Long-time North Texas politician Tom Vandergriff died Thursday at the age of 84.
Vandergriff's political career spanned 55 years. He first served as mayor of Arlington from 1951 to 1977. Vandergriff was just 25 when he was elected to office and was given the title "Boy Mayor."
Vandergriff was considered the driving force responsible for luring the General Motors Assembly Plant and the Texas Rangers to Arlington. He was honored with a statue in center field, known as Vandergriff Plaza. In 1991 he was inducted into the Texas Rangers Baseball Hall of Fame.
Vandergriff's list of accomplishments in Arlington also include securing land for Lake Arlington, spearheading the creation of Six Flags Over Texas and raising money to build Arlington Memorial Hospital, the city's first real hospital.
"Tom was Mr. Arlington. He got it all started and so many things occurred because of his vision and leadership. Everything great that has happened in the City of Arlington has root in his tenure as Mayor," said current Arlington Mayor Dr. Robert Cluck. "Today, Arlington lost a pioneer, a true champion for public service and leadership."
In House Resolution No. 18, Vandergriff was commended for facilitating the construction of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and elevating Arlington State College, now The University of Texas at Arlington, to senior college status. He also served as founding president of the North Central Texas Council of Governments.
Vandergriff served one term as a Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1980s.
"Texas has lost a great public servant," said Congressman Michael C. Burgess who represents the 26th District of Texas, the office once held by Vandergriff. "I will always remember those exciting radio broadcasts when Judge Vandergriff was 'the voice of the Texas Rangers' in the 1970's. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends. He was a great public servant, and all North Texans are thankful for his service."
Vandergriff continued his career in public service with 16 years as a Republican Tarrant County judge. He was elected in 1990 and retired from that post in 2007.
When asked why he was retiring, Vandergriff answered, "Well, I'm 80 years old and I haven't spent much time with my wife these last several years." Vandergriff's wife Anna Waynette Vandergriff died in 2009 two weeks after being diagnosed with leukemia.
"It's a tremendous loss," said current County Judge Glen Whitley during an interview Thursday afternoon. "I can't think of anyone so focused on helping the community that he lived in and was a part of than Tom Vandergriff."
Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief released this statement on Vandergriff's passing:
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"Tom Vandergriff was a dear friend of mine. He was an honest and respected business man, mayor, congressman and county judge, and both Rosie and I will miss him greatly.
The passing of our friend and colleague closes an important and prosperous chapter in Tarrant County’s history. Although Tom will undoubtedly be remembered for putting Arlington on the map with the GM plant, Six Flags and the Texas Rangers, it will be those personal experiences working alongside Tom that Rosie and I will never forget. No matter where he was or what time it was, Tom was always working hard on behalf of the people he served. Not a day passed that he didn’t make a decision or win a small victory that ultimately improved the lives of those fortunate enough to call North Texas home.
Tom was a champion for Tarrant County and he was a respected statesman who lived a full, complete and meaningful life. It was a life dedicated to making our quality of life the best it could be. He certainly succeeded in that. It’s fitting that he lived long enough to see his beloved Texas Rangers in the World Series.
The people of Fort Worth are grateful for Tom Vandergriff’s service, and we take pride in the fact that his celebrated legacy will be tightly woven into the fabric of our community for generations to come."
Vandergriff was born in Carrollton but his family moved to Arlington when he was 11 years old. He graduated from Arlington High School in 1943.
One of his first jobs was as a radio announcer for KFGZ Radio in Fort Worth. Vandergriff held a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern California where he studied broadcast journalism.
As a businessman in the private sector, Vandergriff also held interest in a car dealership and insurance agency.
Vandergriff and his wife had four children. Victor Vandergriff told the Star-Telegram his father died at about 3 p.m. an assisted living center.