MCKNIGHT, CHARLES PEYTON (1924 ~ 1995). Peyton McKnight, born December 10, 1924, died December 22, 1995. He represented the interests of the people of State Senatorial District Two from 1972 to January 1983. The East Texas area includes Collin, Gregg, Hunt, Rains, Rockwall, Smith, Upshur, Van Zandt, and Wood Counties.
During his tenure in the Texas Senate, Senator McKnight served as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Nominations. He also served as a member of three powerful Senate committees - the State Affairs Committee, the Economic Development Committee, and the Finance Committee. He served for four years on the Interstate Oil Compact Commission. On August 3, 1979, he received an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from Texas Eastern University and the University of Texas at Tyler.
Raised in the small East Texas towns of Alba and Quitman, McKnight flew fifty-five combat missions over Europe in World War II on B-17s, while serving with the Fifteenth Air Force Command. His 17th Bomber Group awarded him the French Croix de Guerre. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with Three Oak Leaf Clusters, and the European Theater Ribbon with Seven Battle Stars.
On August 22, 1946, McKnight married Ann Cade of Bryan, Texas. He continued his education after the war, graduating from Texas A&M University in 1947 with a bachelor's degree in history and government. While attending the University of Texas School of Law in 1949, he was elected to the Texas House of Representatives, but did not choose to seek a second term. During that one term in the Texas House of Representatives, he authored a landmark bill establishing what is now the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation. This legislation paved the way for vast improvements in State Hospitals and Special Schools.
As State Representative, he was also a supporter of prison reform legislation, and helped enact the Highway Safety Code. He supported proposals which resulted in establishment of telephone cooperatives, Jim Hogg State Park, the Gilmer-Aiken program for public schools, and the East Texas Chest Hospital. McKnight served six years on the Texas A&M University Board of Regents and was also a member of the State Democratic Executive Committee. He helped create the Sabine River Authority, of which he was also a member, and helped formulate the compact agreement with Louisiana on dividing water resources of the Sabine River.
In 1986, he was named Director Emeritus of the Texas A&M University System. Due to passage of a bill authored by Senator McKnight during the Sixty-fifth Session of the Texas Legislature, the East Texas Chest Hospital (now the University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler) and Texas Eastern University (now the University of Texas at Tyler) became part of the University of Texas System. In 1953, McKnight was appointed United States Marshal for the Eastern District of Texas, making him the youngest Marshal in history, at age 28.
The Senator was a lifetime member of the East Texas Peace Officers Association. An Independent Oil Producer by profession, in 1973, Senator McKnight was selected for membership in the All-American Wildcatters Association. He was a member of the Sons of the American Revolution, American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. He was a Thirty-second Degree Mason and a charter member of Sharon Shrine Temple. The Senator served on the Development Board of the University of Texas Health Science Center and the University of Texas at Tyler.
For many years, Senator McKnight served on the Board of Scott and White Memorial Hospital and the Sherwood and Brindley Foundation and, in 1988, he was named a Life Governor. Senator McKnight served as Chairman of Concerned Citizens for Higher Education, a group of East Texans interested in assessing the real higher education needs of the area. Senator McKnight was an Independent Oil Producer with offices in Tyler, Texas, and was Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Tyler Environmental Technologies, Inc.
Information taken from McKnight's obituary in the Austin American Statesman, from December 23, 1995 and Texas State Cemetery file materials.