I am sad to report that a close friend of Ric Williamson called to say that the chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission and the person who envisioned, created, and defended the Trans-Texas Corridor, died overnight of a major heart attack. The friend has been in touch with the family.

This is Williamson’s bio from the Tx-DoT Web site:

Richard F. (“Ric”) Williamson is a commissioner of the Texas Transportation Commission and serves as that body’s chair as it oversees statewide activities of the Texas Department of Transportation. He was appointed to the commission by Gov. Rick Perry in March 2001 and was named the group’s chair effective Jan. 29, 2004. The commission oversees statewide activities of the Department of Transportation.

Prior to his appointment to the Texas Transportation Commission, Williamson served from 1985-1998 in the Texas Legislature. He served on a number of legislative committees including: House/Senate Budget Conference Committee, Appropriations Committee (vice chairman), Ways And Means Committee, House Select Committee On Revenue and Public Education Funding, House/Senate Criminal Justice Conference Committee, Health and Human Services Conference Committee, Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee, and the House/Senate Fiscal Management Conference Committee.

Williamson serves or has served on several boards including the Southern Regional Education Board, Legislative Budget Board, Department of Information Resources, Uniform Statewide Accounting System Committee, the Southern Legislative Conference, and the Weatherford Little League Association.

His professional and legislative accomplishments have earned him many awards from Texas media, including recognition twice (1989 and 1991) by Texas Monthly magazine as among the “Ten Best Legislators.” Further recognitions include the Dallas Morning News “Best of the 75th Legislative Session” in 1997, and the 1992 Texas Chamber of Commerce Leadership Award.

Born in Abilene, Taylor County, he was graduated with a B.A. degree from the University of Texas at Austin in 1974. Williamson went on to build his natural-gas production company. He makes his home in Weatherford with his wife, Mary Ann. They are parents to three daughters, Melissa, Katherine and Sara. Personal interests for Williamson include hunting and fishing, and supporting women’s fast-pitch softball.

Williamson had the most original mind that I have encountered in my years of covering Texas politics. Here’s what I wrote about him in my June 2007 column for TEXAS MONTHLY (“Road Warrior”):

Williamson has the most inventive mind that has passed through the Legislature since I have been covering it. He was the first to suggest that tuition at state colleges and universities ought to be market driven; that notion became law in 2003. He was the first to suggest that appropriations ought to be tied to desired outcomes. Today, when agencies tell budget writers about their “strategies” (for performing their assigned tasks), they are following the budget pattern Williamson conceived. Like it or not, the highway plan bears the Williamson trademark: It represents out-of-the-box thinking to solve a real problem, which is the inability of the revenue stream to keep up with the demand for mobility….

Although Ric and I disagreed over some aspects of the Trans-Texas Corridor, we always remained friends, and I never doubted that he believed it was essential to the future of Texas. The passion that he felt for his idea drove him to defend it, even at the cost of his health. When I learned of his death, the recollection of the quote of his that I used to start the column hit me in the gut:

“Since I’ve started this,” Ric Williamson said, referring to his six-year tenure on the Texas Transportation Commission, “I’ve had two heart attacks, and I’m trying to avoid the third one, which the doctors tell me will be fatal.”

He was a great Texan.