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Old 09-19-2006, 08:39 AM   #16
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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- Celebrities and ordinary Texans gathered Monday for a final farewell to former Gov. Ann Richards, likening her to a rock star and a force of nature who "gave it her all every single minute of every single day."

Richards, a Democrat who led the state from 1991-95, died Wednesday at her Austin home at age 73 of esophageal cancer. She was buried earlier Monday at the Texas State Cemetery during a private service.

One funny story after another kept a crowd of 3,800 roaring at the Frank Erwin Center, a place usually reserved for University of Texas basketball games and rock concerts.

But on this day, the arena was filled with gospel music, flowers and hilarious memories of the big-haired, blue-eyed woman elected Texas governor in 1990. Two huge photographs of Richards in her political prime hung on each side of the stage.

The star-studded service drew Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, former San Antonio Mayor and Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros and Texas-born gossip columnist Liz Smith. Former Commerce Secretary Don Evans attended on behalf of President Bush. At the burial, singer Nanci Griffith performed, and actress Lily Tomlin was in attendance, family spokesman Bill Crier said.

Clinton said that when she first met Richards she thought, "I had just met another force of nature. I already lived with one."

"Some people are so afraid of failing, they never try," but not Richards, Clinton said. "She tried. She gave it her all every single minute of every single day."

Speakers emphasized the "New Texas" that Richards heralded -- a reference to opening the upper echelons of government to women and minorities.

"Ann Richards understood and embraced more of the notion that this state of Texas that we love so much could not be the Texas that we dreamed of until all God's children got to play," said Kirk, who is black. "That was essentially the message of her new Texas -- to let us in the door."

The audience gave loud cheers during a video tribute to Richards that showed her days as a young Travis County commissioner and later as state treasurer and governor. It included a video moment from her gubernatorial inauguration and featured her famous 1988 Democratic National Convention speech in which she wowed a national audience by noting women's political accomplishments: Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, she said, "only backwards and in high heels."

"Going out with Ann in public was like being with a rock star," said syndicated columnist Liz Smith, a Richards friend. She told of people in New York who wanted to hang around Richards and of a New Jersey resident who once shouted out, "I voted for you."

In the Capitol on Sunday, a black sash was draped atop Richards' official portrait. Beneath the painting, some admirers placed yellow roses and sunflowers and a copy of the serenity prayer used in Alcoholics Anonymous. Richards was candid about her 1980 treatment for alcoholism.

Her granddaughter Lily Adams told the crowd that her grandmother had a message: "This is your life. It is the only one you get. So no excuses, and no do-overs. If you make a mistake or fail at something you learn from it, you get over it and you move on. Your job is to be the very best person you can be and to never settle for anything less."

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