9 Notable Texas Deaths of 2011: Football, Gay Rights & Fodder for JFK Conspiracists

Texas gives to the world, and eventually the people who do the giving die. Such was the case in 2011, when at least nine notable Texans joined the Choir Invisible, the Great Majority, the dead.

Without them, there would no Weed-Eaters, and perhaps the greatest college football/politician scandal ever wouldn't have happened; JFK conspiracists would have much less to chew on and Texas birders would be bereft of a beloved collection of paintings.

Here are nine Texans who made a mark on the world before leaving it this year.

9. James Hosty James Hosty is the FBI agent who got handed Lee Harvey Oswald's file, with orders to investigate him, in October 1963. He failed to talk to Oswald in the ensuing month.

Hosty went to his grave saying nothing he could have done would have prevented JFK's assassination, but like everyone else in government he covered his backside when the investigations began.

On the day Jack Ruby shot Oswald, Hosty burned a note he had received from the future assassin complaining about the FBI's treatment of his wife. Hosty was also involved in making sure investigators didn't see that Oswald's address book included his name.

He was portrayed in Oliver Stone's JFK as a conspirator in the death; Hosty's son said that such claims were hurtful to his dad.

"The irony was, my dad was a devout Irish-Catholic Democrat Kennedy supporter," Thomas Hosty told The New York Times.

8. Bubba Smith

Bubba Smith was a product of the Golden Triangle and one of the best high school football players ever in Texas.

He went on to play at Michigan State, where he was forever hated by Notre Dame fans for separating the shoulder of star QB Terry Hanratty in the 1966 "Game of the Century." Spartan fans used to chant "Kill, Bubba Kill" during games, and the defensive lineman relished his violent reputation. Off the field, though, he was a solid dude active in charities.

To a lot of people -- mostly those with absolutely no sense of movie taste whatsoever -- he will always be remembered for his Police Academy movies, which, we hope, helped him pay the bills.  

9 Notable Texas Deaths of 2011: Football, Gay Rights & Fodder for JFK Conspiracists

7. Scott Gentling
Soctt Gentling and his twin brother Stuart were an extremely tight team of artists whose paintings of Texas birds have become classics.

They self-published the classic Of Birds and Texas in 1986. The two became closely identified with Fort Worth.

Gentling's death, one writer said, brought to a close

a conjoined career rooted in a combination of definitive studies of Texas' natural realm, soulful portraits of prominent Texans, and memorably ambient public-art displays ranging from the celestial imagery adorning the ceilings of Bass Performance Hall (dating from 1997-1998) to the surreal traffic-stopping Zipper Mural (1975) at the southern edge of the downtown area.
6. Bill Clements

There have always been scandals in politics and in college football, but leave it to Texas to combine the two, hilariously.

Bill Clements, who died this year at 94, was the governor of Texas in the `80s as the massive pay-for-play cheating scandals at SMU began to emerge. Clements had attended SMU and was on the school's board of governors.

Confronted with admissions that the school had been paying top athletes to come play football for the Mustangs, the noble governor stood up, decried the immorality and the hypocritical message they were sending to kids, and demanded the payments stop immediately.

Not really. Instead he approved a plan to boldly "phase out" the payments because, after all, the school and its boosters had cut deals with them, and a deal's a deal. Even if it involves blatantly violating the NCAA rulebook as wildly as possible.  

5. George Ballas

George Ballas got the idea for the Weed Eater while going through an automatic car wash in 1971.

He went back to his Houston home and rigged up a prototype with a tin can, some fishing line and an edger.

Even after he tweaked it and streamlined it, no one wanted anything to do with it. So he started his own company, which eventually grew into a $40 million a year business. He sold the company five years later for big bucks.

Older Houstonians might remember him for Dance City U.S.A, a 43,000-square foot facility that he called "a supermarket of dancing with babes and booze and big bands all under one roof."

The dancing gene was passed on: His grandson Mark is a regular on Dancing with the Stars.

4. Emory Bellard

If you were watching college football in the `70s, chances are you were looking at the wishbone, or some variation of it.

The epic games involving Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska -- they all featured some version of the option. Love it or hate it -- and today's fans would have little patience for the "three yards and a cloud of dust" results -- the wishbone was a staple of the game.

And its inventor was an Aggie. An Aggie coach, at least. Emory Bellard coached the Ags throughout most of the `70s, and that's where he perfected the wishbone, a tweak of the veer offense made famous by UH's Bill Yeoman that Bellard first developed while he was a UT assistant.

Yeoman helped chase Bellard from College Station with a 1978 thumping that led to a mid-season resignation. Bellard then went on to coach at Mississippi State.

The wishbone has all but vanished, but who knows? Maybe Tim Tebow will bring it back.

9 Notable Texas Deaths of 2011: Football, Gay Rights & Fodder for JFK Conspiracists

3. Sam Garrison
The Tuskegee Airmen were WWII flyers who fought not only the Axis but the rampant racism of 1940s America. Sam Garrison, who lived and died in Tyler, was their youngest member.

He won two Silver Stars and two Bronze Stars as a fighter pilot over the Mediterranean and in the South Pacific.

He was 18 when he joined the unit, and his wife once said he simply took in stride the racism he encountered.

"He was very excited, he wanted to be a soldier, he thought everybody should stand up and be a soldier and that's what he did," she said.  

2. Bettye Danoff

She was about 5-feet-2 and barely broke the 100-pound mark, but Bettye Danoff, known as the "Mighty Mite" back when they gave athletes nicknames like that, made a big impression on the golf world.

She was one of the founding members of the LPGA in 1950. She also ended fellow Texan Babe Zaharias's 17-tournament winning streak.

She traveled the tour with her young daughters, often scrambling to find people to babysit while she was on the course.

Danoff stayed active in golf and the LPGA, and was fondly remembered at her death by LPGA president Mike Whan. "Bettye really did make a difference, in the world of golf -- and all of us are living proof," he said. "Because of her courage, and the vision/belief of many others that followed our Founders, we all get to participate in a fantastic business and game."

1. John Lawrence

John Lawrence never sought the spotlight; in fact, he tried to avoid it. But he made history in 2003 for, of all things, his sex life: Lawrence's case was the one that led the U.S. Supreme Court to rule laws against sodomy were unconstitutional.

Lawrence lived a quiet life even after the case, only occasionally popping up in public. He died in November at 68 but, perhaps fittingly, the news didn't become public for a month.

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