Former State Representative Ruth Jones McClendon died Tuesday morning.
McClendon, a Democrat, served in the Texas Legislature for more than 20 years, representing the predominately African-American Eastside of San Antonio and parts of Bexar County, before resigning from her seat in January 2016 due to health reasons.
While the cause of her death is unknown, the former state legislator was in declining health. She often used a wheelchair during her legislative term. McClendon was also a lung cancer survivor after completing treatment in 2009.
McClendon served as District 2 councilwoman on the San Antonio City Council from 1993 to 1996. She was elected to the Texas House in 1996 via special election. She won every election afterwards with at least 85 percent of the vote.
House District 120 Representative Barbara Gervin-Hawkins now sits in the seat after winning in 2016 and says McClendon was well respected by members of the legislature.
“My first year here in session, there wasn’t a week that went by that one of her colleagues that served with her did not come to me with a story about they felt about her, about how they held her up high, as well how she worked initiatives with them,” she said.
McClendon served in several House committees, including appropriations and transportation. In 2015, she authored a bill that created the Timothy Cole Exoneration Commission, which examines DNA exonerations to determine if any mistakes were made in criminal prosecutions that led to convictions.
San Antonio’s District 2 and Texas House District 120 overlap, and both have a significant African-American populations. Incumbent District 2 Councilman William “Cruz” Shaw said McClendon was a “truly dynamic, brilliant and selfless public servant.”
“The Honorable Ruth Jones McClendon spent most of her life fighting for our most vulnerable citizens as a champion for our children, our seniors and everyone in between,” he said. “Although our hearts are heavy, we know that Mrs. McClendon’s legacy will live on forever.
“Through her life in public service, she touched so many lives and worked tirelessly to uplift the voices of those who far too often have felt voiceless.”
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the city is in better shape because of the work McClendon did on City Council and in the Texas Legislature.
“As a Democrat in a Republican-controlled Legislature, McClendon managed to land on the House Appropriations Committee under two Republican speakers. She was a strong voice for San Antonio and her district,” he said. “She wielded power gently but effectively. McClendon was a statewide force on transportation while also working to address the needs of the state’s poorest citizens.”
Gervin-Hawkins is former superintendent of the K-12 George Gervin Academy charter school, which recently opened the Ruth Jones McClendon Learning Academy to educate its middle school students. She says McClendon was a role model for the community.
“We have to begin to honor, particularly, our African-American leaders in a way that our young people can gain that sense of pride that I think will improve their life and their perspective on society,” she said.
Several Texas politicians at the state and national level offered their condolences of the loss of McClendon.
Ruth Jones McClendon was a tireless fighter for justice...a person of principle and decency. Each of us who served w/ her was inspired by her integrity and tenacity. #txlege pic.twitter.com/EgUehmwEnb
— Joe Straus (@SpeakerStraus) December 19, 2017
Rest in Peace Representative Ruth Jones McClendon. We thank her for her years of service. #txlege
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) December 19, 2017
— Leticia Van de Putte (@leticiavdp) December 19, 2017
Deeply saddened by the news of Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon's passing. Ruth was a dedicated public servant and champion to the people of San Antonio. Her leadership and bravery will be greatly missed. My thoughts and prayers go out to her family and loved ones during this time.
— Joaquin Castro (@JoaquinCastrotx) December 19, 2017
Joey Palacios can be reached at Joey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules