* Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
Betty King, the beloved former secretary of the Texas Senate, died Monday after a long illness, according to her family. She was 89.
King held the job — the person making the Senate run, both in and out of session — from 1977 until her retirement in 2001, according to a family obituary. She had worked in the state Capitol for 30 years before assuming that post, starting as a clerk on the House Appropriations Committee in 1947.
She was smart, refined, knowing and discreet, and capable of getting things done invisibly in a legislative body full of sometimes difficult personalities.
They appreciated it, too, naming the committee room directly behind the Senate chamber for her and establishing a public service award in her name when she retired.
"Of all the people I have been privileged to work with, Betty King stands out above almost all as a selfless servant," said Gov. Rick Perry, who served as lieutenant governor before taking his current position. "She displayed a sweetness of heart few possess and an uncanny ability to manage a chamber full of mighty egos and make each feel they were the most important in the midst. Anita and I were blessed to count her as friend and confidant."
From Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst: "On behalf of the Texas Senate, I want to extend our deepest condolences to the family of former Secretary of the Senate Betty King and let them know our prayers are with them. Betty King served as Secretary of the Texas Senate for twenty-four years under four Lieutenant Governors and ninety-seven senators. Her dedication, tireless work ethic, and friendship are just a few of the reasons the Lieutenant Governor's Committee Room was renamed in her honor. She will be greatly missed by her former colleagues and many friends."
Services are pending. Here is the obituary prepared on her family’s behalf:
“Gracious lady of the Capitol” they called Betty King, the longest serving Secretary of the Senate in Texas history. In addition to her dedication to this state, the Texas Senate, Longhorn football, and the University of Texas, Betty was a loving, caring mother, grandmother, aunt, and friend. Those whose lives she touched will never forget her. Devoted to her family and friends, she left wonderful memories. She was kind and treated others with dignity and respect, always looking out for those who needed help. Betty passed away peacefully on Monday, December 1, from cancer and complications due to Parkinson’s.
Born to Bess and Donald Dunlavey on November 27th, 1925 in Port Arthur, Texas, Betty grew up in McAllen, Texas. She soon arrived in Austin, where she spent the remainder of her life. Her love for Texas government took hold when she served as an honorary page at the age of 14. She attended the University of Texas and was a member of Alpha Chi Omega Sorority. While at UT she met the love of her life, William M. King. They spent 60 happy years together until his death in 2009.
Betty began her career in the Capitol in 1947 as a clerk for the House Appropriations Committee. She served in various state government roles for many years, until the members of the Texas Senate elected her as Secretary of the Senate in 1977. She went on to serve an unprecedented 97 state senators and four lieutenant governors, Bill Hobby, Bob Bullock, Rick Perry and Bill Ratliff, earning the love and respect of them all. The Governor’s Commission for Women named Betty one of the Outstanding Women in Texas Government in 1988. She served as staff chair for the National Conference of State Legislatures and received the organization’s Legislative Staff Achievement Award. After 54 years of service to the Texas Legislature, Betty retired in 2001. Emphatically, she was a beloved mentor, confidante, and friend to members of the Senate and to countless Senate employees and others.
Loyal, dedicated, poised – not to mention always impeccably dressed – Betty was an unflappable personality and earned the reputation as a diplomat in the Senate. Her presence at the Secretary’s dais throughout hours of contentious debate infused the Senate with a spirit of bipartisanship and decorum. Her example set an enduring standard for the mutually respectful and constructive conduct of democratic government in this state.
In 2001 the Lieutenant Governor’s Committee Room was renamed the Betty King Committee Room and the Betty King Public Service Award was established. On that occasion, Senator Rodney Ellis of Houston said, “Mrs. King, we named that room after you because we believe in what you stand for.” Senator Ellis truly spoke for all Texans.
In addition to her career in state government, Betty was a tireless volunteer to many charitable, arts, and civic organizations in Austin. She was named the YWCA Woman of the Year of 1999 and earned the YWCA Outstanding Achievement Award for Government Service. One of the original docents of the Friends of the Governor’s Mansion, she served as Chair of Docents of the Governor’s Mansion and was named Docent of the Year 1998. She was elected President and Chair of the Board of Trustees for the Austin Lyric Opera and received the Opera’s Ducloux Award for Meritorious Service in 2004. She served as Vice President of the Women’s Symphony League, receiving Texas Association of Symphony Orchestras Achievement Award. A dedicated supporter of scouting, she served as President of the Girl Scouts, Lone Star Council and was named a Girl Scout Woman of Distinction in 2004. She was a tireless volunteer at The Settlement Home and served as President and most recently served as Treasurer for the Greater Austin Crime Commission. Betty was a long-time member of The Headliners Club, the Austin Club, and Westwood Country Club.
Betty is survived by her beloved daughter, Kevin Ann Marcyes and her husband Richard; two grandsons who brought her great joy, Griffin King Marcyes and Maxfield Austin Marcyes; nieces, Bess Long-Browder, Lynda Wood, and Russelene Peacock; nephews, Jim Long, Alex Long, Myles Richards and many great nieces and nephews.
A Memorial Service will be held a time and date to be determined at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, 3201 Windsor in Austin. Burial will be at the Texas State Cemetery at a later date.
We are grateful for the exceptional care provided by the staff at Presbyterian Village North over the last few months.
In lieu of flowers, please make contributions to the Settlement Home for Children, the Austin Symphony Orchestra, the Austin Lyric Opera, and the Long Center for Performing Arts, Greater Austin Crime Commission, the Girl Scout Lone Star Council, or the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd.