Baylor University Mourns Passing of Distinguished Public Servant and Alumnus Jack Hightower

Aug. 3, 2013
Judge Jack E. HightowerJudge Jack E. Hightower, BA '49, LLB '51, was a distinguished public servant, serving as a State Representative, State Senator, U.S. Congressman and Texas Supreme Court Justice. He also served Baylor as a Trustee. (Photo courtesy of the Jack E. Hightower Collection, Baylor Collections of Political Materials, Poage Library)

WACO, Texas (Aug. 3, 2013) - Baylor University is mourning the passing of distinguished public servant, alumnus and former University trustee Jack E. Hightower, BA '49, LLB '51. The former State Representative, State Senator, U.S. Congressman and Texas Supreme Court Justice died Aug. 3 in Austin following a long illness. He was 86.

Hightower will be buried at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 7, at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin. A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 10, at First Baptist Church of Austin, 901 Trinity St. in Austin, with a reception to follow. Weed-Corley-Fish Funeral Home in Austin is in charge of arrangements.

"A great man, a gifted public servant, and a wise and discerning judge has passed from our midst," said J. Bradley Toben, dean of Baylor Law School. "Justice Hightower was a lover of knowledge, and on top of his many accomplishments (his dear Colleen and his family being foremost, as he always noted), he was an accomplished and respected bibliophile. He loved and collected books for their intrinsic value as repositories knowledge and wisdom. The Judge's craft as a bibliophile is a sadly disappearing avocation and we have lost one of its exacting practitioners."

Born in Memphis, Texas in 1926, Hightower's public service began before he graduated from Baylor, with a two-year stint in the Navy from 1944-46. He returned to Baylor after the Navy and received his BA in 1949 and his law degree in 1951.

In 1951 he joined the law firm of Storey, Storey, and Donaghey in Vernon, Texas, and in 1952, successfully ran for election as a Democrat to the Texas House of Representatives, serving one term. From 1955-1961 Hightower served as District Attorney in Vernon. In 1965 he returned to the Texas Legislature as a State Senator, holding office until 1974 and eventually becoming President Pro-tempore of the Texas Senate.

In 1974 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from the 13th Congressional District of Texas and served until 1984. While in the House of Representatives, he served on the Agriculture Committee, Appropriations Committee, Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittee and the Select Committee on Hunger. From 1985-87 Hightower served as Assistant Attorney General of Texas, and in 1988 he was elected to the Texas Supreme Court, where he served until 1996.

In addition to public service, Hightower was very active in church, fraternal and civic organizations. A lifelong Baptist, he held many significant positions in Baptist organizations, including as a Baylor trustee. He also was a trustee of Midwestern University and served in several leadership positions in the Masons. He and his wife, Colleen, served for several years as members of the Baylor Libraries' Board of Advisors.

After retiring from the Texas Supreme Court, Judge Hightower was appointed by President Bill Clinton to the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science. He served as Commissioner from 1999 to 2005.

Judge Hightower's personal and official papers reside in the Jack E. Hightower Collection at Baylor's W.R. Poage Legislative Library, a special collections library and research facility that collects congressional records and personal papers related to the political history of Central Texas.

Hightower learned the value of personal and official papers through a mentor, Guy B. Harrison, with The Texas Collection at Baylor.

In 1985, Judge Hightower began depositing his political and personal papers in the Baylor Collections of Political Materials, documenting his service as a Texas State Senator and as a U.S. Representative. Since that time, he continued to add materials from his years as First Attorney General of Texas and as a Texas Supreme Court Justice, as well as numerous items documenting Texas and U.S. history.

Among these are original 19th century legislative bills related to Texas; newspapers and magazines about important historical events; and 50 years of media from vinyl recordings to computer tapes. Since 2000, he transferred additional papers and many rare books from his personal collection.

"Judge Jack Hightower was a life-long bibliophile," said Ben Rogers, director of Baylor's Poage Library. "As a Baylor student he worked six years for Guy B. Harrison archiving history in The Texas Collection. He then spent the rest of his life preserving history through his books and papers. His favorite quote was 'Those who preserve history are as important as those who make it.' But Judge Hightower also made history serving in the Texas House, Texas Senate, the U.S. House and the Texas Supreme Court. Judge Hightower's dedication to Baylor and the preservation of Texas and U.S. history will be his lasting legacy archived in Poage Legislative Library."

The Jack Hightower Book Vault at Baylor was constructed in 2006 and houses Hightower's collection of more than 3,000 autographed copies of books, with the last of his signed books deposited in July.

"His collection dates from 1647 and includes presidential signatures from John Quincy Adams to Barack Obama. Other notable signatures include Queen Victoria, Mary Lincoln and Winston Churchill. In honor of Judge Hightower, his friends established the Jack Hightower Book Fund to continue his collection of signed books," Rogers said.

The collection also includes an extensive assortment of presidential books, the largest of which centers on the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, who was Hightower's hero. The Lincoln collection includes many biographies and a small photo album with original pictures of the Lincoln family.

In 2006, the Baylor Collections of Political Materials commemorated the 80th birthday of Judge Hightower with a special celebration - "The Hightowers: Integrity ~ Justice ~ Service" - that focused on the life of service shared by Jack and Colleen Hightower.

Hightower is survived by his wife, Colleen, BM '49, and three daughters, Ann, BSEd '75, Amy, BSEd '79, and Alison, BSEd '82.

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