‘Giant of a man’ passes from the scene

I just got word that Amarillo, Texas, has lost one of its truly great men, a powerful — but humble — man who stood far taller than his relatively diminutive stature.

Wales Madden Jr. was 91 years of age.

Wow, this news saddens me to my core.

It is impossible to overstate the influence and impact that Wales had on the community he loved. Indeed, his legacy will be felt across the vast state.

I don’t know if the University of Texas has a “Texas Exes” godfather, but it should have been Wales Madden Jr. This man loved UT. He loved them Longhorns. He served on the University of Texas System Board of Regents. Wales remained a giant presence around the system long after he left that public office.

That’s not nearly the entirety of Wales Madden’s legacy.

He was among the pioneers of the Texas water management strategy. He served with the Texas Water Conservation Board and helped shape Texas water policy for decades.

He rubbed shoulders with politicians, but mainly with Republicans. He was a dedicated member of the Grand Old Party. In the picture I have posted with this blog entry you can see Wales in the company of Ronald W. Reagan.

However, he also teamed with individuals associated with the other political party. I remember a particular friendship he had with the late Jerome Johnson, another lawyer of significant renown in Amarillo. Madden and Johnson worked together to lobby the Department of Energy to install an office in Amarillo that sought to research effective disposal of plutonium, a byproduct of the massive Pantex nuclear weapons storage and assembly plant northeast of Amarillo. Both men used to joke about how a dedicated Democrat could work with an equally dedicated Republican for a common purpose.

His friendships covered the huge spectrum of political and socio-economic interests. His kindness was legendary and I was a recipient over many years of this gentle man’s good cheer.

In early 1995 I made the move from Beaumont to Amarillo to become the editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. A dear friend of mine who grew up in Amarillo, but who had moved on to a lengthy career in journalism, offered this piece of advice: Get close to Wales Madden, he said. My friend described Wales as a “gray eminence” who was one of the community’s wisest men.

I did what my friend suggested. Wales and I became friends. I grew to respect this man greatly.

Amarillo is full of fine men and women who contribute mightily to the community’s well-being. Few of them have quite the impact that Wales Madden Jr. delivered through his many years of dedication to the community he loved with all of his gigantic heart.

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