She was small in stature, but cast a giant shadow. When former tax assessor-collector June Garrison died recently at the age of 92, I was reminded of just how large that shadow was in Tarrant County.
She was a woman of firsts: the first women ever elected tax assessor-collector of Tarrant County; the first Republican to hold the office since the Civil War; and the tax assessor who greatly advanced the electronic modernization of the tax office, including introducing labor-saving devices like high-speed check imaging and expanded automation of documents and processes.
She helped usher in the first independent consolidated tax collection software platform; greatly expanded the number of cities and school districts for which the county tax assessor-collector collects; was the first to accept checks for payment in lieu of cash (how quaint); and welcomed the first IT support team dedicated to the tax office.
She also created the consolidated customer service center that is still in use today. True, tax offices everywhere were destined to modernize and computerize, but it would not have happened in Tarrant County the way it happened without June Garrison.
While she insisted on a certain level of formality when employees addressed her in the tax office, to me she was simply June. She was always ready to greet me with a smile and a hug anytime she saw me, a practice she continued after I became tax assessor-collector.
When she was in office, I would see her several times each year in social settings or at political events. She remained very popular with voters and Republican voters in particular, until her retirement at the end of her fourth term. Former U. S. Congressman Richard Armey, who represented parts of Tarrant County for many years and would become the Majority Leader in Congress, used to joke that his goal in every election was not to merely beat his opponent, but to get more votes in the Tarrant County portion of his district than June Garrison. He never succeeded. For most years in which she ran for election, she was one of the top vote-getters in the county.
Her election in 1984 was a surprise to most people and to some extent an accident of history. Although Republicans had made inroads with some legislative offices, beginning with State Sen. Betty Andujar in 1972, the Democratic Party had a lock on county offices. Nobody predicted the county would flip that year and begin the transition to one of the reddest counties in the nation, but it did. Nobody thought that Ronald Reagan’s coattails would extend down to the county level, but they did. And nobody thought that June Garrison would be such an effective campaigner, but she was.
All of us, to some extent, stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. That is certainly true in the office of tax assessor- collector. Since the Texas Legislature combined the offices of county tax assessor and county tax collector in 1935, there have been only five who served Tarrant County. John Bourland served from 1935 to 1949, the legendary Reed Stewart from 1949 to 1985, June Garrison from 1985 to 2001, and Betsy Price from 2001 to 2011. I have been honored to hold the office since May 2011.
Each of us in different ways changed the office and contributed to its success. Still, it is impossible to work in the tax office today and not encounter a policy or process begun under June Garrison.
June was a tiny force of nature, and the office of tax assessor-collector and Tarrant County are better for her having been here. She will not be soon forgotten. Requiescat in pace.
Ron Wright is the outgoing Tarrant County tax assessor-collector.