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OBITUARIES / PASSINGS / Don Yarborough

His run brought JFK to Texas

September 25, 2009|Times Staff and Wire Reports

Don Yarborough, 83, who was a three-time gubernatorial candidate in Texas during the 1960s and whose challenge to incumbent Gov. John B. Connally was one of the reasons President Kennedy decided to make a swing through Texas in November 1963, died Wednesday at his home in Houston of complications from Parkinson's disease.

Yarborough was born in New Orleans in 1925. He served in the Marine Corps at the close of World War II and received his law degree from the University of Texas at Austin in 1950.

A liberal Democrat, Yarborough first ran for lieutenant governor in 1960, then made his first run for governor in 1962 against three-time incumbent Price Daniel and John Connally. Connally won.

Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, himself a Texan, was concerned that Yarborough might defeat Connally in 1964 and that his liberal views would drive conservatives into the Republican fold, thus jeopardizing Kennedy's reelection chances in 1964. Johnson convinced Kennedy that a presidential visit to Texas would help unite the famously fractious party.

When Connally was shot while riding in the car with the president -- who was assassinated -- in Dallas, he became a national hero, and he easily defeated his liberal challenger. After losing another governor's race in 1968, Yarborough retired from politics.

Yarborough moved to Washington and was a lobbyist for a group advocating medical treatment for spinal cord injuries. He also supported efforts to cure aging, which he believed was simply a disease like any other. He returned to Houston in 1981.

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