Bexar County Commissioner Paul Elizondo, who represented the county’s Precinct 2 for more than 35 years and was known for his expertise in county finances, died Thursday morning at his home, his family said. He was 83.
“His passing was unexpected,” a statement from his family read. “The 83-year-old San Antonio native had just celebrated the Christmas holiday with his family.”
Elizondo is survived by his wife, Irene; three adult sons; and three granddaughters. Elizondo will lie in repose at San Fernando Cathedral on Wednesday, Jan. 2, beginning at 1 p.m., according to information released by the Bexar County Democratic Party. A rosary is scheduled for 7 p.m. A funeral Mass is set for the following day, Thursday, at 10 a.m. at San Fernando.
First elected to the commissioners court in 1982, Elizondo won re-election to a 10th term in November.
“Paul was my dearest friend,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said in a statement. “Over 17 years, we forged a strong partnership on the commissioners court. His life’s work will leave a lasting impact on our community. I will miss him terribly.”
As county judge, Wolff is authorized to appoint a Precinct 2 resident to fill Elizondo’s vacant post until the next general election, in November 2020, according to a memo by Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood. Wolff told the Rivard Report on Thursday that the commissioners court will let a period of mourning occur before addressing the vacancy.
Elizondo faced a primary challenge in March from then-Bexar County Veterans Service Officer Queta Rodriguez, who forced him into a runoff, which he won. Elizondo pulled 66 percent of the vote in the November general election, defeating Republican Theresa Connolly.
Elizondo played a key role in decades worth of County projects, including the San Pedro Creek Culture Park, the planned restoration of the Alameda Theater, and the expansion of medical services through the county-owned University Health System.
“For over a generation, Paul Elizondo was an icon of the West Side and a force in Bexar County government and politics,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said in a statement. “His influence will be felt for decades to come. My thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time.”
In May, Elizondo told the Rivard Report he was eager to see the completion of such projects as the $390 million Women and Children’s Tower at University Hospital and the widening of Loop 1604.
“If you leave something in place that serves the community for a long time, that’s great,” Elizondo said. “There are projects I’ve been working on for years, and I want to go to the end of that.”
A former Marine, Elizondo spent much of his life in public education and as an elected official. He spent 16 years combined with the San Antonio and Edgewood independent school districts as a teacher, band director, and music supervisor. He earned a bachelor’s degree in music education from St. Mary’s University in 1957.
Elizondo was first elected to the State House of Representatives in 1978, representing District 57-1. He won a second term in 1980. Elizondo parlayed his successes as a state lawmaker into a run as county commissioner for Precinct 2, a run that lasted more than three decades.
Throughout his life, Elizondo was an avid lover of music, conducting the jazzy Paul Elizondo Orchestra since the 1960s. In 2017, he conducted Jarabe Tapatío during the San Antonio Symphony’s Fiesta Pops concert, an honor he was touched to receive.
“This is a highlight in my life, to conduct the San Antonio Symphony in the Tobin Center,” Elizondo told the Rivard Report in April 2017.
Kathleen Vale, San Antonio Symphony board chair, described Elizondo as “truly a renaissance man,” citing his love for music, visual arts, education, literature, feminism, economics, politics, the public health system, and support for “the downtrodden and the disadvantaged.”
Vale said Elizondo’s curiosity propelled lifelong learning, and that “he had a mind that was unstoppable.”
Vale’s brother-in-law, former State Sen. Robert Vale, was great friends with Elizondo, she said. The two served together as state representatives during a time when a group of “young lions” – as Vale described Hispanic political leaders such as Johnny Alaniz, Pete Torres, Rudy Esquivel, Matt Garcia, and Albert Peña – shook up Texas politics.
“He’s the last one of that gang,” she said. “It’s the end of a generation, the end of an era.”
Further describing Elizondo as an “indiscriminate lover of the arts,” Vale said the Commissioner’s support for the Symphony during its recent struggles “meant a tremendous amount to me,” as did his “mighty” support for all resident arts companies of the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.
“He loved every genre, every art form,” she said. “I loved him dearly.”