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Sen. Zaffirini earns awards from Press Women of Texas, including 1st place for her speech about Hispanic police officer Ramiro Martínez, who helped stop UT Tower killer, reports Omar Ochoa - Titans of the Texas Legislature

Featured: The 307-foot-tall Main Building tower, described as the academic symbol and architectural emblem of of the University of Texas at AustinBut on On Monday, August 1, 1966, the Tower, as it is more widely called, became the site of one of the largest mass murders in U.S. history at the time, when a sniper killed 14 people and injured 31 others. “I was on campus that day, working at “The Daily Texan” (campus newspaper), sitting in front of a window in direct view of the Tower,” recalled Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo/Starr County. “To this day I remember not only the sounds of the gunfire, but also the sounds and sights of the suffering and the actions of heroes.”

Photograph Courtesy UT NEWS


Sen. Zaffirini earns awards from Press Women of Texas, including 1st place for her speech about Hispanic police officer Ramiro Martínez, who helped stop UT Tower killer, reports Omar Ochoa

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Press Women of Texas, a nonprofit organization with furthers the work of women in journalism and related professions, was recently awarded the 2020 Ann Faragher Sweepstakes Award to Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo/Starr County, reports Edinburg City Attorney Omar Ochoa.

The 2020 Ann Faragher Sweepstakes Award is the Press Women of Texas’ (PWT) highest distinction during its annual communications contest. Named for the trailblazing journalist who became one of the first women to serve as editor of a daily newspaper in Texas, it is given to the contest participant who earns the most first-place entries.

“Communication is an essential part of what I do as an elected official and a businessperson,” Zaffirini said. “Earning such recognition from my peers is incredibly meaningful, and it validates the care and attention I always give when interacting with my constituents.”

In all, the senator received 23 awards in this year’s contest across a range of categories: 12 first place, six second place and five third place. The first-place entries all advanced to a national competition held by the National Federation of Press Women, in which nine individuals received second place, third place or honorable mention distinctions. 

“Truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability are the priceless values of journalism, and once again, as in her role as a renowned Texas state senator, Sen. Zaffirini – who began her communications career as a journalist – has brought honor to herself and all journalists by meeting the highest professional and ethical standards required by the Press Women of Texas,” said Ochoa. 

Ochoa said her was particularly moved by reading Zaffirini’s speech in the Fall of 2019 at the unveiling of a plaque honoring Ramiro “Ray” Martínez, the law enforcement officer whose actions  helped end The University of Texas at Austin Main Building tower shooting in 1966. 

The Texas Standard, in an October 23, 2019 story by journalist Joy Díaz, provides coverage of the event on behalf of Martínez which was attended by Zaffirini:

On Aug. 1, 1966, Charles Whitman went on a 96-minute shooting rampage on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin. He could see the whole campus from his vantage point at the top of the university’s clock tower,” Díaz reported. “On that day, Austin police officer Ramiro “Ray” Martínez was off duty. But when he heard about the shooting, he put on his uniform and drove to campus. Martínez, and fellow officer Houston McCoy, managed to get to the top of the tower. They both shot Whitman and finally put an end to the rampage.”


According to a news release issued by one of Zaffirini’s legislative staff members, Chris Willuhn, the state senator recounted vivid memories during her speech last fall, which would go on in the Spring of 2020 to earn a first place award from the Press Women in Texas.

On Monday, August 1, 1966, after stabbing his mother and his wife to death the night before, Charles Whitman, a former Marine, took rifles and other weapons to the observation deck atop the UT Tower, then opened fire indiscriminately on people on the surrounding campus and streets. Over the next 96 minutes he shot and killed 14 people (including an unborn child) and injured 31 others. One final victim died from his injuries in 2001.

“I was on campus that day, working at “The Daily Texan,” sitting in front of a window in direct view of the Tower,” recalled Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo/Starr County. “To this day I remember not only the sounds of the gunfire, but also the sounds and sights of the suffering and the actions of heroes.”

Also according to Willuhn:

• In three categories — speeches, press releases and single-issue advertisements – Zaffirini completed a “sweep,” winning all three top prizes. Her annual newsletter, Senator Judith Zaffirini Reports to the Families of Senate District 21, also earned several accolades for article and headline writing, editing, presentation and graphic design. The next edition will be published this summer. 

• Second in seniority in the Texas Senate, Zaffirini has received more than 1,100 awards for her professional and public service work, including nearly 400 for communication. She holds Bachelor of Science, Master of Arts and PhD degrees in communication from The University of Texas at Austin, where she worked at The Daily Texan as a reporter, feature writer, copy editor, headline writer, assistant editor and special issue editor. 

• The university and its Moody College of Communication named her a Distinguished Alumna in 2003 and 2016, respectively, and she was inducted to the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame by Governor Greg Abbott in 2019. 

“She was on the UT campus during this terrible event, which was the first mass murder at a public university in the history of the U.S.,” noted Ochoa, who graduated from UT Austin in 2007 with a Canfield Business Honors undergraduate degree and a Master’s in Professional Accounting (MPA). 

He later earned his JD from the UT School of Law, where he became the first Latino to serve as Editor-in-Chief of Texas Law Review, according to the announcement made on Tuesday, May 26, 2020. 

Zaffirini’s speech honoring Martínez follows:

“Thank you, Judge González (Travis County Justice of the Peace Raúl González) for that warm and generous introduction; to you and Constable Morales (Travis County Constable George Morales) for hosting this wonderful event; and to everyone else for being here today to honor the courage and legacy of Ramiro “Ray” Martínez. 

“A fellow American, tennis champion Arthur Ashe once said, Heroism is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others, at whatever cost.

Ranger ‘Ray’ Martínez personifies these words, for he has dedicated his life to protecting others, at whatever the cost. Today, as we rededicate this building and unveil a plaque honoring this remarkable hero, we are expressing the admiration, gratitude, and respect that countless Texans have for him, though perhaps unbeknownst to him. 

“Ranger Martínez’ heroism is well-documented. His account of the horrific shooting at the UT Tower in 1966 reveals the extraordinary inner strength needed to run toward danger while others are running away from it. 

“Officer Martínez was off-duty, watching TV (KTBC), when he heard the news bulletin and called-in to help. Only he can explain how and why he left his post helping to direct traffic away from the campus to run directly into the sniper’s sights to reach the Tower. 

“There, he and Officer Houston McCoy found bodies along the way as they climbed the stairs to confront and kill the sniper, saving countless innocent lives. I was on campus that day, working at “The Daily Texan,” sitting in front of a window in direct view of the tower. I took a break and walked to the Student Union, approximately two blocks in full view of the tower, while the sniper was shooting to the other side. 

“I heard the shooting, but didn’t give it a second thought, assuming I was hearing construction sounds. I calmly walked through a crowd gathered at the door, entered the empty cafeteria area, and walked back through the crowd to return to the journalism building, when they stopped me and told me a sniper in the tower was killing students. 

“I remember vividly the shock as reality set in, then standing in line to use a payphone to tell my husband, Carlos, not to come pick me up. (He was at home, oblivious to what was going on, and would have left in a few minutes to drive to campus.) To this day I remember not only the sounds of the gunfire, but also the sounds and sights of the suffering and the actions of heroes. 

“Many of us were outside the Student Union on the Drag

(The Drag is a nickname for a portion of Guadalupe Street that runs along the western edge of the University of Texas campus in Austin, Texas.)

“We saw people killed, the wounded carried to safety, and many hiding for their lives. I also remember military tanks coming down Guadalupe Street, and soldiers coming out through the bottom to carry others to safety. Finally, after 96 minutes we were told the sniper had been killed and we could come out of our buildings.

Absolutely terrified, I went back to “The Daily Texan” and was told by Dr. Norris Davis that I was the student journalist, along with a student photographer, selected to go up the tower with the journalists coming in from elsewhere. While others desperately wanted the assignment, I refused it, much to the chagrin of Dr. Davis. Instead I went home with my husband and stuck to his side for days, plagued by those horrific sounds and sights. 

“If I experienced that as a bystander, I simply cannot imagine the memories of survivors, of the families of those who died, and of the heroes like Officer Martínez, who literally saved the day from further tragedy. 

“While a lesser person might have considered a career change, Officer Martínez continued to work with the Austin Police Department. Later he joined the Department of Public Safety, where he became a Texas Ranger. In that capacity he spent time working in my hometown, Laredo, along with my brother-in-law, Charles Borchers, and they developed a friendship. Now enjoying retired life as an engaged civilian, after four years as a Justice of the Peace in New Braunfels, I am confident he is oblivious to how many of us remember and appreciate his courage and actions on that fateful day, 53 years ago. 

“He has been the revered and honored namesake of the Travis County Precinct IV Building since 2011, and it is a testament to his bravery, selflessness, and service, which is why I am delighted to present two framed copies of my Senate Proclamation 282, one for Mr. Martínez and one for the Ray Martínez Office Building, recognizing his lifetime of service. 

“Today’s rededication and unveiling honor a true hero, but, equally important, it memorializes the heroism of other first responders who devote their lives to protecting others, too often not realizing how much they are appreciated and respected. 

“They embody those inspiring words by Arthur Ashe as they serve others, at whatever cost. My prayer is that the Lord will bless and protect Officer/Ranger/J.P. Martínez, his family, and all Texas law enforcement officers and their families, and reward them for their selflessness and courage. They are our heroes. Thank you.”

For access to a special television report which was broadcast on the day of the mass murders from the UT Tower, log on to:

Press Women of Texas (PWT) is a non-profit organization open to men and women. It was founded in 1893 and is an affiliate of the National Federation of Press Women. It has been furthering the work of women in journalism and related professions for more than a century. Supporting more than just women in journalism, the organization advocates many causes, including education, preservation of library and archive materials, and the importance of scholarships. 

Interested in joining their organization? Find out more on their membership page and become a part of PWT.

Press Women of Texas’ rich history began May 10, 1893, as the Texas Woman’s Press Association (TWPA) in the Windsor Hotel in Dallas, Texas, by a group of journalists attending the Texas Press Association (TPA) meeting. Aurelia H. Mohl of Houston led 38 females representing 18 Texas towns to establish TWPA’s original charter, and it became on of the nation’s first organizations to promote the career interests of women journalists.

Since 1893, TWPA has experienced many changes. It was incorporated as Texas Press Women, Inc. in 1961, and later became Press Women of Texas (PWT). In 1987, PWT received two special grants:  a $10,999 Rosella H. Werlin estate endowment to establish the Werlin Workshop featuring well-known personalities at PWT conferences;  and a $5,000 Ann Faragher Foundation grant to fund the annual Ann Faragher Communications Contest Sweepstakes Award.  

In 1987, PWT, a group originally formed to encourage women communicators, experienced one of its more historical changes when members voted to open membership to both men and women. 

PWT’s archival papers are housed at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History,  The University of Texas at Austin.


Scientists have long been concerned that the common practice of medical journals accepting commercial payments from pharmaceutical companies may lead to pro-industry bias in published articles. According to new research at The University of Texas at Austin, scientists were right to be concerned, but they were focusing on the wrong type of payments.

In a new article published by PLOS ONE, researchers reviewed 128,781 articles published in 159 different medical journals for markers of pro-industry bias, evaluating whether accepting advertising revenue, fulfilling reprint contracts or being owned by a large multinational publishing firm made a journal more likely to publish articles favorable to industry. 

They found that articles published in journals that accept reprint fees are nearly three times more likely to be written by authors who receive industry payments.

“I was honestly surprised by the findings here,” said S. Scott Graham, lead author of the study and assistant professor of rhetoric at UT Austin. “There’s a famous story about one company pulling a multimillion-dollar contract from the Annals of Internal Medicine because they didn’t like an article published in the journal. All the available literature suggests that ad revenue should be the real concern, but that’s not what we found.”

A long-standing body of research has found that articles written by authors with financial conflicts of interest are more likely to discuss pharmaceutical products favorably. So Graham and his team built the first-ever machine-learning system and database to track individual conflicts of interest in English-language disclosure statements, deciphered from plain language descriptions such as “Doctor X received funds from Company A and Company B.”

“This is, in some ways, a classic digital humanities research problem,” said Graham, who attributed the study’s success to his background in rhetoric. “I have colleagues in literature and history who train computers to read 10,000 novels or 100,000 documents in an archive. We used the same kind of techniques to develop a computer system that can read conflicts of interest.”

The team found that articles published in journals that accept reprint fees are 2.81 times more likely to be written by authors who receive industry payments. They also found that accepted advertising revenue or being owned by a large publishing firm had no effect on the likelihood that any given article would represent a conflict of interest for the author.

The researchers also investigated whether there was any relationship between a journal’s commercial practices and the number of author conflicts per article, finding that articles published in journals that only accept reprint contracts had 1.52 more conflicts per article on average. And articles published in journals that only make advertising space available had 1.13 fewer conflicts per article on average.
The team also found that articles published in journals owned by large publishing companies had 3.2 more conflicts of interest on average. However, many of these journals also accepted advertising and reprint fees, the researchers said.

“If we’re going to make sure that medical journals are publishing the best science available, we need to focus on the commercial relationships that actually have an effect,” Graham said. “The issue with reprints also suggests that academics may need to take open access publishing even more seriously.”


Rachel White contributed to this article. For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories that affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (

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