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CLEMENTS, WILLIAM PERRY, JR. [BILL]

Portrait of William Perry [Bill] Clements, Jr.
Portrait of William Perry [Bill] Clements, Jr. Image courtesy of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

CLEMENTS, WILLIAM PERRY, JR. [BILL] (1917–2011). William Perry “Bill” Clements, Jr., businessman, philanthropist, and forty-second and forty-fourth governor of Texas, was born on April 13, 1917, in Dallas, to William Perry Clements, Sr., and Evelyn (Cammack) Clements. He graduated from Highland Park High School in 1934. For several years after high school he worked in Texas oil fields until he attended Southern Methodist University where he played football and studied engineering. On April 6, 1940, Clements married Pauline Gill. They had two children. He served in the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers during World War II.  

In 1947 Clements entered the oil business and helped found the Southeastern Drilling Company (SEDCO), an offshore drilling company, which eventually operated in more than twenty countries and was later sold to Schlumberger in a 1984 deal valued at $1 billion. He served as deputy secretary of the Department of Defense from 1973 to 1977, during the Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford administrations. On February 5, 1975, Clements divorced Pauline Gill and married Republican National Committee member Rita Crocker on March 8, 1975. 

Bill Clements, Jr. and his second wife, Rita Crocker, leaving the Texas Capitol after his inauguration in 1979
Bill Clements, Jr. and his second wife, Rita Crocker, leaving the Texas Capitol after his inauguration in 1979. Image courtesy of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

Clements returned to Texas in 1977 and announced his intention to seek the governorship as a Republican. No Republican had held the governorship since Edmund J. Davis during Reconstruction in 1874. A split in the Democratic Party aided Clements’s bid for governor. Attorney General John L. Hill, Jr., had defeated the incumbent governor, Dolph Briscoe, Jr., in the Democratic primary. The Briscoe children and other Briscoe supporters endorsed Clements, who won a narrow victory.

During the 1979 legislative session, Clements proposed a budget that was $1 billion less than the legislature's budget. He vetoed more than $250 million in expenditures, including money for construction projects at public universities and other state agencies. During the 1981 legislative session, Clements proposed forty-four new laws, thirty-four of which passed the Texas Legislature, including the legalization of wiretapping in certain criminal investigations, a measure favored by law enforcement agencies.

Clements sought reelection in 1982 but lost to the Democratic nominee Attorney General Mark White. He opposed White’s reelection bid in 1986 and won the governorship for the second time. Clements, Elisha Pease, and Miriam A. "Ma" Ferguson are the only governors to serve non-consecutive terms.

After leaving office in 1983, Clements became chairman of the board of governors at Southern Methodist University, where he became involved in a situation with embarrassing consequences that surfaced when he reassumed the governorship in 1987. Enthusiastic Mustang football program supporters led a scheme in which student-athletes received illicit payments—a violation of NCAA rules. The football program was under probation, but the payments continued. In 1984 Clements and the board chose to phase out the payments instead of stopping them immediately. The scandal gained widespread attention after Clements reassumed the governorship in 1987. Clements admitted, "It's clear we made the wrong decision." He further apologized, "To those rightfully upset and angry about the situation, I am sorry." Due to repeated violations, the NCAA forbid Southern Methodist University from fielding a football team for the 1988 season. This punishment served as the first-ever imposition of the NCAA's so-called "death penalty." The university did not field a team in 1989, but reactivated the football program in 1990.

Bill Clements, Jr. introducing then-President George H.W. Bush in the Texas Legislature in 1989
Bill Clements, Jr. introducing then-President George H.W. Bush in the Texas Legislature in 1989. Image courtesy of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

In his second term as governor, Clements sought deep cuts in the state budget in response to an ailing oil bust, but ultimately approved a $5.7 billion tax increase, the largest in state history. Clements declined to seek reelection in 1990. Democrat Ann W. Richards succeeded him in January 1991. Clements returned to Dallas, where he remained active in business and Republican politics. In 1996 he established the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies at Southern Methodist University. Clements and his wife donated $100 million to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas in 2009.

On October 21, 2010, Clements’s son, Benjamin Gill Clements, was reported missing. The following day authorities discovered that he died from a gunshot wound and was buried in a shallow grave in a shed behind his ranch seventy-five miles south of Dallas. In a shootout, police killed the neighbor who reportedly had committed the murder. The incident and death of his son devastated Clements.

Clements and his second wife, Rita Crocker, spent his later years between their estate in Forney, Texas, and a ranch in Taos, New Mexico. William Perry Clements Jr., suffered from declining health including prostate cancer. He died in Dallas on May 29, 2011, at the age of ninety-four, following an emergency surgery to repair a perforated intestine, and was buried at Grove Hill Memorial Park in Dallas. He was survived by his wife, daughter, four stepchildren, and numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Governor Rick Perry referred to Clements as the “father of the modern-day Texas Republican Party.” As a result of his numerous awards and achievements, across the state many schools, hospitals, government buildings, and streets are named in his honor. In 2012 the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center named a new hospital building the William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital, and the University of Texas at Austin opened the William P. Clements Jr. Center on History, which focuses on diplomatic and military history.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Governor William P. Clements, Jr.—Official State Papers, 1st Term, 1979–1983, Cushing Library, Texas A&M University Libraries. Governor William P. Clements, Jr.—Official State Papers, 2nd Term, 1987–1991, Cushing Library, Texas A&M University Libraries. William P. Clements, Jr. Personal Papers, Cushing Library, Texas A&M University Libraries. Dallas Morning News, May 30, 2011. Richard Morehead, Fifty Years in Texas Politics: From Roosevelt to Reagan—From the Fergusons to Clements (Austin: Eakin Press, 1982). New York Times, March 11, 1987; May 31, 2011. Odessa American, March 10, 1975.

George Slaughter

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Handbook of Texas Online, George Slaughter, "Clements, William Perry, Jr. [Bill]," accessed October 24, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fcl61.

Uploaded on November 11, 2015. Modified on October 26, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.