Ann Richards was not born with a silver spoon in her mouth but is nevertheless best remembered for her stem-winding silver tongue. She built bridges with it, through sheer force of will, so it was fitting when Texas renamed Austin's Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge in her honor. In between, Chronicle readers became a litmus for the same cult following she enjoyed nationwide and responded to the highlights of Richards' career with consistent "Best of Austin" honors.
Most Texans' earliest memory of Richards involves a briny, red-eye gravy drawl making us look up from whatever we were doing in 1984 to see a weathered, irrepressibly cheerful face crowned by one of the last great silver Texas beauty-parlor helmets admonishing us to claim our forgotten bank holdings. She was state treasurer then, and one imagined that this low-budget, routine advertisement, certainly not a glamorous public debut, would be about the only attention a homegirl bureaucrat would get out of that fusty post. Never one to be underestimated, the next thing we knew, she was making history at the podium of the Democratic National Convention in support of her friend Bill Clinton, inadvertently upstaging him on national news cycles. That was 1988, and by 1990, leaving Clayton "Blatant Millions" Williams lifeless on the mat in a successful bid for governor, she rolled up her sleeves and made it rain, first with income from the new Texas Lottery and then by nurturing such high-profile industries as music and filmmaking with the Texas Music Office and the Texas Film Hall of Fame. Throughout her long public service, whether from the heights of elected office or later, from her pulpit as a living legend, she worked tirelessly for civil rights, health care, and the empowerment of young women until her death in 2006. Her legacy is all around us, so if you're looking for Ann Richards, you'll find her today in the upturned faces at the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders here in Austin.
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