Mark White, Texas Governor Who Championed Public Education, Dies at 77


Mr. White may be best known for the “no pass, no play” rule, part of his sweeping 1984 education bill, which required student athletes at Texas’ public schools to pass all their courses to participate in sports. The effects were significant: “About one in every seven varsity football players has been put out of uniform for six weeks,” The New York Times reported in 1985, “and some schools have had to abandon junior varsity play.”

That prompted a fierce backlash in a state where high school and college football are deeply ingrained in the culture. Mr. White received personal threats, and a legal challenge reached the Texas Supreme Court, which ultimately upheld the law.

Mr. White defended the rule, telling state legislators at the end of his term, “Americans didn’t get to the moon on a quarterback sneak.”

In a campaign ad in 1985, he quoted the mother of a student who had been barred from his high school football team for failing his English class: “His father and I didn’t send him to school to play. We sent him to learn. Even if he makes the team, he wouldn’t be a professional ballplayer, but if he doesn’t pass his classes, he’ll never be a professional anything.”

Photo

Mr. White on Nov. 3, 1982, the day after he defeated a Republican incumbent to become governor of Texas.

Credit
Associated Press

Mr. White lost his re-election campaign, in part because of “no pass, no play” — but the law still stands three decades later, in a somewhat looser form.

Even after that defeat, Mr. White told reporters he had no regrets.

“His focus in life was not to be a politician,” Mr. Miller said. “His focus in life was to make educational strides, and make an impact on the education of children and teachers in our state.”

In a 2011 interview with The Associated Press, Mr. White said he was inspired to push his education agenda by the experience of his mother, Sarah Elizabeth White, teaching first grade. “It was all designed around what a first-grade teacher needs,” he said.

Mr. Miller said one of Mr. White’s proudest achievements was having an elementary school in Houston named after him.

Mark Wells White Jr. was born on March 17, 1940, in Henderson, Tex. His father, Mark Sr., was a merchant seaman.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Baylor University in 1962, and a law degree from Baylor Law School in 1965. He worked briefly as a lawyer in Houston before serving as an assistant state attorney general from 1966 to 1969.

After a few years back in private law practice, he was appointed Texas secretary of state under Gov. Dolph Briscoe in 1973, and in 1979 he became the state attorney general.

In 1990, four years after he lost his bid for re-election, he unsuccessfully challenged Ann W. Richards in the Democratic primary for governor.

He is survived by his wife, Linda Gale White; two sons, Mark III and Andrew; a daughter, Elizabeth White Russell; a sister, Betty Gerlach; and nine grandchildren.

In a recent interview with The Houston Chronicle, Mr. White lamented the hyperpartisanship that has come to define both state and national politics. “It’s like combat now,” he said.

“But,” he added, “I never give up on this state, on this country. That’s what you learn after being in politics as long as I have. If you give up, then you’re part of the problem.”

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