DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Funeral services for former Governor Bill Clements will be held Thursday in Dallas.
The 4 p.m. service will be at Saint Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church, shortly after a private burial. Clements died Sunday at age 94 at St. Paul Hospital in Dallas. The two-term governor and former Assistant Secretary of Defense left an indelible mark on Texas politics with his 1978 gubernatorial election victory.
“He was a Texan to his toenails, as he liked to call it. And he was bigger than life, always positive, always optimistic,” said David Dean, who helped run the groundbreaking 1978 campaign and later served as Gov. Clements’ Secretary of State.
Dean says Clements showed conservatives there were more than just ‘Yellow Dog’ Democrats in Texas. “Going back to the saying that people would rather vote for a yellow dog than anything other than a democrat. So, Clements proved them wrong by the hundreds of thousands.” He recalls Clements recruiting him for that campaign, “A breath of fresh air; energetic, a man of great character and accomplishment; not only in the private sector but also in the public sector. He said he wanted to be governor of Texas. Brought a lot of new ideas, invigorating ideas, empowering ideas, he loved this state.”
“Clements was a business person, he did not come from politics,” says political analyst John Weekley, noting that unlike previous governors, Clements was not a Baptist, not a lawyer, not a college graduate, and not a politician. “He came in as a businessman and almost an outsider not just to Austin, but as an outsider to the political process. And there was something about that that was terribly attractive to a great many Texans.”
Weekley remembers that in 1978 “Clements actually made it popular as well as respectable to be a conservative Democrat and vote Republican. At the same time the national Democratic Party was moving more to the left and it was in fact leaving a lot of Texans.” He concludes, “There’s no question Clements changed the face of Texas politics.”
Clements was a classic self-made man; when he graduated from Highland Park High School, there were no jobs locally during the Great Depression, so he hit the oilfields and later invested in two oil wells. In 1947 he helped found the Southeastern Drilling Company; and from an office in downtown Dallas SEDCO, as it was called, would become one of the largest contract oil well drilling companies in the world.
“He certainly didn’t suffer fools,” says lifelong acquaintance Jim Francis, who worked both in the governor’s campaigns and for the governor’s office. “Always upbeat,” Francis remembers, “Always looking on the bright side of a very difficult problem. Kept his sense of humor about it.” He adds Clements was very cerebral in evaluating his options. “So, he was a tough boss but a very fair boss and really, a lot of us learned a heck of a lot about how to manage people from Governor Clements.”
In his second term, the governor would be caught up in an SMU football pay-for-play scandal, but Francis doubts it will tarnish the Clements image much. “He changed Texas; and there are very few people that have walked in this state that can say they changed this state for a generation. But he did.”