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Family and friends celebrate life of former Mayor Lila Cockrell

SAN ANTONIO (KTSA News) – Music filled the air during a celebration of former Mayor Lila Cockrell’s life and legacy. The San Antonio Symphony opened the program Thursday afternoon with a Gershwin Medley at the theatre named in her honor, a fitting tribute to one of the city’s most fervent patron of the arts.

“It is completely appropriate that later councils named this theatre the Lila Cockrell Theatre because she was involved in its design and preparation as Hemisfair was happening,” said former Mayor and ex-HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros.

Lila Cockrell Theatre-KTSA Photo-Elizabeth Ruiz

The program also featured the Moipei Triplets, who sang a jazz number, and Henri Brun’s trio who performed Latin music.

Cockrell’s service on the San Antonio city council started in 1963 and she was elected mayor in 1975. She served four terms in two stints before and after Cisneros. He noted Cockrell’s accomplishments in economic development, River Walk improvements, the arts, the San Antonio parks system, protection of the Edwards Aquifer, and seeing the council through the change to single member districts.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg agrees that the transition to single member districts is a major part of Cockrell’s legacy.

“A time when the ruling oligarchy of San Antonio was forced to loosen its grip as single member districts finally gave minorities a voice in municipal government,” Nirenberg told the crowd at the Lila Cockrell Theatre.

Cisneros said she wasn’t just a transitional mayor, she transformed the city.

“With kindness in her voice, clarity in her eyes and courage in her spirit–that is the Lila Cockrell we will always know and always love,” Cisneros said.

Former San Antonio Mayor and ex-HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros, Mayor Ron Nirenberg, Former City Attorney Jane Macon-KTSA Photo-Elizabeth Ruiz

Cockrell passed away August 29 at the age of 97.

Former state senator Leticia Van de Putte said she was a role model.

“It’s because of Lila’s effort and her courage to accept and put herself out for public service that many women followed,” she said.

Van de Putte learned that Cockrell didn’t tolerate whining. Van de Putte said when she complained to Cockrell about an issue, she ended up being appointed to a board or commission to address the problem.

“She’d make you part of the solution,” Van de Putte told the audience.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff noted she was gracious in defeat when she lost the mayoral race to him in 1991, but she didn’t go away quietly. While Wolff was mayor, Cockrell pressed him to increase funding for the San Antonio Museum of Art and River Walk improvements.

Bruce Bugg, chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission, presented Cockrell’s daughter, Cathy Newton, a flag that has flown over the State Capitol.

At an earlier service Thursday morning at Laurel Heights United Methodist Church, Jane Macon, called Cockrell her adoptive mother and friend. Macon was San Antonio’s first female city attorney, and she was hired while Cockrell was mayor.

She described Cockrell as a “steel fist in a velvet glove.”

Cockrell’s daughter, Carol Gulley, played “Going Home” on the piano with a violinist, and the bells at Laurel Heights United Methodist Church tolled at the end of the service.


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