Relentless jokester, cultural crusader, fierce family man, and ruthless champion of those on the outside, Rene Rodriguez was a natural-born David-versus-Goliath victor. Rene’s larger than life leadership forever enriched our local, state, and national landscape. His impact remains immeasurable.
Rene Rodriguez negotiated life’s terms until the end. At 68 years of age, he drew his final breath on May 16, 2021, at 5:45 p.m., following a lengthy battle with cancer. Born on January 26, 1953, in Kingsville, Texas, Rene was the quintessential model of “good trouble.” His life of public service began early with ambition and an innate gift for turning a phrase. He attended Christ the King Elementary, Tom Browne Middle School, and Carroll High School, then graduated from Texas A&I University, Kingsville with a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting, before earning his Juris Doctorate at Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law, in Houston, Texas.
Rene enjoyed 44 robust years as an attorney at law. His legal contributions were widely considered stellar. As a young lawyer safeguarding public interests, he worked with the Federal Trade Commission and U.S. Treasury Department and later winning hefty criminal defense cases and personal injury claims in private practice. Rene fought for every client as if they were family, representing the poor, privileged, professional, and powerful.
Legend tells of a state district judge crowning Rene as “El Cucuy,” the boogeyman, with fearful taunts to opposing attorneys, warning that El Cucuy was a force to be reckoned with, who fought every case as if he had nothing to lose.
A social justice warrior and visionary, Rene began charting political wins with his first slate of diverse and progressive Hispanic candidates during his renegade bid for District Attorney in 1992. He has since ushered in scores of historic white-hat leaders at every level of elective office from the school house, to the courthouse, to the statehouse. Part father figure, part boot-camp drill sergeant, Rene eagerly shared his hard-fought lessons with hundreds of wayward fledglings.
Rene founded a rough and tumble martial arts program of “karate kids” that birthed his charitable foundation, Fighting to Rid Gangs in America, for at-risk Westside students at Cunningham Middle School and St. Joseph’s School. His foundation supported critical programs like the National Hispanic Institute, Chicas Rock, the South Texas Women’s Shelter, Kid’s in the Kitchen and dozens of charitable interests. Rene’s barbequing skills were legendary, topped only by his cooking talents, which he used for the yearly Journey to Damascus retreats, preparing meals for thousands of parishioners on their spiritual pilgrimage. Rene’s epic events showcased his incredible Chicano art collection and influenced many of the area’s most successful celebrations of culture, including the Dia de los Muertos Festival and downtown Loteria Mural.
The best decision of Rene’s life was marrying his college sweetheart, Nelda Vidaurri, of Kingsville, Texas, on August 9, 1975. Their legendary love story lasted 47 years, chockful of romantic adventures and world travels with the promise of always returning home, to spend downtime at Rancho Lolita, their family jewel in Duval County. Nelda proved to be Rene’s most worthy and perfect equal in life, breaking barriers as a partner, parent, lawyer, magistrate, judge, and Senior Justice on the 13th Court of Appeals. Together, they provided a secure and nurturing home, teaching their children to respect and embody people from all walks of life.
Family was Rene’s most heartfelt pride: His first-born, Robert, was a brilliant chip off the old block. He shared his Dad’s sense of humor and charm, with his Mom’s huge heart to match. Robert followed in his parents’ footsteps by becoming a lawyer and prosecutor with the Nueces County District Attorney’s Office; His precious daughter, Kate the Beautiful, “The Doctor,” who carries the torch of justice and equality. Her thriving counseling practice comforts our community in Rene’s Tancahua building. Without a doubt, Rene’s greatest joys in life were his young grandsons, Patrick, 4 years, and Vincent, 2 years. They reignited Rene’s zeal for life in the face of cancer. His bittersweet regret was knowing he would not watch his “red head” and “Mexican” grandsons grow up.
Rene never knew a stranger. He lived the final chapter of his life surrounded by legions of loved ones from across the globe. His tight-knit circle grew into a vast army of unconditional friends who showered him with love until his final moments.
Rene remained a tireless hero to many throughout his life helping those around him until he couldn’t. His legacy of civil rights victories span nearly half a century. His courage was captured in a documentary that will be featured on Netflix soon. Rene’s fearlessness appears in hundreds of news reports, and countless untold stories fought and won on behalf of We the People.
“Prefiero morir de pie, que vivir de rodillas.” Emiliano Zapata