Farewell to Linda Bridges, Hero of Texas Schools
Teachers union leader passes, leaving legacy of advocacy
By Richard Whittaker,
9:29AM, Wed. Jan. 14, 2015
The first day of the 84th Legislature was marred and overshadowed for many by the devastating news that Linda Bridges, president of the state's largest teaching union, had died unexpectedly of natural causes on the night of Jan. 12, aged 65.
A former elementary special education teacher in Corpus Christi ISD, and president of its local American Federation of Teachers affiliate for 24 years, in that time she was key in developing the process of elected consultation. That's the closest thing to collective bargaining possible in anti-union Texas, and a model that has spread to many other districts around Texas, including Austin ISD. In 2005, she became president of Texas AFT, and oversaw a massive increasing in membership, from 48,000 then to 65,000 now, and fought to shed light on questionable practices at the Teachers Retirement System. Just as importantly, and contrary to the myth that teachers' unions only care about teachers, she was one of the most constant advocates for quality education and dogged opponents of the state's destructive financing cuts.
Former Education Austin president and now Texas AFT secretary-treasurer Louis Malfaro described working with her: “She had a tactical mind and always seemed to be the one with solution to the latest challenge. And thankfully, she also carried a wicked sense of humor that kept everyone in stitches.”
In a statement, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten said, "Our union has lost a great leader, and I've lost a true friend.” Committing to continuing her legacy, Weingarten added, “She woke up every morning with one goal on her mind: To make sure educators had a voice—a crucial element in helping all kids succeed. There was never a mountain too high, an obstacle too great or an opponent too fierce to derail her from that goal."
Texas AFT announced that a memorial service will be held for Bridges in Austin on Friday, Jan. 16 at 1pm at the Mission Funeral Home Serenity Chapel, 6204 S. First. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations go to the Texas AFL-CIO Scholarship Fund, 1204 San Antonio #300, Austin, TX 78701. Donations can also be made online at via Texasaft.org.
UPDATE: Education Austin president Ken Zarifis added his voice to the chorus commemorating Bridges' legacy: "Linda Bridges’ passing is a tremendous loss for public education and the Labor movement in Texas. Her unwavering commitment to preserving public education and building a strong union presence in a state that would just a soon see both of those institutions a thing of the past inspired Education Austin and others around the state to stand resolute in our belief that they were both worth fighting for."