Texas tort reform leader, Valley advocate Bill Summers dies at 71

Marilyn Tennissen Dec. 3, 2009, 8:46am

Bill Summers, founder of Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse

Texas lost a leader of tort reform efforts in the state with the death of Bill Summers on Nov. 30.

Summers, 71, was the founder of Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, a grass roots movement that began in the Rio Grande Valley and spread to chapters around the state.

Richard Weekley, chairman of Texans for Lawsuit Reform called Summers a friend and an ally.

"Bill was a pioneer of the tort reform movement in Texas," Weekley said in a prepared statement. "All the volunteers and staff of TLR mourn (his) loss."

According to The (McAllen) Monitor, Summers sought to improve conditions for businesses and residents in the Valley through a variety of activities.

He spent 20 years promoting the area as president of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership, a regional chamber of commerce, where he is credited with encouraging local governments, economic development organizations and chambers to work together to promote the region as a whole.

Summers' efforts were also noticed by lawmakers in Washington, D.C.

"Bill was one of South Texas' most influential leaders," said U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas. "His tireless work in the Rio Grande Valley made a tremendous impact on the growth and development of the area. His commitment to making the community a better place to live and work was unmistakable."

Hutchison said she worked closely with Summers on many projects, including efforts to get an interstate connection between the Valley and I-37.

"Bill Summers devoted his life's work to making his community and the larger Rio Grande Valley a better place for residents to raise their families, run businesses and carry out their daily lives," U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said.

Cornyn said he too had worked with Summers on a number of issues critical to the Valley and Texas over the years.

Summers was also considered an ambassador for the Valley area on the other side of the border.

"Not too long ago, the Valley (localities) was a series of islands," State Rep. Aaron Pena, D-Edinburg, told The Monitor. "Bill fostered a Valleywide — not just a Valleywide, but a northern Mexico/Valleywide — communication. He had a heart of gold."

He established the first office of any Texas chamber of commerce in Tamaulipas, Mexico, to build relationships with business leaders and elected officials in the border state.

Summers was recognized on numerous occasions for his work, garnering top awards from the Texas Department of Transportation, the Texas Civil Justice League and the city of Weslaco.

He was also honored this summer when Farm-to-Market Road 1015 between U.S. Highway 83 and the Progreso International Bridge was designated as Bill Summers International Boulevard.

The Monitor stated that Summers died at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston following a battle with lung cancer.

"Bill's stalwart commitment and unflagging energy in fighting lawsuit abuse was an inspiration to those of us who followed him," Weekley said. "His work helped change the face of Texas and his legacy will continue to be seen in the increasing economic vitality of the Rio Grande Valley."

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