Houstonians remembering civil rights icon Leonel Castillo


He was known as a pioneer for civil rights, and Houston's first Hispanic elected official - serving as controller in the early 1970s and later, serving as director of INS appointed by Jimmy Carter.

Mayor Annise Parker issued a statement saying, "I am saddened to hear of the passing of Leonel Castillo. He was a kind, engaging and compassionate man who gave much back to Houston and our nation. As the first Hispanic to be elected citywide, he blazed a trail for those who have followed him. He was truly a pillar of our community and will be greatly missed. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends."

State Senator Sylvia Garcia also released a statement expressing her sadness:

"I am saddened by the passing of my dear friend, Leonel J. Castillo, this morning. I am proud to have known him personally as a friend and mentor. He was a champion for social justice, a true progressive, a pioneer in Houston politics and an icon in our Latino community. Leonel blazed trails for Latinos in Houston and opened doors as the first Latino elected to city wide office as city controller of Houston in 1971.

"As city controller, his work for honesty, transparency and accountability in the office led to the coining of the phrase "watchdog at city hall". One of his biggest distinctions was the appointment to Commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), by President Jimmy Carter in 1977. A social worker at heart, he was as an intellectual with great compassion for people and worked tirelessly for the underdog.

"But most of all, Leonel was a man devoted to his faith, family and nation. My heartfelt condolences go out to his wife, Evelyn, and his family. While he will be missed, we will certainly remember his life at the grand opening of the Leonel J. Castillo Community Center this Saturday, November 9, at 2101 South Street, Houston, TX. Funeral arrangements to follow."

And current City Controller Ronald Green also issued a statement following Castillo's passing. It reads:

"I met Leonel just before I was first elected to Houston City Council, and I truly valued his friendship and his vast knowledge of policy, both of local and national issues. In 1972, he was the first Hispanic City Controller, and then President Carter named him Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, so he was a public servant to a very full extent and brought great communication and collaborative skills to his positions.

"He was a neighbor, and we'd meet often on our walks along the bayou—when he was a young man he served in the Peace Corps in the Philippines, so the Houston summer was no problem for him. I am very thankful to have known him."

Meantime, at the community center on the near- north side named in Castillo's honor, staff are still working to prepare for this weekend's grand opening. They say now those festivities will now include a tribute to the man, his life and his legacy.

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