Former Harris County Attorney and admired politico Mike Driscoll passed away this week. While you will hear many tributes and appropriate statements, none of them will capture the spirit and laughter of a much beloved civic leader.
Mike Driscoll genuinely loved public service. He believed it was the highest honor to be trusted by the public to work for us. He put 100% of himself into the job and sought to share his passion with anyone he met. His passion infected so many others that you can see his touch across many elected and civic leaders in Houston today.
Mike Driscoll was also passionate about young people. I was incredibly blessed to meet him when I was in high school and volunteering for my neighborhood State Representative, Tony Polumbo. Mike ribbed me a little and told me that I was weird to be so interested in politics at such a young age. However, he saw the spark and latched on. He was a Justice of the Peace at the time and I had not ever met anyone quite like him.
When I headed off to college, I told him that my professors didn’t believe I should major in Political Science without getting a teaching certificate. He told me to stick with my plan. Please remember that these were the days before social media and email. It took actual phone calls or in person meetings to connect. In my 18 year old mind, he was an elected official and took time for me and encouraged me. As I progressed in my college career and became ever more politically active, he supported me all the way through. Then, he offered to come up and speak to one of my programs and visit with a few of my Professors. I was so touched and overwhelmed.
He did come and spoke to a group, a couple of classes and visited with my Profs. He told them they should support my degree plan because leaders in Houston supported my path and that he knew I would work in politics. Can you imagine how this felt for a young woman trying to bust the barriers of “girls don’t belong in this business”? You cannot imagine how empowering it was for me. It also became a goal of mine to live up to these expectations that “Judge Mike” and “Rep. Tony” placed on me.
And I am just one of hundreds of young people that Mike touched. When he was elected County Attorney in 1980, he hired a team of young, aggressive lawyers and staff to help him transform the office of County Attorney. Vince Ryan, the current Harris County Attorney, was one of them along with several people on his staff. Dana Kervin, Chief Political Officer of the Houston Association of REALTORS, was a staff assistant to Mike. He believed in the enthusiasm and dedication of young people and helped many of us on a life-long path in the business of politics.
Mike Driscoll also taught us that good public service meant working with everyone. He said that once you were in office, the issues are the public’s issues and not about party. Of course, he governed in a different time when getting the business of government done was more important than posturing and positioning. As a Democrat, he worked with the Republicans on Commissioners Court peacefully and with integrity. Don’t get me wrong though, outside the courthouse, he was a true Democrat and supported strongly other Democratic nominees.
Mike also taught us about integrity. He would always tell us to do “what is right for the people”. He said that we should always operate in the people’s interest, working ethically and honestly. His own integrity was impeccable.
This especially came true as he battled his diagnoses of Parkinson’s disease. He completed his time in office and dedicated himself to staring down the challenges of his illness. He handled it with his usual sense of humor, integrity and commitment to doing all he could to get better.
While I never worked for Mike Driscoll, his support and commitment have always touched my life. I have been blessed to know him.
Rest in peace Mike!