GARCIA, HIPOLITO FRANK [HIPPO]

Erika Haskins
Hipolito Frank Garcia (1925–2002).
San Antonian Hipolito "Hippo" Garcia was the first Mexican American to serve as a United States district court judge for the Western District of Texas. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

GARCIA, HIPOLITO FRANK [HIPPO] (1925–2002). Hipolito “Hippo” Frank Garcia, prominent lawyer, state and federal district judge, and public servant, the eldest son of Mexican immigrants, Hipolito Garcia and Francisca (Sánchez) Garcia, was born on December 4, 1925, in San Antonio, Texas. In the early 1920s, Garcia’s widowed grandmother, Gregoria Rodriguez Garcia, purchased a home in San Antonio’s historic Lavaca neighborhood where Garcia was born and raised. Garcia, who did not speak English fluently until he was a teenager, attended Brackenridge High School, where he participated in the ROTC, was elected treasurer of the Pan American Club, and graduated as the most popular member of his class in 1943. At the time, Garcia was one of the few Hispanics attending Brackenridge High School. During his school years, fellow students, unable to pronounce his name correctly, began to call him “Hippo,” which he freely accepted and stayed with him the remainder of his life.

He enlisted in the United States Army and served from 1943 through the end of World War II as a tank driver in the Third Armored Spearhead Division in Germany. Months after his discharge, Garcia enrolled in St. Mary’s University in San Antonio and financed his education with his G.I. Bill. After two years, Garcia transferred to St. Mary’s University School of Law. While a law student, he found employment on campus as a janitor.

He earned his law degree in 1951, while he worked as a deputy clerk in the Bexar County district clerk’s office. In 1952 he was hired as first assistant district attorney and served in that office until 1963 when he briefly went into private practice. Running as a Democrat for Bexar County judge in 1964, Garcia, known for his generosity and humor, declared that his true constituency comprised “Democrats, Republicans, and Vegetarians.” He won the 1964 election and served as judge of Bexar County Court at Law Number Two until 1974. That year Garcia was elected to the Bexar County 144th Judicial District Court. On December 19, 1979, President Jimmy Carter nominated him to a new seat on the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas. Garcia was confirmed in 1980 and became the first Mexican American to serve as a United States district court judge in the Western District. He served in this office until his death.

Garcia never married or had children. His hobbies included coaching attorney softball teams and playing the piano. As a curious intellect and well-read individual, he was familiar with the works of Shakespeare, writings on Abraham Lincoln, and the American Civil War. The growth and development of young lawyers was important to Garcia. He often provided advice and counsel through mentoring and speaking engagements in public schools. In 1980 Garcia received the Outstanding Alumnus Award by St. Mary’s University School of Law.

Hipolito Frank Garcia died in San Antonio on January 16, 2002. He was buried in the Republic Hill section at the Texas State Cemetery. In 2004 the U. S. Congress passed a bill renaming Bexar County’s first federal building and United States Courthouse, located on 615 E. Houston Street in San Antonio, the Hipolito F. Garcia Federal Building and U. S. Courthouse in his honor.  

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Biographical Directory of Federal Judges: Garcia, Hipolito Frank, Federal Judicial Center (https://www.fjc.gov/history/judges/garcia-hipolito-frank), accessed May 5, 2019. Joan Cook Carabin, One-of-a-Kind Judge: The Honorable Hippo Garcia (Bloomington, Indiana: LifeRich Publishing, 2014). “Hipolito F. Garcia Federal Building and United States Courthouse,” Congressional Record 150 (2004) (https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CREC-2004-07-21/html/CREC-2004-07-21-pt1-PgH6500-3.htm), accessed May 5, 2019. San Antonio Express-News, October 18, 1980; January 17, 19, 20, 26, 2002; December 11, 2004; October 26, 2006.

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Handbook of Texas Online, Erika Haskins, "GARCIA, HIPOLITO FRANK [HIPPO]," accessed May 27, 2019, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fgaao.

Uploaded on May 7, 2019. Modified on May 14, 2019. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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