Few recall his prowess as a speedskater, but all remember his advocacy for constituents.
By Maria Gardner
Family, friends, former colleagues and admirers of the late U.S. Rep. Henry B. Gonza-lez, D-Texas, gathered May 3 at St. Mary’s University for the last celebration in a series of events to commemorate his 100th birthday.
He was the first Mexican-American congressman to represent Texas.
He represented San Antonio’s 20th Congressional District on the West Side of San Antonio for 37 years.
Gonzalez attended this college and was named Outstanding Former Student for 1982-83.
Students of Henry B. Gonzalez Elementary School recited the pledge of allegiance in English and Spanish.
“Congressman Gonzalez set the tone for leadership in San Antonio,” said Henry Cisneros, former San Antonio mayor and emcee for this event.
He recalled Gonzalez’s work in Austin as a state senator when in 1957 he successfully filibustered for 36 hours a set of bills to enact school segregation in Texas.
“He saw what was done in Dixie states and he was not going to let that happen here,” Cisneros said.
Maria R. Gomez and her daughter Rosemary Stuart attended this event to share with Charlie Gonzalez, one of Henry B. Gonzalez’s sons, the special place in their hearts they have for the late congressman, who was known for advocating for all people.
Stuart said in 1968, her mother lost all of her savings to a scam when a lawyer promised to obtain her documentation to legally work in this country in exchange for money.
Gomez’s husband, a painter at the Hilton Palacio Del Rio, who had previously received documentation, recommended she reach out to Gonzalez for assistance.
Gomez wrote to Gonzalez about the issue and he ensured her paperwork was pro-cessed accordingly, Stuart said.
During this event, Bertha Cuellar Gonzalez was honored for being a devoted wife to Gonzalez.
She passed away Jan. 16 at age 99.
Dr. Teresa Van Hay, history professor at St. Mary’s University, said, Cuellar grew up in Floresville where Mexican-American students were only allowed to attend school until the eighth grade.
It wasn’t until Cuellar moved to San Antonio that she attended high school.
In segregated San Antonio, Mexican-Americans were limited to an area known to have high incidence of tuberculosis.
Cuellar caught the illness when Gonzalez was courting her.
He visited her daily for a year communicating through a wall, Van Hay said.
“It’s a love story,” she said.
Part of the program included partial screening of a documentary about the life of Henry B. Gonzalez, which was created by students from the history department at St. Mary’s.
Declassified FBI files of Gonzalez and his Profile in Courage Award were in display.
The files revealed that in the 1970s, Gonzalez received death threats. Anna Wassom, Gonzalez’s granddaughter, viewed the artifacts with her 12-year-old Isabella and husband James Wassom.
“I want Anna to see his handwriting, just to learn a little bit more about him,” Was-som said.
Although this event celebrated his life, it did not discuss the late congressman’s pas-sion for roller skating.
“He was a heck of a speedskater,” she said. “He would always compete at men’s speed skating at The Rollercade.”
The last time she saw her grandfather skate was when he was 72. Gonzalez, former SAC graduate, died in 2000 at age 84.
He would have been 101 years old May 3.