Former Texas Governor Mark White dead at 77

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Texas Governor Mark White, who served during the worst economic downturn in Texas during the oil bust of the 1980s, passed away Saturday at his Houston home. His family said he had a fatal heart attack.

He was the 43rd governor of Texas and had previously served as Texas Attorney General and Secretary of State. White, who was a Democrat, unseated incumbent Republican governor Bill Clements in 1982. Clements regained the office from White four years later.

"He was a statesman who was bigger than life," recalled Rep. Garnet Coleman. "He always worked to do the right thing and didn't focus on what the consequences of doing that might be."

For White, the right thing was public education.

"Education is not a luxury," he said in his inaugural address, "but a necessity. We're living through a technological revolution, and society will have no use for the unskilled or semi-skilled."

His words hold true today.

VIDEO: Gov. Mark White's 1983 inauguration
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Take a look back at Gov. Mark White's 1983 inauguration.

White ensured the Texas legislature passed what came to be known as "no pass, no play." It required that students engaged in extracurricular activities -- including student athletes -- maintain satisfactory grades.

"He took on Friday night lights in a state where football is king," said Coleman. "There was enormous pushback. And still, he did the right thing."

Longtime friend and KTRH radio anchor Shara Fryer said White had as his motto a phrase attributed to Sam Houston.

"During the campaign and after, I always heard him say, 'Do what is right and suffer the consequences," she said.

After returning to Houston, White, a lawyer by trade, was still involved in public policy discussion and debate. Coleman met the former governor from their association with the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston. Bill Hobby was Lt. Governor during White's administration.

"We will regret not having people like him among us, " Coleman said, "because they do stand tall and they're examples of what the common good is. Mark White is an example of that."

White leaves behind his wife of 50 years, Linda Gale, three children and nine grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending.

Current Gov. Greg Abbott released the following statement about White's death:

"Mark White cared deeply about Texas, and he devoted his life to making our state even better, particularly when it came to educating our children. My personal relationship and friendship with Governor White dates to when I was a young lawyer in Houston and we shared an elevator bank.

"Mark's impact on Texas will not soon be forgotten, and his legacy will live on through all that he achieved as Governor. Cecilia and I extend our deepest condolences to Linda Gale White and family during this difficult time, and I ask that all Texans join us in praying for the White family as they mourn the passing of a devoted husband, father and public servant."

In a tweet, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner sent condolences to White's family and said he was "very sad to hear the news of the death of former Gov. Mark White."

"Governor White leaves a legacy of service and commitment to the state of Texas. He gave up time away from his family and his career to make the Lone Star State a better place," Lt. Governor Dan Patrick added. "I met Mark White in the early 1990s at his office and knew him to be a Texas gentleman. We pray for his family during this time of loss."

"His tenure as governor came during the stormy economic times of the early to mid-1980s, which led Mark to do two things that are an everlasting credit to his rich legacy - he laid the groundwork for diversification of the Texas economy, and he made significant investments in improving education in our great state," said former President George H. W. Bush.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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