Donley C. Kennard, a prominent longtime Texas lawmaker and a nationally known conservationist, died peacefully in Austin on Thursday, March 17, 2011, after a lengthy illness, culminating in heart failure. He was born on May 6, 1929, in Houston, Texas, the only child of Don and Clayton "Honey" Hancock.
At thirteen, he moved with his family to Fort Worth, where he was a star center on the Arlington Heights High School football team. He won an athletic scholarship to North Texas University. He also attended TCU, and holds a BBA degree from The University of Texas at Austin. While in college, he married his first wife and high school sweetheart, Jackie Porterfield (now deceased). Their daughter, Karen was born in 1954. His father was an avid outdoorsman, and taught Don to appreciate nature. Through his mother's gentle influence he learned that all people should be treated equally with kindness and compassion. He spoke of a wonderful high school history teacher, Miss Garrett, who sparked his life-long interest in history. These early life-lessons informed his political decisions throughout his career. His interest in history and government, and his desire to make a difference, led him to run for the Texas House of Representatives in 1952, while he was a senior at The University of Texas.
He won, and represented Fort Worth for 10 years in the House. He ran for the Texas Senate in 1962, and served for another decade in Senate District 10. Senator Kennard was particularly noted for his environmental and conservation efforts. He originally secured cigarette taxes dedicated to the acquisition and preservation of state parks. Texas Parks and Wildlife recently honored him at a meeting of the Commission for that action which, over the years, has provided tens of millions of dollars in funding of the state's parks. He also was called the "filibuster champion", once filibustering for 29 hours and 22 minutes, not stopping until he had the votes he needed to create The University of Texas at Arlington.
An honest and pragmatic liberal, he often allied with business leaders on important issues. While in office he was ahead of his time in his focus on such causes as civil rights, environmental issues, conservation of natural areas, and historic preservation. Between Texas legislative sessions, he ran Congressman Jim Wright's office as Administrative Assistant in Washington, D. C. Senator Kennard campaigned with John F. Kennedy in 1960, and was a colleague and great friend of Congressman Charlie Wilson, Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, Governor Ann Richards, Speaker of the House Jim Wright, and many other notable Texans. After he left the Senate ("by popular demand", as he liked to say), he established and was the Director of The Natural Areas Surveys with the LBJ School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas in Austin. The extensive reports from these studies ultimately led to the preservation of Enchanted Rock and several other natural Texas areas.
In 1974 Don married his second wife, Mary Jo Kederis Williams, and became the stepfather of Eric Williams and Paige Williams Smith. He is "Grandpa Donnie" to six: Daniel Kennard Gordon -- Aimee, Jack, and Ethan Williams -- Vivian and Oliver Smith. In his capacity as a consultant associated with public relations firm, Read-Poland, Inc., Don moved his family to the Washington, D. C. area in 1979. In 1980, he was appointed to the New Jersey Pinelands Commission by U. S. Secretary of the Interior, Cecil Andrus.
It had always been his dream to own and restore a historically significant property. In 1980, the Kennards moved to Charles Town, West Virginia, where they purchased a derelict, but historically important Washington family home. Beallair, the Greek Revival home of Lewis William Washington, a great nephew of George Washington, played a major role in John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859. Additionally, the Kennards were co-owners of Indian Hot Springs, an historic site on the Rio Grande in Trans-Pecos Texas, where Don periodically hosted fellow legislators and clients for educational conservation and preservation forums.
In 2003, as Don's health was failing, the Kennards returned to the Austin area to be near their children and grandchildren. Don was preceded in death by his parents, Don and Clayton Kennard, and his first wife, Jackie Porterfield Kennard. He is survived by his wife, Mary Jo, his daughter, Karen Gordon and husband, Dr. Leo Gordon of Weimar, Texas, son, Eric Austin Williams and wife, Melanie Castro Williams of Austin; daughter, Paige Williams Smith and husband Keith Smith of Austin; grandchildren, Daniel Gordon; Aimee, Jack and Ethan Williams; Vivian and Oliver Smith. Memorial services will be held at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, March 26, 2011 at Weed-Corley-Fish North Lamar Chapel followed by inurnment at Texas State Cemetery.