Distinguished Baylor University and Baylor Law School alumnus Mark W. White, B.B.A. ’62, J.D. ’65, who served as the 43rd Governor of Texas, died August 5 in Houston.
White served as Texas Attorney General (1979-83), Texas Secretary of State (1973-77) and Governor of Texas (1983-87). He also played an important role in preserving the Big 12 Conference in 2010. At the time of his passing, he was president of Geovox Security.
During his term as Governor, White appointed more members of minority groups to high positions in government than had been appointed by all of his predecessors combined, including 500 appointments of women to offices. From the instant of his swearing-in, he made inclusiveness a Texas reality by walking from his inauguration ceremonies to his new home at the nearby Governor’s Mansion and ceremoniously cutting the chains that barred public entry to the mansion.
Over the balance of his life, White’s commitment to an inclusive and dynamic Texas never waned. At the time White took office, standard aptitude tests for Texas school children had been declining for 10 years. White was determined to open an antiquated and underfunded public education system to new ideas. There was little about public education that House Bill 72 did not change. Teacher salaries increased and class sizes were reduced. New initiatives and policies included everything from pre-schooling to curriculum teacher testing, ongoing measurement of student performance, and “no pass - no play.” States across the nation emulated many of Texas’ ground-breaking initiatives.
Generations have passed since White occupied the governor’s office, but the benefit of his stewardship lingers. Austin continues to benefit from his recruitment of high tech companies, which launched the city’s subsequent development into a center for technology. The need for protective services for children, first championed by the Whites, remains a Texas priority. The great universities of Texas continue to honor the importance of research so emphasized by White. Texans travel safer following his seat belt law. He modernized the Texas highway system and initiated the anti-litter campaign – “Don’t Mess with Texas.”
Early in his career, White served Texas as an assistant attorney general. Later, he was appointed Secretary of State by Governor Dolph Briscoe, and in 1977 was elected the youngest-ever president of the National Association of the Secretaries of State. In 1978, he won the election for Texas Attorney General and gave new priority to consumer issues, particularly those concerning utility rates. He once described his philosophy of government as “basic and uncomplicated. It asks two questions before any others: Is it right? Is it fair?”
A Baptist, he remained an active participant in Baylor affairs until his death. He returned to the practice of law at Reynolds, White, Allen & Cook. He founded Geovox Security to sell the Heartbeat Detector, a product still in use protecting the borders of England, France, Spain and China by detecting people hiding in tractor-trailers. White championed the important role that MD Anderson, UTHealth and Baylor College of Medicine play in leading the healthcare of Texas, and he brought Communities in Schools, a stay-in-school program, to Texas.
Among his survivors are his wife of 50 years, Linda Gale Thompson White, BBA ’64, three children, nine grandchildren and a sister, Betty Gerlach, BA ’68.