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In Memoriam: Gov. Dolph Briscoe, 1923-2010

June 28, 2010

Gov. Dolph and Mrs. Janey Briscoe outside the Texas Governor's Mansion

Dolph and Janey Briscoe in front of the Governor’s Mansion in Austin. Dolph Briscoe Papers, Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin; di_03921.

AUSTIN, Texas — The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History mourns the death of Dolph Briscoe, former governor of Texas, landowner, rancher, and noted philanthropist.

"The Briscoe Center is greatly saddened by the death of Dolph Briscoe," said Dr. Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center. "He was one of the most humble, generous and thoughtful philanthropists in our state, whose gifts provided critical support to a wide range of medical, educational, civic, and charitable activities that have improved and enhanced the lives of countless Texans."

"To borrow a phrase that Governor Briscoe used to describe individuals who were his personal heroes, Dolph Briscoe was a man of 'absolute integrity.' His passing is a real loss to all of Texas," Carleton continued. "We are proud to have his name on our Center, and it is our privilege to keep his legacy alive through our efforts. His wisdom, leadership, and unflagging support of our mission will be deeply missed."

In 2008, The University of Texas at Austin announced the naming of its Center for American History after Gov. Briscoe, following gifts totaling $15 million and in recognition of his support for preserving and promoting Texas and U.S. history.

Briscoe spoke often of his deep love of his native state and its history. "It is such a privilege to be a Texan," he said. "Any way you look at it, the history of our state is an example of determination, hard work, and dedication, and through all that, achievement of a better way of life, a life of greater opportunity. I firmly believe that we cannot really understand the present without knowledge of the past."


Gov. Dolph Briscoe (center) with Dr. Don Carleton (left) and President Bill Powers (right) from The University of Texas at Austin, 2007.

Briscoe's devotion to Texas and American history led to a strong connection with the Center. He donated his personal and gubernatorial papers to the Center, and served on its Advisory Council. He played a key role in making the John Nance Garner Museum in Uvalde, Texas, a division of the Center. Briscoe's financial support also made it possible for the Center to publish the memoir of Ross Sterling, the founder of the Humble Oil Company and a former governor of Texas.

 

Briscoe directly supported the acquisition of key items for the Center's collections, including an 1849 daguerreotype of the Alamo chapel, the oldest datable photograph taken in Texas. In 2007, the former governor established the Dolph and Janey Briscoe Fund for Texas History. His memoir, Dolph Briscoe: My Life in Texas Ranching and Politics, was published by the Center in 2007.

Born in Uvalde, Texas in 1923, Dolph Briscoe, Jr. was the son of a self-made cattle rancher and a direct descendant of Andrew Briscoe, an original signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence. Briscoe graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 1942 and subsequently enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War II, where he served in the China-Burma-India theater. He married Betty Jane "Janey" Slaughter in 1942 and they had three children. The couple went on to become the largest single landholders in the state of Texas, amassing some 640,000 acres.

Gov. Dolph Briscoe
Dolph Briscoe. Dolph Briscoe Papers, Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin; di_03922.

In 1949, Dolph Briscoe was elected to the Texas State Legislature and was a strong proponent of building the state's farm-to-market roads, an important development for rural Texas. He left the legislature in 1957 to devote more time to the family business, becoming one of the state's leading ranchers and president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. Briscoe was active in the Democratic Party of Texas throughout the 1950s and the 1960s.

In the wake of the infamous Sharpstown scandal, Briscoe was seen as a welcome political outsider with a conservative Democratic agenda that would bring stability to the Texas governorship. He was elected in 1972 and remained governor through the oil-boom years of the 1970s, during which he increased spending for highway improvements, signed into law the Texas Open Records Act, and streamlined state agencies. Briscoe's 1978 reelection bid failed when he was defeated in the primary by Attorney General John Hill. The Briscoes returned to Uvalde where they remained active in cattle ranching, banking, and philanthropy. Janey Briscoe died in 2000.

For more information, contact: Erin Purdy, associate director of communications, the Briscoe Center for American History, 512-495-4692 (erin.purdy@austin.utexas.edu).  

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