John Will Odam

Portrait of John Will Odam No Headstone Photograph Available

Full Name: John Will Odam
Location: Section:Statesman's Meadow, Section 1 (E)
Row:S  Number:28
Reason for Eligibility: Member, Texas Youth Commission 
Birth Date: May 19, 1943 
Died: August 21, 2022 
Burial Date: November 7, 2022 

ODAM, JOHN WILL (1943 ~ 2022). The following is an obituary for John Odam, former member of the Texas Youth Commission. The obituary was published in the Austin-American Statesman on August 24, 2022. 

John Will Odam, Jr. (May 19, 1943-August 21, 2022)

A steadfast friend, gentle soul, passionate public servant and devoted husband, father and grandfather, John Odam died on August 21 after a long and noble battle with Parkinson’s Disease. He was surrounded by his children at his home in Wimberley overlooking the tranquil Blanco River in the same room where his beloved wife, Peggy, passed just five months earlier. Elvis Presley's rendition of "Always on My Mind," Peggy and John's special song, played as John left this world.

A proud third-generation Texan, whose fuzzy and hopeful genealogical math sometimes expanded that legacy to five generations, John was born in Abilene, the only child of John Will Odam and Nettie Eloise Odam née Morris.

With two working parents, a young John spent many of his days in the loving home of his maternal grandparents, George and Ethel Morris. When not playing games of make believe with friends, practicing piano or helping his father out at the filling station, John retreated to the grand movie houses of Abilene to watch “picture shows.”

His almost-70-year love affair with Elvis Presley, whom he would impersonate for decades to come, and a life in politics both blossomed when John lip-synced “Hound Dog” as part of his junior high student council campaign.

After graduating as Mr. Abilene High, John, who maintained close relationships with dozens of his classmates until his death, attended the University of Texas at Austin, where he was a member of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity, a brotherhood he nurtured until the end of his life. It was at UT where he met the love of his life, Peggy Kurtz, to whom he was married for 56 years.

John, who worked at the YMCA in East Austin as a UT student, moved with his new wife to Littleton, Co. following college graduation to run the YMCA before entering Officer Candidate School in the United States Army. Stationed at Fort Knox, he proudly served two years in the Army, teaching tank operations before retiring as a first lieutenant in 1968.

John attended Baylor University Law School on the GI Bill and served as editor-in-chief of the law review and graduated with honors. John and Peggy moved to Houston in 1971, and the couple welcomed their first child, Jennifer Paige, into the world in 1972.

After a brief stint working for Baker & Botts in Houston, John’s 50-year legal career took off in 1973, when he joined Texas Attorney General John Hill’s office. During his time in the AG’s office, John served as First Assistant Attorney General and argued in front of the United States Supreme Court. While in Austin, John and Peggy grew their family when son Matthew was born in 1975.

A return to Houston saw John become a partner at Fulbright & Jaworski, where Colonel Leon Jaworski personally took the Texas State Bar’s 1976 Outstanding Young Lawyer under his wing.

Odam divided his time between law and politics starting in the 1980s, when he was elected Chairman of the Harris County Democratic Party, serving from 1982 to 1984. That decade also saw Odam serve as special assistant to Houston mayor Kathy Whitmire and special legislative counsel for Texas Governor Mark White.

John’s private practice legal career was marked most notably by his time as partner in the Houston firms of Helm, Pletcher, Hogan, Bown & Saunders, and Beirne, Maynard & Parsons. He ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for Texas Attorney General in 1990, a historic campaign highlighted by his travels to each of the state’s 254 county courthouses, and for United States Senate in 1996.

Odam remained an active and optimistic participant in Democratic politics throughout his life, including working as a volunteer with Peggy on Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns. Odam also served on the Texas Youth Commission, to which he was appointed by Governor Ann Richards. The Abilene native’s life in public service was capped by his work as general counsel in the Harris County Attorney’s Office.

In addition to his paid work, Odam volunteered much of his time to his community, serving as a deacon at South Main Baptist Church, on the Houston Parks Board, and as a board member of the Houston Area Parkinson Society. He also found great purpose and camaraderie through his participation in the American Leadership Forum.

An avid runner and fixture at Memorial Park throughout the 80s and 90s, Odam, who completed 14 marathons, once held a streak of running at least a mile every day for more than 20 years, a feat commemorated by local TV news in Houston.

When he was not running for office or at the park with friends, Odam could often be found reading (or writing) a book. He chronicled his historic courthouse trek around the Lone Star State with his political memoir, “Courtin’ Texas,” and penned the novel “The Candidate Conspiracy,” a globe-hopping 2008 political thriller centered around corrupt foreign influence on U.S. politics.

Odam’s love of law, letters, politics, lifelong friends and Elvis always took a back seat to the greatest loves of his life: his wife, children and grandchildren. John was a constantly reliable husband and father whose support for family was unquestioned, and whose pride in his children was shared with everyone in his Rolodex.

Family vacations in which John fancied himself a real-life Clark Griswold defined each summer for the Odam family for decades, and holidays spent at first in cabins and later the family home in Wimberley represented some of his warmest memories. Paw Paw was a regular fixture at football games and recitals and regularly shared his love of Texas by taking his grandsons on trips to visit historical sites like the Alamo.

John is survived by his daughter, Jennifer Paige Odam Barnett; son, Matthew Kurtz Odam; son-in-law Chip Barnett; daughter-in-law Elizabeth Manieri-Odam; grandchildren Charlie Barnett, Spencer Barnett, Luke Barnett and Rose Manieri-Odam; first cousins Sandra Morrison and Richard Emery; and numerous other cousins.

The family would like to thank the loving care and attention of the professionals at Blue Bonnet Palliative Care of Wimberley, Comfort Keepers of San Marcos and Family Tree Private Care of Houston.

A celebration of John Odam’s life is planned for 2 p.m. September 3 at South Main Baptist Church in Houston, with a reception at the church to follow. A burial service at the Texas State Cemetery will be planned for the early fall.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made in John Odam’s name to the Houston Area Parkinson Society.

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