A Texas Tech trailblazer: Former University President, Cabinet Secretary Lauro Cavazos dies at 95

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Education Secretary Lauro Cavazos is sworn in by Vice President George H.W. Bush, alongside President Ronald Reagan on Sept. 21, 1988. Cavazos was the first Hispanic to serve in a presidential cabinet.
Education Secretary Lauro Cavazos is sworn in by Vice President George H.W. Bush, alongside President Ronald Reagan on Sept. 21, 1988. Cavazos was the first Hispanic to serve in a presidential cabinet.

Lauro F. Cavazos, Jr., a pioneering education administrator who served as the first Mexican-American president of Texas Tech University and the first Hispanic person to hold a U.S. Cabinet position, died Tuesday in Concord, Massachusetts.

He was 95 years old.

Texas Tech released a statement late Wednesday, saying the Tech community is grieving Cavazos' passing.

“I am saddened to learn of the passing of my dear friend, Lauro Cavazos,” Tech president Lawrence Schovanec said in the statement. “Although Dr. Cavazos became a force in higher education, he came from a humble background, and he never forgot that or the impact his work had on students in similar circumstances. He came to Texas Tech in the early years after World War II and personally witnessed its growth. As Texas Tech’s president, decades later, he worked to preserve the university’s history while directing its continued development and progress. And as U.S. Secretary of Education, he strove to help young people like himself reach their full potential. His impact on this university cannot be overstated, nor can his embodiment of the values we hold dear to this day: the value of education, the importance of determination and the significance of giving back.”

A trailblazing career

Cavazos was born near Kingsville, Texas in 1927. He served as the president of Texas Tech University — the first Tech alumnus and first Hispanic person to do so — from 1980 until 1988 when then-President Ronald Reagan appointed him to serve as Secretary of Education. He held that position under Reagan and President George H.W. Bush until his resignation in 1990, according to Lubbock Avalanche-Journal archives. Cavazos is also the namesake of Lubbock ISD's Cavazos Middle School.

Cavazos
Cavazos

From the A-J archives, 1988: Cavazos named U.S. Secretary of Education

Cavazos spent much of his childhood on the King Ranch where his father, Lauro Cavazos, Sr., served as the first Hispanic foreman of the ranch. He had several siblings, each successful in their own right.

The schools in Kingsville were segregated when Cavazos was a child, but the school board at the time allowed him to enroll at the Caucasian school. He was the first Hispanic child to enroll at Flato Elementary, but that was just the beginning of a lifetime of firsts.

Cavazos went on to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree in zoology from Texas Tech and later a doctorate in physiology from Iowa State. He taught at medical schools in Virginia and Boston before returning to Tech as president.

Lauro Cavazos (back row, third from left) was the first Hispanic person to serve in the U.S. Cabinet. Former President Ronald Reagan appointed him Secretary of Education in 1988.
Lauro Cavazos (back row, third from left) was the first Hispanic person to serve in the U.S. Cabinet. Former President Ronald Reagan appointed him Secretary of Education in 1988.

Texas Tech Chancellor Emeritus and former U.S. Rep. Kent Hance was serving in Congress at the time of Cavazos’ Cabinet appointment. Hance said he knew Cavazos well and the two were great friends.

Caprock Chronicles: Cavazos is first Mexican-American Texas Tech president

“He was never negative about anything. The thing I always liked about him is that he was positive. He believed he could do whatever he needed to do, but the people he surrounded himself with, he always tried to make sure that they realized they could achieve great things,” Hance said. “I think he’s a great example for young Hispanics in the state of Texas, all that did and all he accomplished. He faced some discrimination, and he faced some tough times, but it did not phase him or his brothers. They just kept on going.”

Hance spoke highly of the entire Cavazos family and said Lauro Jr.’s success is a result of the example his elders set.

“He had positive role models in his family,” Hance said. “They were people of faith, and people that worked hard and didn’t feel sorry for themselves. They just worked harder anytime there was an obstacle and went to the top.”

More: Memoir details life of first Mexican American secretary of education

“They were just remarkable people and they never thought that they were disadvantaged. They always looked to see the positive side of everything and what they could do to get to the top, and they pulled a lot of people up the ladder with them as they went to the top,” Hance added. “Of all the people that have grown up in Texas, I’d say that their family has got to be one of the ones that, if you’re ever making the example of what can be accomplished, what can happen, they’re the best.”

Plans are being made to transport Cavazos’ remains to South Texas pending funeral arrangements under the care of Turcotte-Piper Mortuary in Kingsville, KIII-TV reports.

Cavazos family achievements

A Caprock Chronicles history feature on Cavazos and his family's legacy published in the Avalanche-Journal in 2016 recounted the obstacles he and his brothers overcame, and the great heights they reached.

One of Cavozos' brothers, Richard, also attended Tech, and became a career military officer, serving in Korea and Vietnam, the article read. He was the first Hispanic four-star general, and he also served as a regent for Texas Tech.

The youngest Cavazos, Joseph, served as an executive for Sears Roebuck & Co.

Lauro Jr. completed his undergraduate and master's degrees at Texas Tech and earned a PhD in physiology from Iowa State University. He married Peggy Murdock, a nurse from Littlefield whom he had met in Lubbock.

After teaching and becoming a higher educational administrator, Lauro Cavazos Jr. in 1980 returned to Texas Tech where he became the first Mexican-American and first alumnus to serve as the university's president.

"As you can imagine, this is a moving experience for me," he told the audience at his installation, "to be inaugurated as president of an institution for which I have long held the deepest affection and respect."

Cavazos often returned to his parents' advice in his public speeches. In 1981, he told a gathering of the League of United Latin American Citizens in Corpus Christi, "I remember my father saying, 'Son, educate yourself. An education is the most valuable thing you can have. It is the one thing that no one can ever take away from you.' "

This article originally appeared on Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: Former Texas Tech President Lauro Cavazos dies at 95

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