EHRLE, WILLIAM LAWRENCE (1932 ~ 2002)
The following obituary was taken from the Austin American-Statesman, December 1, 2002.
William Lawrence Ehrle, Sr., a lawyer, State Representative, and leader of the manufactured housing industry in Texas and the nation, cut a wide swath across the legal and political landscape for much of the last 50 years. As a State Representative he served with notables such as the late Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, former Senate Parliamentarian Robert Johnson, and former Representative and State District Judge Robert Hughes. While serving in the State Legislature, Ehrle attended law school and in 1961 received his degree from the University of Texas at Austin.
Friends recall that Will Ehrle's greatest legislative achievement came in the 1961 session shortly after the state first reached a spending level of one billion dollars a year, and needed more money. Texas clearly faced a huge financial problem. Then Governor Price Daniel and several legislators opposed any new taxes. One group led by Representative Bob Eckhardt of Houston (later Congressman) proposed that Texas tax several Northeastern states which were receiving natural gas from Texas by pipeline.
Will Ehrle, one of the Legislature's best orators, jumped to the House floor every time Bob Eckhardt did, telling all who would listen that a Texas tax on New Jersey or New York would be unconstitutional. After several special sessions, the 1961 Legislature agreed with Representative Ehrle and passed the state's first sales tax (2%). Looking back, that tax clearly was one of the most significant bills ever passed. The sales tax has been the chief source for state financing for more than 40 years. Representative Ehrle's legislative friends who helped pass the sales tax included Ben Barnes (later Speaker and Lt. Governor), Charles Wilson (later Congressman), Jim Nugent (later Railroad Commissioner), Rayford Price (later Speaker), Gus Mutscher (later Speaker) and Byron Tunnell (later Speaker and Railroad Commissioner).
Because of his leadership role in passing the sales tax, many legislators quickly pledged Will Ehrle to be Speaker of the 1963 session. However, after redistricting Ehrle decided to retire from the Legislature and enter the private sector. After leaving the Legislature, Ehrle kept busy as Assistant General Counsel for Lone Star Gas Company in Dallas, President and Chief Executive Officer of Coaches of America Life Insurance Company in Dallas and El Paso, and in private practice as an attorney in Austin.
One of his clients was the Texas Manufactured Housing Association, and on January 1, 1978, he was hired as President and General Counsel for that association, a position he held until his retirement on December 31, 2001. In his role as President and General Counsel, Ehrle re-wrote the entire body of law governing manufactured housing at both the state and national levels. A visionary, Ehrle had a destination for where the industry should be in the state and the nation, and through his intelligence, determination and eloquence was able to lead the industry to a place of prominence. Through his innovative concepts, he took a disparate association that was near collapse in 1978 and turned it into the premier manufactured housing association in the nation and one of the strongest trade associations in Texas.
He also took a leading role in organizing a national trade association that represents all facets of the manufactured housing industry. Ehrle was particularly proud that the association abolished the retail sales tax on manufactured homes back in the early 1980s, which finally equated manufactured housing to site-built homes.
He relied on his credibility with lawmakers and industry leaders, "When you're involved in the political world and legislative process, the only thing you have going is your credibility. Your word has to be good," Ehrle said. Will Ehrle's word was his bond. Ehrle exemplified loyalty to those around him. He grew up in a time when a friend was a friend for life, despite changes in circumstance or location. He was respected and trusted by legislators, industry leaders and his employees, many of whom followed him from his law office to the Manufactured Housing Association and stayed with him until his retirement. In a time when relationships are sometimes only for convenience, Will Ehrle's friendships were deep and lasting commitments.
A cum laude graduate of McMurry College in Abilene with a double major in Government and English, Ehrle also attended undergraduate school at Kemper Military School in Booneville, Missouri, and the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1953 to 1956.
Among his many professional affiliations were the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Bar Association, Texas Bar Association, Travis County Bar Association, Southwestern Legal Foundation and Texas Legal Reserve Officials Association and was recently inducted into the Manufactured Housing Heritage Foundation Hall of Fame, Elkhart, Indiana. Long-time friend and confidante Bob Bullock was the master of ceremonies at Will and Sandy Ehrle's 25th wedding anniversary party in 1987. Bullock and Ehrle served together in the Texas Legislature in the 1950s, and theirs was a very close relationship until Governor Bullock's death in 1999.