Services Set for Baylor Alumna, Direct Descendant of Former President

Feb. 12, 2009

Visitation Today, Memorial Service Saturday in Houston

The family of Baylor alumna Eleanor Whilden Tinsley will receive friends at Houston's Eleanor Tinsley Park today from 4 to 6 p.m. A memorial service will be held Saturday at Houston's South Main Baptist Church at 11 a.m. Mrs. Tinsley championed the preservation of green spaces and worked to improve conditions for schoolchildren in Houston as a school board and city council member. She died Tuesday at the age of 82.

Born in Dallas, Mrs. Tinsley was the great-granddaughter of Rufus Burleson, who served from 1851 to 1861 as Baylor's second president, and was known for expanding Baylor's curriculum, enlarging the library holdings and improving and increasing the campus's facilities during his tenure.

"Eleanor Tinsley embodied the same quest for excellence as her great-grandfather and the same commitment to making the world a better place through service to others," said Dr. David E. Garland, interim president and dean of Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor. "Our historical accounts show that Rufus Burleson was relentless in ensuring that Baylor students received a Christian education of the highest quality. Mrs. Tinsley lived her life of public service in the same way, leaving a legacy of good works that will continue to benefit her community."

Mrs. Tinsley was Council Member Emeritus of the Houston City Council, where she served as the first woman elected to an at-large position from 1979 until term limits ended her service in 1995. As a council member for eight terms, she was relentless in protecting the visual environment, working to pass ordinances that restrict the placement of billboards. She also was devoted to the development of public parks, creating the non-profit SPARK program, which creates neighborhood parks using school grounds. Established in primarily low-income neighborhoods, these parks incorporate the works of local artists and are open to pedestrians after school hours. The program has been cited for bringing benefits both to Houston park patrons and schoolchildren.

Her interest in working on behalf of education was developed when she served as a board member of the Houston Independent School District from 1969 to 1973. During her tenure, the HISD board further desegregated Houston schools, dealt with the then relatively new specter of substance abuse among students and created the Houston Community College District.

Today, both an elementary school and a public park in Houston are named in her honor.

After graduating from Baylor, she and her husband James Tinsley, also a Baylor alumnus, moved to Houston in 1953, where he was a longtime history professor at the University of Houston. The Tinsleys were active members of South Main Baptist Church.

The Tinsley family was named among the Baylor Alumni Association's First Families of Baylor in 1993, recognizing multi-generation families who serve the university. Mrs. Tinsley was named a Distinguished Alumni Award winner in 1991 and was a past member of the Alumni Association Board of Directions.

She was preceded in death by her husband in 2007. Survivors include daughters and sons-in-law, Kathleen and David Ownby and Marilyn and B.D. Daniel, all of Houston; son and daughter-in-law, Tom and Cathy Tinsley of Washington, D.C.; brother Walter Whilden of Maryland; seven grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

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