It was not yet 7 a.m. and the sun was still hiding behind the Alamo when a small group of people wearing orange shirts quietly gathered in front of the historic site on Friday.

The downtown area has seen its share of strife over the past two weeks, but this group was almost somber as they talked about walking 10 miles in honor of the late Tom Daniels, who died of pancreatic cancer in April, and was a campaign manager, friend, and mentor to many political figures in San Antonio. 

The local nonprofit ThriveWell Cancer Foundation, along with Daniels’ friends and family, planned the Tom Daniels Tribute Walk, which will be carried on by separate groups in roughly 10-mile increments over the next three days, eventually ending in Port Aransas on Sunday. 

Lisa Ward Hutchens, development director for ThriveWell and a close friend of Daniels, said the long-distance walk would raise money for the foundation, which helps cancer patients afford treatments and provides many other services. She said they had already raised $1,500 even before they began walking on Friday and were hoping to raise much more.

To avoid walking in the heat of the day and save time, multiple groups are starting out at different points over the 156-mile route and simultaneously walking separate legs from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. each day. 

The group starting at the Alamo came to walk and raise money for cancer patients, but also to remember and celebrate their friend by following the same path Daniels walked last May when he decided to raise money for ThriveWell by walking from the Alamo to Port Aransas. Daniels, who was 64 at the time and an avid walker, took 15 days to do the walk in 2019, taking just one day off for Mother’s Day. He raised about $3,000 for ThriveWell, according to Kristina Aderhold, communications director for the organization.

When Daniels walked to raise money for cancer patients last year, he wasn’t one himself, said State Rep. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio), who was at the walk on Friday and said Daniels had been his campaign manager and best friend.

“It was just ironic that he chose to do this on his own and then six months later he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer,” said Gutierrez, who is giving up his Texas House seat to run for the state Senate in District 19.

Daniels was not married and had no children, but Gutierrez said Daniels had become part of his family and he was even godfather to Gutierrez’s younger daughter. That daughter, Victoria, is just 10 years old, but said she wanted to walk the entire 10 miles on Friday with her family to honor Daniels.

The impact Daniels had on the political landscape of San Antonio and Texas politics is almost immeasurable, according to the friends who gathered to walk. All described him as the kind of friend who feels more like a family member.

“Tommy always used to say, ‘I work for Roland,’ and I’d tell people I worked with Tommy,” Gutierrez recalled. “He was a mentor to me. Tom was kind of the epicenter of us all. He’s why we joined together and got together.”

Besides Gutierrez, the small group included local judges and former U.S. Rep. Charlie González, who served seven terms in Congress. González said he and Daniels had grown up in the political world together, both having fathers who were steeped in politics. González is the son of Henry B. González, who represented San Antonio in Congress for almost 40 years, and Daniels’ father was a former San Antonio city councilman.

“From the bottom up, Tommy knew it all,” González said. “And, gosh, he knew this city, precinct by precinct. He was probably the most well-connected individual and such a generous person. He didn’t want to take credit, he didn’t need any kind of publicity, he didn’t want his face out there. He made things work. He was just a great friend and a great believer and a wonderful Democrat through and through.”

A walk from the Alamo to Port Aransas in memory of Tom Daniels, who last year made the trek himself, aims to raise money for cancer patients.
(from left) Judge Gloria Saldana, Chief Justice Sandee Bryan Marion, former Chief Justice Alma Lopez, Tom Daniels, Justice Patricia Alvarez, Bexar County Judge Cathy Torres-Stahl, Bexar County Judge Norma Gonzales, and Justice Luz Elena Chapa pose for a photo at a brunch in February hosted by the judges to thank Daniels for his friendship. Credit: Courtesy / Justice Luz Elena Chapa

Bexar County judges Cathy Torres-Stahl and Norma Gonzales and Texas Appeals Court justices Patricia Alvarez and Luz Elena Chapa all reminisced with gratitude about the role Daniels had played in their political lives. Each said he had either managed their judicial campaigns or filed their campaign finance reports, and sometimes both, but most importantly Daniels had been supportive and believed in them.

“The reason why we have so many female judges in Bexar County is because of Tom Daniels,” Chapa said. “He knocked down every barrier, every obstacle. Whenever we felt defeated, he brought us back up and encouraged us along the way.” 

ThriveWell plans to make the walk an annual event to honor Daniels and raise money for cancer patients, Aderhold said. She said anyone can participate in the Tom Daniels Tribute Walk and can sign up for any leg of the walk here. The foundation also is accepting donations online.

Jennifer Norris has been working in journalism since 2005. She's a native Texan, but a new San Antonian who is excited to get to know the city.