Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search results

Garza, Reynaldo G., 1915-2004

 Person

Dates

  • Existence: 1915-2004

Reynaldo Guerra Garza was born in Brownsville, Texas on July 7, 1915. His parents were Ygnacio Garza and Zoila Guerra, both natives of Mexico who moved to Brownsville two weeks after their marriage in September of 1901. He graduated from Brownsville High School in 1933, and Brownsville Junior College in 1935.

After graduation from Brownsville Junior College he attended the University of Texas where, in 1939, he received the combined degrees of Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws. He practiced in Brownsville as a sole practitioner until he entered the Air Force in February of 1942, during World War II. On his return from the services at the end of 1945, he again started the practice of law as a sole practitioner until January 1, 1950, when he joined the firm of Sharpe, Cunningham and Garza. He was still in the same firm when he was appointed to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas by President Kennedy in March of 1961. He entered on duty on April 29, 1961.

In December of 1974, he became the Chief Judge of the Southern District of Texas. In 1979 he was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the fifth Circuit by President Jimmy Carter and took his oath as Judge of said court on August 1, 1979, where he served as a senior judge. In April of 1987, he was appointed Chief Judge of the Temporary Emergency Court of Appeals of the United States by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist.

Garza married the former Bertha Champion and have 5 children from that marriage: Reynaldo, Jr. and David Champion Garza are both attorneys, graduates of the University of Texas Law School and practice law in Brownsville as a law firm; Ygnacio D. Garza, graduate of St. Edwards University, is a Certified Public Accountant and practices with the firm of Long and Chilton where he is a partner, he was formerly Mayor of Brownsville and was Chairmen of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission; Bertha Victoria Garza (Now Mrs. Gustavo Elizondo), who graduated from Texas A and M, was an elementary school teacher at Martin Elementary and St. Mary's School until last year when she transferred to Sharp Elementary; Monica B. Garza, who was born after Judge Garza was already on the bench, graduated from Pan American University at Brownsville in accounting and is now employed by UTRGV.

He was interested in the field of education beginning with his service on the School Board in Brownsville; his later appointment to the Texas Education Standards Committee by Governor Price Daniel and later to the Committee of Twenty Five on Education Beyond the High School which resulted in the creation of the Coordinating Board of Colleges and Universities by appointment of Governor John Connally. He served as a member of the Select Committee on Higher Education by appointment of Governor Mark White. This committee made recommendations to the Legislature in January of 1987 on what had to be done to improve the quality of higher education in the State of Texas for all its citizens. For his efforts in education, a school has been named in his honor by the Brownsville School Board and the McAllen School District. In addition, the valley's first law school was named after him, the Reynaldo G. Garza School of Law.

In discussing his deep interest in education, Judge Garza would recall what his father told his children on his death bed. He recalled that his father told them, "I am not leaving you much wealth but I am leaving you what is worth more than $1,000,000 to you and that is a good education. This is something that no one will ever be able to take away from you." He also said many times, "I do not worry about an educated man in my court for he knows how to take care of himself. I do worry about the uneducated one who is the victim of unscrupulous people who are always trying to take advantage."

Garza was also very active in the Catholic church. After having been Grand Knight of the Brownsville Council of the Knights of Columbus, he served the State Council of the Knights of Columbus as a District Deputy, State Advocate, and chairman of the Highest Catholic Education Committee. In 1953, he was elected State Deputy of the Knights of Columbus of Texas, which is the highest state office in that organization. For his work with the Knights of Columbus, he was twice decorated by the late Pope Pius XII by making him the recipient of the Medal Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice in 1953 and a Knight in the order of St. Gregory the Great in May of 1954. The same year the Oblates of Mary Immaculate gave him the Oblate Madonna Award. The Texas Catholic Conference also awarded him the annual outstanding Catholic Layman Award.

In April of 1984 Judge Garza received the 1984 American Association of Community and Junior Colleges Alumnus of the Year Award and in October of 1989 he was given the Distinguished Alumnus Award at the University of Texas at Austin. Later he was named a Distinguished Alumnus of the University of Texas Law School. He has also been given the honor of Distinguished Alumnus of the Delta Theta Phi Fraternity, which is the honor society of junior colleges. He was also designated as the first Distinguished Alumnus of Texas Southmost College in Brownsville in 1993.

Reynaldo G. Garza sought political office twice. In 1941, he was elected to the School Board of the Brownsville Independent School District, which at that time was also the governing board for Brownsville Junior College, Now Texas Southmost College. In 1947, he was elected City Commissioner of the City of Brownsville.

He was active in Latin-American relations, having served on the Latin-American Relations Committee of the Brownsville Chamber of Commerce and the Valley Chamber of Commerce. He was appointed to the Texas Good Neighbor Commission by Governor Allan Shivers, and served on the Commission until his resignation upon taking his oath of office as a federal judge. He was one of the original members of the International Good Neighbor Council.

He also served as President of the Brownsville Rotary Club, twice a director of the United Fund of Brownsville, treasurer of the Cameron County Child Welfare Board, and past member of the Board of Governors of St. Mary's University and also been trustee of its law school.

He was a member of the Advisory Board of the Rio Grande Council of the Boy Scouts of America. He served as president of the Council for two years and has received the Silver Beaver and the Silver Antelope awards from the Boy Scouts.

Before taking his oath as President of the United States, President Jimmy Carter offered the position of Attorney General of the United States to Judge Garza. This would mean that he would have had to resign his commission as a federal judge. After receiving the offer and considering it, Judge Garza thanked President Carter for his offer of becoming a member of his cabinet as Attorney General and told President Carter that if he had been young and wealthy he would have accepted the great honor, but since he was neither he preferred to stay as a federal judge, which was an appointment for life during his good behavior. He said many times that while being the first Mexican-American to be a member of any President's cabinet would have been a great honor to the Mexican-American people, sometimes personal considerations outweigh the honor to be received.

At age eighty-nine, he died of pneumonia on September 14, 2004, leaving behind his wife of sixty-one years, Bertha Champion Garza, five children, twelve grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

On June 29, 2005, President George W. Bush signed a bill designating the United States Courthouse and Federal Building constructed in 2001 at Sixth and Harrison Streets, Brownsville as the Reynaldo G. Garza and Filemon B. Vela United States Courthouse.

Found in 2 Collections and/or Records:

Reynaldo G. Garza Collection

 Collection
Identifier: BLIBR-0016
Scope and Contents The collection consists of the sixty-six boxes (twenty-two available at the moment) that chronicle Judge Reynaldo G. Garza's legal career, and civic engagement, as well as his involvement with higher education in South Texas.

Reynaldo G. Garza Collection

 Collection — Container: 142
Identifier: ELIBR-0142
Scope and Contents Collection includes documents, correspondence, and committee information concerning the Select Committee on Higher Education. Issues addressed by the committee include testing of college students, and necessity for comprehensive universities in South Texas.