Florencia Bisenta de Casillas Martinez Cardona, also known as Vikki Carr, sang “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” Austin philanthropist Susan Dell spoke with awe of how Hurricane Harvey brought out the very best in Texans. Pilot Tammie Jo Shults, who safely landed a Southwest Airlines jet after it suffered catastrophic engine failure, saving 148 lives, thanked the men who unlocked the cockpit doors for female flyers. State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, the first Latina senator in Texas history and one of the state’s most prolific legislators ever, offered a prayer for Gov. Greg Abbott.
“Governor, may you be blessed to see the light and not veto any of my bills,” said Zaffirini, one of seven inductees into the Texas Women’s Hall of Frame on Thursday at a luncheon ceremony presided over by Abbott and his wife, Cecilia, on the front lawn of the Governor’s Mansion. After leaning into the governor to thank him for the honor, the Laredo Democrat reported, “He just told me, ‘You believe in a big God.’ ”
The women — Zaffirini, Carr, Dell and Shults; former U.S. and Texas first lady Laura Bush and Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, neither of whom was able to attend the ceremony; and the late Sister Elizabeth Anne Sueltenfuss, the former president of Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio — were nominated by Texans and selected by an independent panel. The Hall of Fame is at the Denton campus of Texas Woman’s University.
“Today, we recognize seven extraordinary women whose strength, perseverance and passion truly embody what it means to be a Texan,” Abbott said. “Each of these women have left their own unique mark on the Lone Star State, and as we gather today, Texas is better because of their contributions. On behalf of the state of Texas, Cecilia and I thank you for the profound impact you have had on our state and in the lives of so many.”
With her 100 percent Senate voting record, Zaffirini holds the national record, having cast more than 60,000 consecutive votes and passed 1,024 bills, more than any other legislator in Texas history.
In accepting the honor, Zaffirini quoted the late feminist Charlotte Whitton, who, as mayor of Ottawa, became the first female mayor of a major Canadian city: “Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought of half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.”
The luncheon audience of some 150 liked that.
Zaffirini, who was first elected to the Senate in 1986, said that with more women than men now graduating from college in Texas, “the ubiquitous glass ceiling is doomed.”
Abbott noted that Bush, who, like Zaffirini, was honored for public service, had inhabited the Governor’s Mansion before moving to “a bigger house” in Washington, when her husband, George W. Bush, was elected president. She was honored for her good works in health care, education and human rights. In accepting the honor, Tina Buford, the first female president of the Texas Wildlife Association, read a statement from the former first lady in which she mentioned her love of the outdoors and her founding of the conservation organization Texan by Nature, intended to unite business and conservation leaders to protect the state’s natural resources.
Dell, co-founder of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, was honored for philanthropy, particularly her work with the Rebuild Texas Fund, an organization committed to the recovery of those areas in Texas hit hard by Hurricane Harvey. So far, the Rebuild Texas Fund has awarded $66,890,934 to support 186 community projects helping more than 1,185,000 individuals along the Texas Gulf Coast.
“With help from Gov. Abbott and the OneStar Foundation, we were able to launch the Rebuild Texas Fund before the rain had even stopped falling,” said Dell, who was accompanied by her husband, Michael. “Over 30,000 donors helped us raise $100 million to rebuild our communities. And the work of the fund continues today.”
Shults, honored for leadership, was one of the first female fighter pilots in the Navy. She was working for Southwest Airlines when she swapped shifts with her husband and was piloting a Boeing 737 from New York to Dallas when an engine blade failed, flying debris damaged the left side of the fuselage and a window, and the cabin rapidly depressurized. But with what Abbott called her “nerves of steel,” Shults remained calm and made an emergency landing.
Nellie Biles accepted the honor in athletics for her daughter, Simone Biles, the most decorated gymnast in American history, the first female African-American all-around world champion and a five-time Olympic medalist, who delivered her daughter’s simple message: “Never give up. Always pursue your dreams.”
Sueltenfuss, a Catholic nun who earned a Ph.D. in microbiology, was posthumously honored in education for transforming countless lives as president of Our Lady of the Lake.
The El Paso-born Carr, who had enormous success as a vocalist first in English and then in Spanish and now sings in her church choir in San Antonio, stole the show, offering vignettes of family, faith and career and then, before relinquishing the stage, giving a rousing rendition of her 1968 cover of “Can’t Take My Eyes off of You.”
“You’re just too good to be true
I can’t take my eyes off you
You’d be like heaven to touch
I wanna hold you so much
At long last love has arrived
And I thank God I’m alive
You’re just too good to be true
Can’t take my eyes off you”
Abbott, and the assembled, beamed and sang along.