Alumnus leading Hidalgo County by putting community first
Posted: 03/18/2013
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Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia always dreamed of being successful. The University of Texas-Pan American alumnus, however, exceeded his own expectations. Garcia has risen through the political ranks and become one of the most successful attorneys in South Texas.

UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen gives Ramon Garcia (BA '70), Hidalgo County judge, an award during a ceremony in February, where Garcia was named a UTPA Pillar of Success.

Garcia grew up in Alamo where, at 8 years old, he was already running the town's largest newspaper route for The McAllen Monitor.

"I would ride my bike to deliver my route and then my sister would stand on the street selling my newspapers too," Garcia said. "I was smart. I recruited her and made her work too."

It's no wonder Garcia's lifelong motto has been, "commit yourself to working hard and set goals."

"I've always worked. You always have to look at the big picture. Figure out what you really want to do and do it," Garcia said.

He credits his father for his unyielding work ethic.

"My father was a service station manager in Edinburg. He had a difficult time providing for a wife and nine kids. He worked hard all his life and never gave up," Garcia said.

School was always a top priority in the Garcia household.

"My mother always pushed reading," Garcia said. "She used to buy me all the classics in comic book form. A "Tale of Two Cities," "Ivanhoe," every one of them was a comic book and I read them when I was 7, 8 and 9 years old."

The avid book lover excelled in school and it wasn't long before educators took notice.

"One of my 8th grade teachers, Mrs. Elodia Chapa, had a son who was trying to become a lawyer. She considered me the brightest kid in her class and she brought me books and law books and encouraged me to pursue law," said Garcia. "She's a beautiful lady who has since passed away but she had a tremendous impact on me."

Though his interest in the legal profession had been sparked, being able to afford a higher education was another matter.

"Before going to college I worked in the fields whenever I could," Garcia said. "Watermelon, cotton, I did all of that. Whenever there was a crop in summer, or fall, I worked. I had to. I knew I wanted to go to college."

Garcia then drove a school bus to make ends meet and to be able to afford his tuition.

"I had to get up at 5:30 in the morning to pick up kids in the ranch area and bring them into town for school," Garcia said. "Then I worked part-time at the employment office and then I would drive the kids back home and I had to fit my classes in with work."

Fortunately, Pan American was nearby. Garcia said he cannot imagine what his life would be like if the University had not been in the area.

"It's what I could afford to do. I could study and go to school and still work and be close to home," Garcia said. "Pan American provided me the opportunity to be educated. I don't think without it being here in our community that I would have gotten educated."

Garcia earned his bachelor's degree in 1970 and enrolled at the University of Houston Bates College of Law where he earned the top grade in Professor Newell Blakely's class.

"That's my favorite accomplishment. Newell Blakely was the terror of the law school. He was a tough professor and I got the best grade in his class," Garcia said. "That was a huge deal at our law school. This Mexican kid topping Blakely's class, it just wasn't supposed to happen, but I did it."

Garcia has become quite good at breaking the mold.

Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia (BA '70), who was named a UTPA Pillar of Success, poses with family members next to the pillar honoring him at the Visitors Center in February.

When Mark White was running for governor, Garcia served as his campaign coordinator. After Governor White won the election, he offered Garcia a spot to work with Texas Parks & Wildlife, which would have been a huge honor.

Garcia declined and instead opted to be a member of the Pan American Board of Regents.

"That's what I wanted. It was important for me to be part of the school that helped me," the 64-year-old said. He was a member of the Pan American Board from 1983 to 1987.

Garcia has received numerous honors during his exceptional legal career including the 2005 Governor's Humanitarian Achievement Award, the Golden Eagle Award from the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Valley Hispanic Award from the UTPA Library.

However, he says being recently named one of UTPA's Pillars of Success, a coveted award given to outstanding alumni, is the peak of all those recognitions.

"I know there are a lot of other people that could have been selected and should have been selected. I'm thankful to the committee," Garcia said. "I owe everything that I have to Pan American."

Former McAllen Independent School District superintendent Yolanda Chapa has been working as Garcia's chief administrator since 2010. She says she sees a side of him few people get to see.

"This man gives more than people know. The last time he was judge he donated his entire salary to different associations and he never told anyone. That's the kind of person he is," Chapa said. "The man is about what is right."

Chapa said she was not surprised when Garcia was chosen as a notable alumnus.

"The University has selected someone who cares tremendously for the constituents, someone who cares about the county and who is very transparent. The man works 24-7," Chapa said. "He is a lawyer for a living but he is a county judge simply to serve his community."

Garcia was inducted into the Pillars of Success Feb. 15. The University recognized the new inductees during its annual Alumni Ball later that evening.

"When I went to law school I got one of the highest grades and I was competing against people that went to colleges all over the country. I went to Pan Am and I excelled which proved I got a well-rounded quality education here," Garcia said. "This University has been so good to me. I have so much to be thankful for in my life."

Learn more about Garcia in this video: