Former state Rep. Anna Mowery, a pioneer in Tarrant County Republican politics who served 19 years in the Texas Legislature, died April 20 in Fort Worth of complications from Alzheimer’s disease, her son Mark said. She was 86.
A service honoring the life of Ms. Mowery will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Travis Avenue Baptist Church, where she was a member. She will be laid to rest in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin on Monday.
Ms. Mowery was remembered this week as a Jeffersonian politician who believed in limited government and as a pro-life conservative. Her can-do attitude helped Tarrant Republicans weather the dark days of continual ballot defeat in the 1970s. She worked across the aisle and listened amicably and eagerly to views opposite her own and seemingly always wore a smile.
“Anna Mowery was a woman I knew well,” Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said. “I always admired her willingness to reach out, engage and listen to constituents, elected leaders and peers. Her presence will be missed.”
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Ms. Mowery was elected to the Texas House of Representatives 10 times from District 97, between 1988 and 2006, before stepping down in 2007 as the disease that would ultimately claim her life began to manifest itself.
During her tenure, she served on the Appropriations Committee, as well as Elections, Labor and Employment Relations, Business and Industry, Administration, and Land and Resource Management committees. She was chairman of the Land and Resource Management Committee.
Ms. Mowery’s terms in office coincided with the governorships of Republican Bill Clements, Democrat Ann Richards, and Republicans George W. Bush and Rick Perry. She worked alongside three Speakers of the House — Democrat Gib Lewis of Fort Worth, Pete Laney, a Democrat from Hale Center in the Texas Panhandle, and Republican Tom Craddick of Midland.
Before that, Ms. Mowery entered public life in Tarrant County in 1975 as the county’s Republican Party chair, the first woman to head a major political party in the county.
In that role, she was instrumental in setting the foundation for making the county bipartisan and ultimately a Republican stronghold in the state.
Ms. Mowery was also a trailblazer who was a driving force to opening doors for women, Republican and Democrat alike, to be leaders in the Texas legislature, her former campaign consultant said.
“She certainly could be considered the godmother of the Republican Party in Tarrant County,” said Bryan Eppstein, her campaign consultant in each of her 10 bids for the house.
“She was a pioneer for women in the Republican Party, encouraging women to run for office and serve in a distinguished capacity. She opened the door for all levels of government.”
Ms. Mowery was first sent to Austin in 1988 to replace Bob Leonard, who chose not to seek re-election from District 97, which is made up mostly of southwest Fort Worth.
‘I didn’t come … here to pass bills’
“I don’t come down here to pass bills. I come down here to kill legislation,” Ms. Mowery said, echoing the sentiments of Calvin Coolidge, who said much the same from the Massachusetts state house.
Even with her experience as a party chair, Ms. Mowery was opposed to straight-party-ticket voting and sponsored or supported bills over the years to abolish this as a ballot option.
“She always thought you should vote for the candidate,” said her son, Mark Mowery, Ms. Mowery’s campaign manager, who acknowledged that his mother was unafraid to cast a vote for a Democratic candidate if she believed it was the right thing to do.
Anna Bess Renshaw was born on Jan. 4, 1931, in Decatur.
She attended schools in Rhome, graduating from Rhome High School in 1947. Her first job, her son said, was weighing grain trucks at her father’s mill. It was during the 1930s that her father, L.W. Renshaw, was paid $5,000 by General Mills for the right to sell flour under the label “Gold Medal,” which the Renshaw family had been using for years.
Ms. Mowery credited her father with her interest in politics. L.W. Renshaw was the Democratic county chair of Wise County in her youth.
After high school, Ms. Mowery attended Baylor University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in drama, speech, and political science in 1951, the same year she married Wesley Mowery. She earned a master’s in history and speech in 1967 from Central State University in Edmond, Okla.
She and her husband were active in politics, supporting Democrats until moving to the Republican Party in 1960.
The family lived in Alaska for a year, returned to Texas, then moved to Oklahoma City and Abilene before moving to Fort Worth in 1970.
Soon after her arrival in town, Tarrant County experienced the first in a number of future watershed political moments: Republican Betty Andujar defeated Mike Moncrief for the Texas Senate seat in District 12 in 1972.
Andujar became not only the first Republican sent by Tarrant County to the state legislature, but the first Republican woman in the Senate since Reconstruction.
“Democrats are the measles on the face of Texas politics,” said the spirited Andujar at the time. “Republicans are the gamma globulin.”
Andujar’s victory, however, wasn’t the start of an immediate turnover. Voters continued to prefer Democrats on the whole.
Ms. Mowery, who considered Andujar a mentor and chose her as her campaign chair for each of her political runs, was selected to replace Franklin Sears as Tarrant County Republican Chair in 1975. Of immediate concern to her, she said at the time, was rebuilding the party in Tarrant County.
Of landslide defeats by Republicans in 1974, Ms. Mowery said: “We got clobbered. We lost our shirt nationwide, and all we did in Texas was hang onto Sen. [John] Tower.”
In 1976, it wasn’t much better. Among the losers was Leonard, Mowery’s handpicked candidate for District 97, who fell short to incumbent Tom Schieffer.
Later that evening, according to newspaper reports, she ordered a young Republican supporter to take off a Nixon-Agnew campaign button the youth had pinned to one pocket of his shirt. It was left over from 1972. The youngster had torn his pocket, he said, and needed something to hold it up. The button was all he could find.
“I don’t care. Take it off and wear anything but that,” she said.
Said Ms. Mowery of Alan Steelman, who lost to Lloyd Bentsen: “I guess I’m not really too surprised. Alan’s problem is pure integrity. He has a real hangup about hedging his beliefs in any manner at all.”
Ms. Mowery’s focus was always on the future, said Leonard, who recalled her recruitment of him: “She set her sights on me and was relentless, and I was always appreciative.
“She was always loyal to people. I never saw her not be. Whatever she was doing, that’s what she was doing. She put everything into it. When she wanted something to happen, she went for it. I never saw her with a bad attitude about anything.”
Leonard, who came back to win in 1978, defeating Margaret Rimmer, returned the favor by endorsing Ms. Mowery in 1988.
As chairwoman, Ms. Mowery was also an advocate for single-member districts.
In 1976, she was a delegate for Ronald Reagan at the Republican National Convention in Kansas City. She chaired his campaign in Tarrant County in 1984, the same year she helped U.S. Rep. Joe Barton to his first election victory.
“I probably would not have been elected to Congress without her help,” said Barton, who said Mowery opened up her home for his campaign office in Tarrant County. “I developed a pretty good group of the who’s who in Tarrant County, and that was because of Anna Mowery, Betty Andujar, Rice Tilley and many others.
“Anna was a real dynamo.”
Other survivors include daughters Jeanette Mowery Heffernan and Marianne Fichera; a son, Tim Mowery; and four grandchildren.
“The two things my mom gave me was an unbigoted world view and a love of the written word,” Mark Mowery said. “Those two things are the greatest gift a parent can give a child.”