HOUSTON -- Former Texas Gov. Mark White, a Democrat who championed public education reforms, including the landmark "no-pass, no-play" policy for high school athletes, has died. He was 77.
His wife, Linda, says White died Saturday at his home in Houston. She wasn't certain of the cause of death.
White served as 43rd governor from 1983 until 1987. The education policies approved during his single term included pay raises and competency tests for teachers, class size limits for elementary schools and the state's high school basic skills graduation test.
White also pushed through a $4 billion tax hike to help pay for schools and highways. The no-pass, no-play legislation was an unpopular move that had to survive a challenge at the state Supreme Court. White was defeated in 1986 by Republican Bill Clements and lost another election bid in the 1990 Democratic primary.
"Mark White cared deeply about Texas, and he devoted his life to making our state even better, particularly when it came to educating our children," wrote Gov. Greg Abbott. “Mark’s impact on Texas will not soon be forgotten, and his legacy will live on through all that he achieved as Governor."
Flags statewide will be lowered to half-staff in honor of Gov. White. He leaves behind a wife, two sons and a daughter.
He was a native of Henderson, Texas and attended public schools in Houston.
According to White's website, he was born in the East Texas town of Henderson and graduated from Baylor University Law School in 1965. He also served in the 36th Infantry Division of the Texas National Guard.
After practicing law in the private sector, White was appointed Texas secretary of state in 1973 by then-Gov. Dolph Briscoe and remained in the post for four years. In 1978, he ran for Texas attorney general and ran TV ads of a slamming prison door to burnish tough-on-crime credentials, even though the office he would win had little prosecutorial authority.
White went on to defeat Republican James A. Baker III, who later became U.S. secretary of state under President George H. W. Bush.
In the 1982 race for governor, White unseated Bill Clements, a Dallas millionaire who shocked the Texas political establishment four years earlier by breaking the Democrats' century-long stranglehold on the Governor's Mansion.
“I don't think anybody had more of an uphill battle than I did,” White told the El Paso Times in a 2010 interview, adding that the pundits “never gave me a chance to win in any of my elections.”
The Houston Independent School District's Mark White Elementary School was named in his honor. The former governor attended the opening ceremony in December 2016.
State District Judge Bill Moody of El Paso was appointed to the bench by White. Moody said he was still in law school when he first met White in the 1970s and later was his point man in El Paso during the 1982 campaign.
"I'm probably the last Mark White appointee still holding office," said Moody, whose son, Joe Moody, serves in the Texas House. "He was an impressive man with a wonderful sense of humor."
White's wife, Linda Gale White, and his son Andrew White confirmed the governor's death to The Associated Press. There was no immediate word on services.
Current Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, said he and White developed a friendship when they both practiced law in Houston.
"Mark White cared deeply about Texas," said Abbott, who ordered flags around the state to fly at half staff. "And he devoted his life to making our state even better, particularly when it came to educating our children. My personal relationship and friendship with Governor White dates to when I was a young lawyer in Houston and we shared an elevator bank.
“Mark’s impact on Texas will not soon be forgotten, and his legacy will live on through all that he achieved as governor."
(The Associated Press and USA TODAY's John C. Mortiz contributed to this report.)