Remembering Former Lawmaker Ray Farabee's Life of Service

Dec 4, 2014

Credit KUT

The Texas Capitol will take on a somber mood Friday, as friends and family take time to honor the life of Former Texas State Senator and KUT Board Member Kenneth "Ray" Farabee. A memorial will be held in the Senate chamber Friday, December 5 at 2 pm. Farabee died at his Austin home on November 20. He was 81.

Farabee was born and raised in Wichita Falls, Texas, at the base of the High Plains.

But it was in Austin where he would make his mark, first as a leader in student government at the University of Texas at Austin and later in the Texas Senate.

"He was the kind of person you'd like to think you've sent to the Senate when you elect someone," says longtime Texas political columnist Dave McNeely. 

McNeely said Farabee helped lead the Senate at a time when the legislature was passing landmark ethics and oversight legislation in the wake of the Sharpstown government scandal.

"He was a thoughtful guy. He was a gentle and straightforward guy," McNeely says. "But he could reach across the aisle. He was tough when he needed to be, but he never was a disagreeable kind of guy."

It's that "reaching across the aisle" part that meant a lot to Cyndi Taylor Krier. Krier, a Republican, was in the Texas Senate with Farabee, a Democrat, in the mid to late 1980s. At the time, Krier was one of only six Republicans in the Senate.

"Had he wanted to, they could have just ignored the Republicans in the Senate, but that's not how he approached things," Krier says.

Krier remembers Farabee didn't label people by their party affiliation. and instead focused on what was the best legislation for Texas. Max Sherman saw that side of Farabee when the two served together in the Senate, a trait he displayed with one bill in particular.

"He was author ... of the Natural Death Act. And that was to say, the person who's dying ought to have some say in their death. And I think he carried that through in his own death just recently," Sherman says.

Krier said Farabee was a hard worker in the Senate, who always tried to get the job done, whether it was shepherding a bill to the governor's desk or, as in one instance, continuing to hold a committee hearing even while protestors had stormed the Capitol and disrupted most other work.

Sen. Farabee's headshot from the Texas Capitol

"Most of the other committees just quit work and called for the Capitol Police to come rescue them and the senators were moved out," Krier recalls. "Chairman Farabee instead kept on working and kept on calling on bills, and the folks that were already in the committee room would come up and testify, and votes would be taken."

While the Capitol tends to define a person by their legislative legacy, Max Sherman believes Farabee would also want to be remembered as a good lawyer.

"Because he practiced law in Wichita Falls for 18 or 19 years before he came to the Senate. And he left the Senate to be a lawyer. He became the general council of the University of Texas System. And he did that very, very well," Sherman says.

Former UT-Austin President and UT-System Chancellor William Cunningham says Farabee was a great lawyer.

He says Farabee had the ability to handle any complex legal issues that came before him. And Cunningham often and eagerly sought advice from Farabee on a range of topics. The two would meet for lunch with friends about once a month in recent years.

Farabee and his late wife Mary Margaret at KUT
Credit Paul Woodruff

"And it was so much fun. We dealt with all the major problems that society seems to face. And we had answers to all those problems. But, I don't think anybody really paid much attention. But it wasn't that we were not still trying to pitch the ball," Cunningham says.

He says Farabee was always still trying to solve the world's problems and he was probably still right most of the time.

As Farabee's work life slowed down, his service to the community took up more of his time. Farabee was instrumental in the grown of KUT. He because the first chairman of the station's advisory board in 2003.

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