A thousand hands moved together in the sign of the holy cross Sunday night as state and local leaders paid tribute to longtime Texas Sen. Mario Gallegos.
Some held rosary beads as they prayed for the Houston Democrat, remembering him as a "warrior" for education and Hispanic issues during his 22-year career in the Texas Legislature. Gallegos, 62, died Tuesday from complications of liver disease.
Members of the Houston Fire Department stood by Gallegos' casket in dress blue uniforms to honor his two decades of service before his rise into state politics. Hundreds of other visitors weaved down the aisles at the University of Houston's Cullen Performance Hall waiting patiently to greet the senator's family.
The ceremony opened with relatives receiving a framed letter of condolences sent from President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.
Mostly the night was one of sharing stories and remembering "the bulldog of the East End" or "the godfather of Hispanic politics."
Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, recalled standing next to Gallegos in 1990 as they both took their first oaths of office and joined the state House of Representatives. Later, Harris County would elect Gallegos to be its first Hispanic senator.
"I can't imagine a Senate without Mario Gallegos," said Van de Putte.
The crowd laughed at stories of Gallegos yelling on the Senate floor to defend a position. Some nodded when reminded that he defied doctors' orders to rest after a liver transplant in 2007 and had a bed set up in the state capitol so he could vote against a proposed voter identification law.
"He really fought for those that have no voice," Van de Putte said.
Van de Putte was reminded of that point earlier in the day when a hotel worker sent to her room noticed the state seal on her bag. He spoke fondly of Gallegos.
"He said that Mario was firm and strong and pushed his people forward," Van de Putte said. "That summed it up."
Gallegos also was known for his directness.
State Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, remarked that when he made phone calls he rarely said "hello," always jumping straight to the question on his mind.
Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst agreed Gallegos was blunt, but respected him for it.
Dewhurst recalled visiting Gallegos in the hospital recently. Drugs were keeping the senator asleep, though he sometimes stirred when a friend or family member whispered to him. That's how Dewhurt heard Gallegos' last words.
"He asked, 'How are you?'?" Dewhurst said.
"In pain, knowing that his time was short on Earth, that his time was short with his family, he was thinking of others," Dewhurst said. "To me that shows a lifetime of concern about the other person."
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