From the AP via the Washington Post:

"Former Texas governor Ann Richards, the witty and flamboyant Democrat who went from homemaker to national political celebrity, died Sept. 13 after cancer was diagnosed this year, a family spokeswoman said. She was 73."

Wayne Slater, the senior political writer for The Dallas Morning News and famous Karl Rove-watcher, pens a flattering tribute to the former governor, which is worth reading.

An excerpt:

"When Ms. Richards first took office as governor, she retained her predecessor's huge cotton-trader's desk, but little else in the office.

"Gone were the Tom Lea oil paintings of cowboys and cattle. They were replaced by contemporary art: an impressionist beach scene and huge photographs of outdoor settings tinted in green and mauve.

"In one corner was a sculpture of a woman, erect and serene, playing a lute on the back of a tiger. The metaphor was not lost on her."

The Speech. Unfortunately, most of us were introduced to Ann Richards in 1988, when she offered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. That particular venue begs for partisanship and crude characterizations, and she delivered. We all remember the line that made her famous:

"Poor George. He can't help it - he was born with a silver foot in his mouth."

Employing a thick Texas drawl and sprinkling her address with colorful "Texasisms," the Waco native and Baylor graduate touched on all the boilerplate items one would expect to hear from a loyal party functionary: FDR, the Depression and the "little man." Republicans were uncaring, corporate malefactors intent on polluting the water and starving children. She cast Ronald Reagan as the personification of cruelty and incompetence, while she held up Jesse Jackson as the epitome of American statesmanship. It was an unabashedly political speech, but not inappropriate for that particular stage.

Even though candidate George H.W. Bush, the primary target of her blistering attack, overcame the verbal assault to win election as president that year, the speech launched Richards into the national orbit. Two years later, Richards won the governorship of Texas. Two years after that, she chaired the Democratic National Convention that nominated Bill Clinton, who defeated the incumbent President Bush.

Those were heady times for Governor Richards. With public opinion polls registering strong approval for her in Texas and beyond, her star seemed on the rise. Then all the laughter turned to sorrow. George Bush the son (whom she and Molly Ivins called "the shrub") emerged to challenge her reelection juggernaut and square the family accounts. The forty-seven-year-old "ne'er-do-well" seemed an unlikely figure to settle the score. Inarticulate and lacking accomplishment and political experience, he was easy to "misunderestimate." Governor Richards did not realize until much too late that she was in a fight, and the legend of George W. was born.

Sadder and Wiser: The governor left the Texas statehouse proudly proclaiming that she "had opened government to everyone," but she was humbled, relegated to CNN and Doritos commercials. And she softened some in her later years, explaining that life had made her "sadder and wiser" over time.

A personal aside: I saw that side of her once. I attended a funeral in Waco a few years ago where she eulogized her cousin. She was wonderful. She spoke simple words before simple people. Her Texas accent was less accentuated, her tone was soft and comforting, and her words were meaningful. She owned the room and won me over.

It is easy to demonize a hard-charging, take-no-prisoners party loyalist, but American politics would not be American politics without rabid believers and verbal brawlers. Let us not judge her too harshly. Ann Richards was a hard woman in a hard game. She came from way back in the pack and ascended to the national stage on the strength of her passion for "justice" and her inner drive to win. She gave no quarter, and she asked for none. In the end, however, the story of Ann Richards embodies and reinforces the notion of opportunity and equality and the ideal that hard work and determination can lead to triumph.

Although I will never forget her ringing condemnation in that noisy hall in the summer of 1988, I prefer to remember her for her softer words of consolation and community that I heard in the smallish memorial chapel in Waco ten years later.

Rest in peace, Ann Richards. "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."