Fondren, Gene Norris (1927 ~ 2010)
The following obituary appeared in the Austin American Statesman, October 14, 2010.
"....In the good old days, we would have had Gene Fondren..... Where is a good lobbyist when you need one?" Excerpt from Texas Monthly's BurkaBlog, by Paul Burka, regarding state spending and the Legislature. Gene Norris Fondren passed away on Tuesday, October 12, 2010. He never saw this comment about himself, but it sure would have pleased him if he had.
Gene was born April 7, 1927 in Corpus Christi, Texas to Charles Loren and Katharine Haney Fondren. He grew up on a farm in Flour Bluff and attended a small, four-room country school. At 11, when other boys were playing baseball, Gene was riding around the South Texas countryside on horseback, campaigning for Pappy Lee O'Daniel for Governor. At his high school graduation speech as class valedictorian, a woman from the audience approached and suggested he get into some kind of public life or become a lawyer. A trip to Austin was all it took for Gene to know that that was where he wanted to be-in the center of Texas politics. Once he made that decision, he never looked back.
During World War II he served in the United States Army Infantry as a First Lieutenant. One day, Gene told his tactical officer that if he survived the army he would go to UT-not realizing that the officer was a graduate of Texas A&M. For 10 weeks, every morning before breakfast, Gene had to sing the Aggie war hymn outside the mess hall. Anyone who ever heard him sing knows this was more painful for others than it was for him.
After the war, Gene married Patsy George in 1948 and soon after started law school at UT-Austin. During law school, Gene supported his family by working as a disc jockey at KTAE radio in Taylor, Texas. His show was mostly country and western music and quite popular at the time. When performers like Elvis Presley or Marty Robbins appeared at the Skyline or Dessau Hall, they typically appeared on his show. Gene stayed in Taylor after graduating from law school in 1954 and practiced law with his good friend and mentor Wilson Fox. He also served as General Counsel to the Senate Special Investigating Committee headed by State Senator Charles Herring, who also became a lifelong friend and mentor.
In 1963, with the help and support of his many good friends in Taylor and elsewhere in his district, Gene was elected to the Texas House of Representatives where he served three terms representing Williamson, Bell, and Lee Counties. As a freshman legislator he was the author of House Bill Number One, which led to the establishment of the Higher Education Coordinating Board. He also carried legislation that created equal property rights for married women and was a chief sponsor of legislation to repeal the poll tax.
After serving in the Legislature, Gene went to work as the Washington Counsel for the Texas Railroads and later as Vice President of the Missouri-Pacific Railroads. In 1972 he returned to Austin, joining the Texas Automobile Dealers Association as Executive Director where he worked until his retirement in 2003. At TADA, he helped draft and promote laws affecting the automotive industry and small businesses. In 2007 he joined the law firm Hilgers, Bell, & Richards LLP for a brief period before his illness.
Gene was considered by many as the dean of the association community, both at the state and national levels. He served as Chairman of the Board of the Texas Society of Association Executives (TSAE), the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), and the Automobile Trade Association Executives (ATAE) as well as earning ASAE's Certified Association Executive certification. He also served on numerous other industry boards and committees, including the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA). He was a longtime member of the American Bar Association and the State Bar of Texas. He received many association honors including ASAE's "Key Award," "The ASAE Foundation Gene Fondren Fund Award, and TSAE's "Distinguished Executive" Award. He was the organization's first recipient of "The Gene N. Fondren Award" and received a "Distinguished Service Citation" from the Automotive Hall of Fame.
Gene was actively involved in community service and contributed much of his time and considerable energy to serving on the Boards of the United Cerebral Palsy Association of the Capital Area, Public Television Council (KLRU), America's Public Television Stations, Greater Austin Crime Commission, and Meals on Wheels and as Chair of the Texas Workers' Compensation Insurance Facility. He especially enjoyed being the auctioneer at the KLRU annual fundraiser.
Gene lived a long and full life. He was an avid deer hunter, crossword puzzle solver, and lover of country and western music. He worked hard, enjoyed helping others, and could solve just about any problem that came along. He is survived by his wife Patsy, his children Brenda, Beverly, and Charles and their spouses, six grandchildren and a multitude of friends and colleagues who mourn his passing.
His family extends its heartfelt gratitude to the caregivers at Nurses Case Management and the staff of Seton hospital for the kindness, caring and comfort they gave to Gene over the past three years. Visitation will be held from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. on Friday, October 15, 2010 at Weed-Corley-Fish Funeral Home on North Lamar. Services to remember Gene will be held at Weed Corley Fish on North Lamar on Saturday, October 16th at 10:00 a.m. Burial will be at the Texas State Cemetery and will be followed by a reception. In lieu of flowers, please feel free to make contributions to Austin Smiles, Meals on Wheels, Cal Farley's Boys and Girls Ranch, KLRU or a charity of your choice. Obituary and guestbook available online at www.wcfish.com