I join South Texas in mourning the passing of Billy Leo (R.I.P.). He was my student (Masters in Public Service), Pan American University, Edinburg, Texas. But, as goes the lovely song from “The King and I,” “if you’d become a teacher, by your pupils you’ll be taught.”

Billy Leo

Certainly, that was the case in a graduate class on “Political Leadership.” Billy, in his homespun manner, would hold forth on fascinating stories about growing up, learning from his father.

Leo J. Leo was patrón of La Joya, Texas, along the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo River during the 1960s and 1970s. Big Leo started the Viva Kennedy movement of the Valley and a chapter of PASSO (Political Association of Spanish-Speaking Organizations). Billy spoke of the struggles for civil and economic rights of Mexican Americans. Challenges were aired by conservatives to progressive politics and to the dominant role of the Leo family. Billy was gracious, (relatively) quiet, allowing them to vent or oppose. The class was richer for those debates. Most appreciated the advancement of schools and democratic rights in La Joya, indeed, the benefits to the Valley and all of Texas.

I learned a great deal at that time. Leo and Billy attended a political fund raiser at my rural home, north of La Joya, along with (now, well known Valley leaders) Jesus (Chuy) Ramírez, Arturo Guajardo, Juan Maldonado and other activists (rebels?) from small towns throughout the Valley. Featured guest was Anglo (German American) and Congressman, (later, Ambassador in Africa and Special Ambassador to Mexico), Bob Kruger. Relatively liberal at that time, he disappointed us later.

But the group realized the conservative pressure on Kruger from his Hill Country district (extending almost to Alpine). Those students were a practical bunch, anxious for change but usually very pragmatic (supporting the “lesser of evils”) in their political choices and decisions. So were both Billy and his father pragmatists. The class was enriched, the students and their professor made wiser. I thank Billy for my lessons.

My condolences to family and friends.

Dr. Gary Joe Mounce