Walter Richter, RIP

Walter Richter, a neighbor who lived one block north of me and onetime member of the State Senate, has died. I never knew him very well–we’d say hi when he’d be out walking his little dogs. His wifewidow Dorothy–known as the Mayor of Hyde Park–is quite a character, and I imagine that in his day, Walter was too.

Later I just received the following obituary. I’m afraid I don’t know the source for attribution.

Walter H. Richter, former Texas state senator, died September 8, 2003, at his Austin home. Walter Hoppe Richter was born September 17, 1916, in the Double Horn community southeast of Marble Falls, Texas. Four months before Richter’s birth, his father, Walter Herman Richter, died accidentally. Richter and his sister Esther Marie were raised by their mother, Bertha Lenore Hoppe Richter, and grandfather, George Hoppe, on the family homestead, which had been settled in the mid- 1800’s by their German immigrant ancestors. The family survived the Great Depression through subsistence farming, cotton picking, perseverance, and frugality. After graduating from Marble Falls High School in 1934, Richter attended Southwest Texas State Teacher’s College (now Texas State University). He became a member of the White Stars, a secret campus political organization (of which Lyndon Johnson was a founding member). Richter was elected editor of the school newspaper and student body president. He received a B. A. in 1938 and an M. A. in 1939. After graduation, Richter organized and ran the journalism department at his alma mater, receiving a B. J. degree from the University of Texas in 1942.

In 1938, Richter met first-year student Dorothy Jean Sample of Stockdale, Texas: “I was a smart alec graduate student at the time and my reaction was Wow!” They were married June 14, 1941.

During World War II, Richter served in the Navy as a supply officer in Ipitanga, Brazil. After the war, he purchased a small-town newspaper, The Stockdale Star, of which he was publisher and editor from 1948 to 1951. From 1950 to 1954, Richter worked for the Steck Publishing Company of Austin, traveling throughout West Texas helping high schools develop yearbooks. In 1954, Richter went to work for Gonzales Warm Springs Foundation, a physical rehabilitation center, serving as Executive Director until 1962.

Elected to the Texas State Senate in 1962, Richter served during the 1963 and 1965 legislative sessions. He sponsored legislation leading to the creation of the Texas Department on Aging.

After leaving the Senate, Richter was appointed by Governor John Connally to lead President Lyndon Johnson’s “war on poverty” in Texas as Director of the Texas Office of Economic Opportunity. One year later, Johnson appointed Richter to head the five-state Southwest Region of the OEO.

Subsequently, Richter lectured at the University of Texas School of Social Work on social policy, social change, and the legislative process, while heading the Community Council of Austin and Travis County. Later, Governor Preston Smith appointed Richter director of the newly created State Program on Drug Abuse.

In 1970-1971, Governor Smith appointed Richter chairman of the Texas delegation to the White House Conference on Children and Youth. President Jimmy Carter appointed Richter to serve on the U. S. Architectural and Transportation Compliance Board, which was charged with making all federal buildings accessible to the handicapped. Richter also served as co-chairman of the Texas Environmental Coalition, one of the earliest volunteer organizations to work towards protection of the state’s environment. He actively supported and served as statewide president of United Cerebral Palsy of Texas. He served for a decade as Chairman of the Government Relations Committee of the Texas Social Welfare Association, currently the United Way of Texas.

After years of government service, Richter served as Director of Government Relations (“lobbyist”) for the Association of Texas Electric Cooperatives until his “retirement” in 1985 at age 69. After retirement, Richter, recruited by Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower, served one year as Deputy Agriculture Commissioner. Richter also served as Chairman of the Travis County Democratic party and co-authored a book of political humor with Chuck Herring: Don’t Throw Feathers at Chickens.

Honors include the following: Distinguished Alumnus, Southwest Texas State University; naming at SWTSU The Walter H. Richter Institute of Social Work Research; Public Citizen of the Year, Austin Unit of the National Association of Social Workers; recipient of the first Walter Richter Humanitarian Award of the SWTSU Alumni Association; recipient, Marble Falls Centennial City Father Award; Lifetime Achievement Award, Marble Falls/Horseshoe Bay Chamber of Commerce; Citizen of the Year, Gonzales Chamber of Commerce.

Richter was a member of Lions International for over 60 years and numerous other organizations. As a lover of people he participated in and organized reunions and gatherings throughout his life. Being a journalist at heart, he continued to write columns and newsletters at every opportunity. His personal papers have been donated to the University of Texas History Center.

Family survivors include a wife, Dorothy Jean Richter of Austin; a daughter, Robyn Richter of Marble Falls; a son, Gary Richter, his wife, Susan Wukasch, and their daughter, Molly Richter, of Georgetown; a nephew, Carl Weaver of Fredericksburg. Private burial was at the Texas State Cemetery on September 12, 2003.