Ray Farabee, a conservative Democrat who built a reputation for intelligence, fairness and hard work during 14 years in the Texas Senate, died Thursday in his Austin home.
Farabee, 81, began his career as a Wichita Falls lawyer and resumed his legal career after leaving the Senate in 1988, when he joined the University of Texas System as general counsel and vice chancellor. After retiring in 2000, he served as chairman of the board for KUT, secretary of the Access to Justice Foundation and as a founding board member for the Center for Public Policy Priorities.
Farabee was “a brilliant, dedicated leader and a truly charming man,” said Ann Beeson, executive director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities. “He was an expert in procedures and governance and a master of political history.”
His self-published book, “Ray Farabee: Making It Through the Night and Beyond,” recalled his home birth, six weeks premature, in Depression-era Wichita Falls — and the doctor’s pronouncement that he wouldn’t live until morning. Beating the odds would become something of a trademark.
In the Senate, Farabee championed organ transplant legislation, public school reform and extensive improvements to juvenile justice and the state’s mental health system. Known as a straight shooter, adding his name as a bill sponsor was coveted as a seal of approval.
Texas Monthly named Farabee to its Best Legislator list five times, lauding him as the most respected member of the Legislature and “the sort of person who gives politics a good name.”
“Remarkable above all for his fairness,” the magazine wrote in 1985. “Never has a hidden agenda, never gets petty, never tries to get even, never overlooks the weak and helpless.”
He married twice, in 1958 to Helen Rehbein, who died in 1988, and in 1991 to Mary Margaret Albright, who died last year.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Dec. 5 in the Capitol’s Senate Chamber. Farabee will be buried in a private ceremony at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.