Jack Hightower, former Texas congressman, dies at 86

August 8, 2013

Jack Hightower, a five-term Democratic congressman from Texas who later served as a justice of the Supreme Court of Texas, died Aug. 3 at his home in Austin. He was 86.

His death, from Parkinson’s disease, was confirmed by a spokesman for the Texas court.

Mr. Hightower was a self-described “Boll Weevil” Democrat — one of a group of Southern congressmen who crossed party lines to vote for many of President Ronald Reagan’s economic policies but who also broke with Reagan in favor of federal farm subsidies.

His election to a congressional district that included Amarillo and Wichita Falls came in 1974 amid a wave of anti-Republican sentiment that followed the Watergate scandal. He served on the House Agriculture Committee and the powerful House Appropriations Committee, where he held posts on the agriculture and defense subcommittees.

His House career ended in 1985 after he lost an election the previous November to Republican Beau Boulter during a statewide political shift that put Texas more firmly in Republican control.


Congressman Jack Hightower in April 1981. Hightower, a five term Democratic congressman from Texas who later served as the chief justice of the Texas State Supreme Court, died Aug. 3. He was 86. (James K. W. Atherton/The Washington Post)

Mr. Hightower won election to the Supreme Court of Texas and served from 1988 to 1996. Three years later, President Bill Clinton appointed him to the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science.

Jack English Hightower was born Sept. 6, 1926, in the Texas Panhandle town of Memphis. His family owned a flower shop and nursery. He served in the Navy during World War II.

He was a 1949 graduate of Baylor University and a 1951 graduate of its law school. He received a master of laws degree from the University of Virginia in 1992.

Mr. Hightower spent his early career practicing law in Vernon, Tex., and served as the district attorney in Texas’s 46th Judicial District from 1957 to 1961. He served in the Texas Senate from 1965 to 1974.

Survivors include his wife of 62 years, Colleen Ward Hightower of Austin; three daughters, Ann Hightower of Arlington and Amy Brees and Alison Suttle, both of Austin; and six grandchildren.

Correction: This story has been changed because of an error about the length of Rep. Hightower’s marriage. He was married for 62 years, not 63.

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