by Mel Dugosh
Ann Richards had only begun her political career when in 1977 she attended the now famous National Women’s Conference as a member of the Texas delegation. Commissioner Bella Abzug personally selected Richards to speak for the Equal Rights Amendment. "I rise on behalf of those few of us who are fortunate enough to be in the positions we are in," she remarked, "but also for those who are speechless and voiceless, the divorced who may not get credit and the widows who are incapable of making a living." By the end of the women’s conference her reputation was on the rise.
After successfully managing two legislative campaigns she challenged three-term incumbent Johnny Voudouris in the 1976 Democratic primary for Travis County commissioner and won the primary and general election, becoming the first woman to hold that office. Ms. Richards remained Travis County commissioner until 1982, when she was elected state treasurer. In 1988, she rose to national prominence after delivering the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention delivering the famous "Poor George..." speech. Two years later Ms. Richards at the age of 61 ran for governor of the State of Texas and after overcoming divorce, alcoholism, and drug dependency became the first woman since "Ma" Ferguson who served briefly after the death of her husband to govern of the state of Texas serving a single term.
Ms. Richards then worked as political consultant and remained devoted as a champion for civil rights for women, minorities, persons with disabilities, and the elderly. Her final wish for Texans was for opportunities to be available for all races, genders, and colors - providing a glimpse of what could happen in government if doors were opened to let the people in.
In her honor, the Austin based Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders was opened in 2007 and dedicates itself to prepare young women to attend and graduate from college, commit to a healthy and well-balanced lifestyle, lead with courage and compassion, and solve problems creatively and ethically in support of our global community.