Madam Speaker, the city of Houston recently lost a Texas Gentleman and great civic leader. Former Houston Mayor Louie Welch died on Sunday, Jan. 27, 2008 after a long battle with cancer. He was 89 years old. Mayor Welch's contributions to Houston government will impact generations of city residents that now enjoy a better quality of life and greater economic opportunity.
Louie Welch was born on Dec. 9, 1918 in the west Texas town of Lockney. Welch was an industrious boy who performed many tasks to earn money such as sell magazines, deliver milk and sell popcorn for a nickel a bag. In high school, he participated in debate and was elected president of his senior class. These activities were an early sign of his life-long interest in politics.
Welch attended Abilene Christian University and graduated in 1940 with a history degree. While in college, he met his future wife, Iola Faye Cure and they were married on Dec. 17, 1940. They later had five children. After Iola Faye died, Louie married Helen.
After graduating from college, his political career began in 1949 as a Houston city councilman. He served four terms as council member. With a tough political resolve, he ran for Houston mayor four times before finally becoming successful. Welch served as mayor of Houston from 1964 to 1973.
His mother's religious influence left a permanent impression with Welch who, in addition to graduating from a Christian university, was a member of Garden Oaks Church of Christ for more than 35 years and frequently quoted from the Bible throughout his life. I had the opportunity to serve on the Board of Trustees at Abilene Christian University with the Mayor.
Mayor Welch will be remembered for a rich legacy of vital construction projects that he helped oversee to completion which improved city services and prepared for future growth in Houston. These projects included construction of Bush Intercontinental Airport, Lake Conroe and Lake Livingston reservoirs which provided much needed water supplies for Houston's rapidly growing residential and commercial areas. Welch's other projects involved closing down inefficient sewer treatment plants, starting the cleanup of the Houston Ship Channel and bayou beautification.
His leadership abilities also extended into national positions with Welch serving as vice president of the National League of Cities from 1970 to 1973 and president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors from 1972 to 1973.
Mayor Welch was a man who loved Houston tremendously. He joked that he didn't tell his sons that they were born in that "northern" city of Dallas until they were much older to protect them from the horrible truth for as long as possible.
He was known for his witty observations on Texas politics and himself. He once said, "When I was elected mayor I spent the better part of my first term weeding out the political appointees I had inherited from my predecessor. Virtually all of my second term, I spent weeding out my own political appointees."
Welch even served a brief stint as guest weatherman for the local TV channel ABC 13. When weatherman Ed Brandon gave the forecast for the chance of rain one day, Mayor Welch was hiding above him in the studio on a ladder and dumped a bucket of water on Brandon's head. He told the very surprised weatherman, "You never get that right. Let's face it: it's always 50 percent. Either it's going to rain or it's not going to rain."
Following his years as mayor, Welch went to work for the Houston Chamber of Commerce, which later became the Greater Houston Partnership, and served as president of the organization for 12 years.
I met the Mayor when I was a teenager. I showed up at the Garden Oaks Church of Christ one Wednesday night seeking out a local girl. The Mayor cornered me and wanted to know who I was and my intentions. I was quite intimidated by the 56" Mayor, but after the interrogation, I was approved to speak to the girl--(but she still turned me down for a date).
Years later, I went to see the Mayor, then President of the Houston Chamber, because I had decided to run as a Republican for State District Judge in Houston. Being a political nobody and novice I needed sound political advice from an expert. The Mayor told me no Republican had been elected to a state judgeship in Hous`ton since Reconstruction. So, he recommended instead that I run for the non-partisan position of City Council, because Houstonians preferred "nobodies" over Republicans. I did overcome the handicap of being a Republican and for years appreciated his wise political counsel when I served as a judge.
When I taught an Adult Sunday School Class at Bammel Church of Christ, Louie and his wife Helen would always sit on the front row of the class. The Mayor would interrupt my lesson at some critical point and make a humorous comment about the lesson that would sidetrack our discussion. Louie Welch knew the Good Book as well as the Apostle Paul, but he was much funnier. We shall miss Louie Welch.
His son Gary Welch recently told the Houston Chronicle, "I would like for him to be remembered as a mayor who cared deeply about the city of Houston and each and every person who lived in the city of Houston."
And that's just the way it is.