It is with considerable sadness that I received the news of the death of Robert Landis Armstrong, a former commissioner of the General Land Office, who was a major force in bringing about the addition of Big Bend Ranch State Park to the Texas Parks & Wildlife System. (TEXAS MONTHLY was an early champion of the effort to make Big Bend Ranch part of the state park system.) As my colleague R.G. Ratcliffe noted yesterday, Armstrong was a widely liked and respected Democratic legislator from Austin, who would qualify as a gentle giant. He gained local fame by having the queso dip at Matt’s El Rancho Restaurant named for him. I knew him very well, as he occupied an office not far from the space where I began my tenure in the Capitol.
In those days, lawmakers sometimes doubled up in the narrow confines that constituted their offices: two desks to an office in what is now the Agricultural Museum. Armstrong was the first land commissioner who could be considered an environmentalist, a word that had barely been coined back in the day. Politically he was a moderate Democrat in a time when the Democratic party was divided into conservative and liberal wings. I never knew anyone who didn’t like him. He was a great Texan and his death is a loss to Texas.