Admirers of former Gov. Ann Richards pay respects to `a force of nature' who `gave it her all'

Monday, September 18th 2006, 3:40 pm
By: News On 6

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) _ Celebrities and ordinary Texans gathered Monday for a final farewell to former Gov. Ann Richards, likening her to a rock star and a force of nature who ``gave it her all every single minute of every single day.''

Thousands of admirers streamed into the Frank Erwin Events Center at the University of Texas, a cavernous building usually used for basketball games and rock concerts. Two huge photographs of Richards in her political prime hung on each side of the stage.

Richards, a Democrat known for her big, frosty white hair, died of esophageal cancer Wednesday at 73. She was governor from 1991-95 and was remembered for her sharp wit and dedication to fighting for women and minorities.

The star-studded memorial service featured Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, former San Antonio Mayor and Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros and Texas-born gossip columnist Liz Smith.

``Going out with Ann in public was like being with a rock star,'' Smith said, as she cracked up the audience with funny Richards anecdotes. ``Ann Richards was the most alive person I have ever known in my life. Let's keep her that way.''

Richards was ``the smartest, funniest and strongest woman that many of us ever knew,'' Kirk said as he opened the music-filled service. Many in the crowd applauded before a gospel choir broke into song.

Clinton said when she first met Richards she thought, ``I had just met another force of nature. I already lived with one.''

``Some people are so afraid of failing they never try,'' but not Richards, Clinton said. ``She tried. She gave it her all every single minute of every single day.''

Former Commerce Secretary Don Evans attended on behalf of President Bush.

Richards' electoral loss to Bush when she sought a second term in 1994 signaled the Republican takeover of Texas politics.

Richards was buried during a private service earlier Monday at the Texas State Cemetery. Singer Nanci Griffith performed and actress Lily Tomlin attended, family spokesman Bill Crier said.

All weekend, mourners paying their respects at her casket at the Texas Capitol described her as a role model for young women and recalled her sense of humor.

``She was a grande dame,'' said Creighton Bailey, 39, who moved to Austin shortly before Richards was elected governor in 1990. ``She was one of the most cordial women you'd ever hope to meet. She also was very funny.''

Former President Bill Clinton paid tribute to Richards on Saturday as a woman who had ``a big heart, big dreams, did big deeds.''

In the Capitol on Sunday, a black sash was draped atop Richards' official portrait. Beneath the painting, some admirers placed yellow roses and sunflowers and a copy of the serenity prayer used in Alcoholics Anonymous. Richards was candid about her 1980 treatment for alcoholism.