full of dignitaries, friends and employees of Williamson’s business, MKS Consulting.

Williamson’s friends described him as a lover of debate who enjoyed crashing two divergent viewpoints together. They said he was heavy smoker who sometimes tried to solve the world’s problems late at night.

Amadeo Saenz, executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation, remembered Williamson handing out assignments printed on recycled well logs.

“I’m hear to say goodbye to a boss, a teacher and a mentor, and most importantly a very good friend,” Saenz said. “It’s difficult to believe that we began the year without a chairman at the helm. Governor Perry, you are going to name a successor to Ric Williamson, but no one can really take his place.”

Williamson’s efforts to bring private investment into large-scale transportation projects were widely criticized, especially among average citizens angry about proposed toll roads like the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Supporters tout Williamson’s ingenuity and out-of-the-box thinking.

In his Sunday blog, Paul Burka, senior executive editor of Texas Monthly, acknowledged disagreeing with Williamson over some aspects of the Trans-Texas Corridor, but insists the pair always remained friends.

“Williamson had the most original mind that I have encountered in my years of covering Texas politics,” Burka wrote.

© 2008 The Weatherford Democrat:

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