Lila Cockrell poses for a photo. Photo by Scott Ball.
The late Lila Cockrell poses for a photo during the annual Hot Wells Harvest Feast in 2015. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Former Mayor Lila Cockrell’s lasting impact on San Antonio was celebrated at the International Women’s Day Summit on Saturday.

Cockrell was recognized posthumously as the 2020 Women’s Equity Trailblazer, a distinction given to women who have left their mark on San Antonio. The award was received on her behalf by her daughter Cathy Cockrell-Newton.

In its second year, the summit, which aims to celebrate and empower San Antonio women, was held at Texas A&M University-San Antonio and included several panels, breakout sessions, and resources for local women on topics like health, domestic violence, and entrepreneurship.  

Following the summit’s opening remarks given by Mayor Ron Nirenberg, Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda (D6) took to the podium to honor Cockrell, who she remembered as a dear mentor and friend. Havdra recalled promising Cockrell if she ever ran for office, she’d use her full name – a promise she kept. She then presented the award, a red and yellow Garcia Art Glass vase, to Cockrell-Newton. 

Holding back tears as she stepped in front of the approximately 100 attendees, Cockrell-Newton shared memories of her mother before she thanked the Mayor’s Commission on the Status of Women for selecting Cockrell for the award. She recalled Cockrell’s devotion to the city as both a councilwoman and mayor, and as a mother. 

“She would have been very thrilled and appreciative to be singled out for this special award,” Cockrell-Newton said.

Cathy Cockrell-Newton accepts the Women’s Equity Trailblazer Award for her late mother, Lila Cockrell. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The decision to grant Cockrell the award was made unanimously by the MCSW, said Chairwomen Dr. Erika Gonzalez. As Cockrell was the first female mayor of San Antonio and the founder of the MCSW in 1970, the choice seemed easy, Gonzalez said.

Born on Jan. 19, 1922 in Fort Worth, Cockrell was the first woman to chair the City Public Service Board and the first woman president of the Texas Municipal League. A graduate of Southern Methodist University, she went on to serve as a WAVES U.S. Naval Reserve officer during World War II shortly after marrying Sidney Earl Cockrell Jr., a Navy officer. 

Cockrell served on the San Antonio City Council from 1963 to 1970 and again from 1973 to1975. She successfully ran for mayor in 1975 and served until 1981, then again from 1989 to 1991. Cockrell died on Aug. 29, 2019 at the age of 97. 

She is often remembered as a veteran, a much-loved wife and mother, a political pioneer, and a lifelong river and parks advocate. 

Cockrell-Newton said she personally remembered her mother’s progressive outlook on life – an outlook she tried to instill into her two daughters.

“Mom worked with everyone, even with those she didn’t always agree with, because she felt it was important to be inclusive,” she said. “Often opponents later became friends – as was the case with her and Nelson Wolff.”

“Lila was a dear friend for many years,” said Mayor Ron Nirenberg. He said he’s pleased to see the initiatives started by Cockrell continue and grow, and that he believes she’d be happy to see that growth today. 

Cockrell is the second recipient of the Women’s Equity Trailblazer Award, the first being former City Manager Sheryl Sculley at last year’s inaugural summit.

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Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report.