Dolph Briscoe Jr., 87

Dolph Briscoe Jr., governor of Texas during 1970s oil boom, dies at 87

Dolph Briscoe waves during a 2008 parade in San Antonio. He was a Texas legislator for eight years and served two terms as governor.
Dolph Briscoe waves during a 2008 parade in San Antonio. He was a Texas legislator for eight years and served two terms as governor. (Eric Gay/associated Press)
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By April Castro
Friday, July 2, 2010

Dolph Briscoe Jr., 87, who presided over Texas as governor during the oil and gas boom years before an upset in 1978, died June 27 at his home in Uvalde, Tex.

He had been hospitalized in January and had returned home recently, a family spokeswoman said, but the cause of death was not disclosed.

During the conservative Democrat's two terms as governor from 1972 to 1978, Texas experienced rising oil and gas revenue, and Mr. Briscoe kept his campaign pledge to not raise taxes.

"The necessity of fiscal responsibility in all levels of government is second only to world peace in our survival," he once said.

Mr. Briscoe lost to Attorney General John Hill in the Democratic primary in 1978. Hill lost in the general election to Bill Clements, Texas's first Republican governor since Reconstruction.

Years after the bitterness of the 1978 political campaign had worn off, Mr. Briscoe still said he could have defeated Clements.

He considered a comeback race for governor in 1982 but instead supported Attorney General Mark White, a Democrat who went on to defeat Clements.

After serving as governor, Briscoe turned his attention to his ranch and business operations in south Texas, but he always remained on the political scene.

"Sometimes you miss it like you miss somebody hitting you over the head with a hammer," Mr. Briscoe once said, "but you still miss it."

He hosted Hillary Rodham Clinton in 1996 when she visited Uvalde to pick up an endorsement for her husband, President Bill Clinton, a week before the Texas primary. Mr. Briscoe also attended campaign events for Republican Gov. George W. Bush before he was elected president in 2000.

Mr. Briscoe was born April 23, 1923, in Uvalde, where his father was a rancher. He was valedictorian of his high school class and graduated from the University of Texas. In 2008, the University of Texas at Austin named its Center for American History for Mr. Briscoe, who donated $15 million to the center.

He was elected to the Texas House from Uvalde in 1949 and served as a legislator for eight years, bragging that he never had an opponent. Mr. Briscoe's first bid for the governorship in 1968 was unsuccessful. In 1972, he defeated Frances "Sissy" Farenthold in a hotly contested runoff and nosed out Republican Hank Grover by fewer than 100,000 votes in November.

Mr. Briscoe was reelected in 1974, carrying 247 of 254 counties. He became the state's first four-year chief officer because of a 1975 law changing the governor's term from two years to four.

Throughout his public career, Mr. Briscoe refused to reveal his full wealth, filing reports showing only what public officials were required to disclose. But several published accounts cited him as the state's largest landholder, with more than 1 million acres owned or leased. The same reports estimated his worth at more than $50 million.

His wife, Janey Briscoe, died in 2000. Survivors include three children and five grandchildren.

-- Associated Press

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