Fort Worth

Obituary: Betty Fischer, Tarrant County Democratic leader

Betty Jean Fischer was the first woman elected to chair the Tarrant County Democratic Party in 1982.
Betty Jean Fischer was the first woman elected to chair the Tarrant County Democratic Party in 1982. Courtesy

Betty Fischer was a force to be reckoned with.

Whether at her kitchen table, surrounded by volunteers known as the “Betty brigade,” or at the local Democratic Party headquarters, Mrs. Fischer worked for decades to make sure people had the right to vote — and had diverse candidates to choose from on the ballot.

“She was the real deal,” former Tarrant County Democratic Chairman Steve Maxwell said. “She didn’t just preach it. She just did it.”

Mrs. Fischer, who helped usher local leaders including Martin Frost and Lon Burnam into political office, died Monday. She was 83.

She was praised for her efforts to register thousands of voters and for her work in a federal lawsuit that led to single-member House districts, which opened the door for more Tarrant County minorities being elected to office.

“She was a Democrat’s Democrat,” said Deborah Peoples, who now heads the Tarrant County Democratic Party. “She was always there with this quiet leadership.

“She will be so very much missed.”

‘Rabble-rouser’

She was born July 15, 1932, to Edna and William Harley Tumlinson in Liberty Hill. She grew up and went to school in Manor. That’s where she met her future husband, John Nile Fischer.

They moved to Tarrant County in 1950 and settled in Arlington in 1958 with their three children.

Mrs. Fischer quickly became politically active, volunteering with the Tarrant County Democratic Party and in 1982, becoming the first woman to chair the party. She served as party chairwoman until 1988 and afterward continued to be an active member.

“She was beyond just being a housewife and mother,” said her son, J. Nile Fischer. He remembers block-walking with his mom to let residents know there was no longer a poll tax to vote.

“She was a great mom and a great cook, a wonderful wife and a good neighbor.

“But she was also a rabble-rouser, a political activist and a mentor to many people who later served in Congress or the statehouse or on the staffs of elected officials,” he said. “Many people who went to work for Martin Frost cut their teeth on political campaigns with her.”

If not for Mrs. Fischer, former U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, D-Fort Worth, said, he would not have been elected to Congress.

Arlington was a Republican stronghold but was key to the congressional seat Frost sought, which stretched from Fort Worth to Dallas. She helped make Arlington competitive even in the general election, he said.

“Her specialty was grassroots politics: precinct walks, going door-to-door . . . the lost art of politics,” Frost said. “She was the mentor for a whole generation of young political operatives who learned their winning ways from Betty Fischer.

“For the Democratic Party in our area, if she wasn’t the most important person, she was certainly one of them. She blazed a trail.”

And she wasn’t just a political adviser, Frost said. “She was a friend.”

Either Mrs. Fischer or her husband was the chair of Precinct 2147 in Arlington from the mid-1960s until 2006, the family said.

‘A true leader’

To former state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, she was a political mother.

“She took me under her wing,” he said. “I fell in love with her, she fell in love with me. And she essentially adopted me.”

The two had known each other for two decades by the time he ran for office, Burnam said, but he said it was Mrs. Fischer’s involvement — and her old-school organizational information on 3-by-5 index cards — that was essential to his campaign.

Matt Angle was among those who, when they first began working in politics, were told to go to work with Mrs. Fischer.

“She showed us all the basics of organizing,” said Angle, a longtime Texas Democratic activist. “She made sure the party was communicating with Democratic activists and she made sure their time was being spent well.

“Betty understood how to direct people so that if they were knocking on doors, they were saying the right things, talking to the right people and doing things that would make a difference in the election.”

Lisa Turner spent many hours with Mrs. Fischer, learning the ropes of campaigning.

“She was a true leader,” said Turner, a local Democratic political consultant. “All those people who worked with Betty Fischer would tell you they are better because of her.”

In addition to her son, survivors include daughters Danna Fischer of Arlington, Va., and Rhonda McDonald of Arlington; five grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

Anna Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

Service

6 p.m. Dec. 19 at River Legacy Living Science Center, 703 N.W. Green Oaks Blvd. in Arlington.

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