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Former Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Sr., D-Mission, whose vision included proposed UT Health Science Center for the Valley, and South Texas College, laid to rest following his passing from COVID-19 - Titans of the Texas Legislature

Featured, from left: Former Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Sr., D-Mission, and his daughter Marla (Jaime) López and son Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, on Tuesday, March 3, 2020, celebrating Muñoz, Jr.’s Texas Democratic Party primary election victory for House District 36. Muñoz, Sr. passed away at the age of 68 on Thursday, July 30, 2020, from complications linked to COVID-19 following a reported four-week battle with the contagious and dangerous virus.

Photograph By PETER SALINAS 

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Former Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Sr., D-Mission, whose vision included proposed UT Health Science Center for the Valley, and South Texas College, laid to rest following his passing from COVID-19

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
[email protected]

Former Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Sr.’s far-reaching vision in 1993 and 1995, for decades now, has been a reality on dozens of major legislative measures, including a proposed University of Texas Health Science Center that would lay the foundation for the UT Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine, and the creation of South Texas Community College (now South Texas College) along with the establishment of its Board of Trustees.

He passed away at the age of 68 on Thursday, July 30, 2020, from complications linked to COVID-19 following a reported four-week battle with the contagious and dangerous virus. 

A drive-by procession was held in honor of Muñoz, Sr. on Friday, August 14, 2020, from 6:30 pm. to 8:30 pm at the Mission Event Center. 

A blessing was performed at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church at 2 p.m. on Saturday, August 15, 2020. Interment followed at Valley Memorial Gardens. COVID-19 precautions were strictly observed following state and federal guidelines. 

News of Muñoz’s affliction with COVID-19 first made general news on the evening of Thursday, July 16, 2020, through an alert on the Facebook page of the Hidalgo County Democratic Party.

“Please keep our Vice-Chair and Democratic Precinct Chair #78 of the Hidalgo County Democratic Party, Mr. Sergio Muñoz, Sr., in your thoughts and prayers,” the Facebook page posting urgently requested. “Mr. Muñoz has become ill with COVID-19. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family. On behalf of the Hidalgo County Democratic Party, we are asking for your prayers for Sergio’s speedy recovery.”

Tragically – as it had been for more than 1,000 residents of the four-county Rio Grande Valley who have died from COVID-19 from March 2020 through July 2020 – the pandemic disease was too overwhelming. As a result, the western Hidalgo County family man, business owner, and successful political leader passed away two weeks after the news of his illness was first announced to the general public.

Just after 8 a.m. on Thursday, July 30, 2020, the Hidalgo County Democratic Party Facebook page shocked many people, from deep South Texas to the Texas Capitol, with the announcement of the passing of Muñoz, Sr.

“It is with heavy hearts that the Hidalgo County Democratic Party announces the death of Vice-Chair Sergio Muñoz, Sr. He will be immensely missed. Our thoughts and prayer remain with his wife and family,” the Facebook posting stated. “May his soul Rest in Peace. Heartbroken.”

The Facebook posting was quickly picked up by regional and statewide news media outlets and social media.

He was a good man and a great father. He loved his family and kids and grandkids with all his heart,” his son, Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, texted Dave Hendricks, a news correspondent with KRGV-TV. “I know he fought till the end. That’s who he was! We just ask that they keep our family in their prayers.” 

(https://www.krgv.com/news/former-state-rep-sergio-mu-oz-sr-elder-statesman-of-western-hidalgo-county-politics-dies-at-68/)

Norma Ramírez, Chair of the Hidalgo County Democratic Party, in a story by Elizabeth Gómez-Patino of KGBT-TV/KVEO-TV, expressed the trauma felt by so many.

“All I can say is that we are devastated. He worked endlessly and tirelessly and was one of our main (Hidalgo County Democratic Party) fundraisers and supporters. He will be missed,” Ramírez reflected.

(https://www.valleycentral.com/news/local-news/former-state-rep-sergio-munoz-sr-dies/)

The former Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Sr., and his wife of 44 years, Connie Bazán Muñoz, are the parents of Marla (Jaime) López, in addition to Rep. Sergio (María Elena) Muñoz, Jr. 

According to his obituary, Sergio Muñoz, Sr. and Connie Bazán Muñoz’ grandchildren are Gael Garza, Carolina Peña, Sofia Peña, Aleksandro López, Arianna López, Sergio Muñoz, III, Caterina and María Elena Muñoz.

“I think for us as a family, we are deeply saddened but we are honored and blessed to have had him in our lives, and to continue to have a part of him in our lives moving forward,” Muñoz, Jr. said of his late father, in an interview with A. Colleen DeGuzmán, a news correspondent with The Monitor, shortly after his death.

(https://www.themonitor.com/2020/07/30/sergio-munoz-sr-former-state-rep-ill-covid-19-dies-68/)

Muñoz, Sr. felt compassion for his fellow man, so much so it led to a journey into politics, according to an article by journalist Jaime Treviño published on Friday, August 14, 2020, in the Progress Times, the family’s hometown newspaper.

“He was, what we would call ‘old school,’ saying you don’t need a pen and paper, you conduct business with a handshake,” Muñoz, Jr. told the Progress Times’ news correspondent. “He believed in faith, trust, loyalty, being a man of your word, and standing up for what you believe, even if you have to do it alone and follow your heart.”

During his two terms in the Texas Legislature, Muñoz, Sr. worked with Rep. Renato Cuellar, D-Weslaco, Rep. Eddie De La Garza, D-Edinburg, Rep. Roberto Gutiérrez, D-McAllen, Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, Rep. Jim Solis, D-Harlingen, and Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, as part of the Rio Grande Valley’s state legislative delegation.

“Among several (legislative) issues, he worked toward advancing the early voting by the mail system and oversaw the 1995 Judicial Campaign Fairness Act,”  Treviño further reported. “Even in retirement, Muñoz, Sr. was often an engaging presence in the community and civic events throughout Hidalgo County, particularly in Western Hidalgo County.”

(https://www.progresstimes.net/2020/08/14/a-man-who-was-never-complacent-and-always-persevered/)

(The Judicial Campaign and Fairness Act (JCFA) was signed into law on June 17, 1995. The Act was passed following a period of dramatic contribution increases to appellate judicial candidates which prompted calls for reform. – https://www.txcourts.gov/media/1441211/jcfa-one-pager-march-2018.pdf)

Though he focused his efforts on legislation and votes on behalf of his constituents, who were mostly Mexican-American in ethnicity, Muñoz, Sr. also worked on measures for Texans from all walks of life.

“What he instilled in us was to never give up, to always move forward and to always do what you feel in your heart is the right thing to do, no matter what,” his son also was quoted by DeGuzmán in her profile on his father. “He definitely opened up many doors for me. I was always honored to have him be a part of me and my campaign. I would not be where I am if it were not for what he had taught me.”

Among the many South Texas leaders who reacted to the life and passing of Muñoz, Sr. were:

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen

I was saddened to learn of the passing of Sergio Muñoz, Sr. He was a lifelong resident of the Rio Grande Valley and was the first state representative elected from the City of Palmview. Before his election to the Texas House, Sergio served as Palmview city administrator and municipal judge. As a city employee, and then as a legislator, his focus was on bringing attention to the Rio Grande Valley and was an advocate education and for water and wastewater infrastructure for the region. Above all, Sergio Muñoz, Sr. was a loving husband, father, and grandfather. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Connie, his son, State Representative Sergio Munoz, Jr., daughter Marla Muñoz, and their loved ones. Sergio Muñoz, Sr. will be missed by many. May he Rest in Peace and be in Heaven.

Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya

I want to express my deepest condolences to the Muñoz family on the passing of Sergio Muñoz. Mr. Muñoz was a pivotal figure in Rio Grande Valley politics. He proudly served his community in the legislature when the state had few minority lawmakers and continued to advise and mentor many in the community after his elected service finished. Many politicians ride off into the sunset once their elected service is done; however, Sergio continued to serve his community. Sergio was a strong advocate for the region and touched many people’s lives. His impact and his legacy will live on for many years to come.

Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortéz

I am deeply saddened by the loss of Sergio Muñoz Sr. I extend my deepest sympathies to the Muñoz family. I hope that our Lord brings the family much-needed peace during this sad time.

Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen

My heart goes out to my friend and colleague Serio Muñoz, Jr., on the passing of his father. Leslie (Rep. Guerra’s wife) and I are keeping the entire Muñoz family in our prayers. Like his son, Sergio Muñoz, Sr. loved the community he served. May he rest in peace.

Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg

My sincerest condolences to the Muñoz family. Rest in peace Sergio Munoz Sr. He represented our area in the Texas Legislature from 1993 to 1997. He was a good man and a good friend.

His contributions to the Valley and Texas are documented in the historical records of the Texas Legislature, where he was part of successful efforts to improve the quality of life for all. His name shows his direct involvement in numerous far-reaching legislative proposals.
With the background provided by the House Research Organization, which is the nonpartisan research arm of the House of Representatives, among the key legislation that featured Muñoz, Sr. as a key participant were:

Rio Grande Valley Health Science Center

Muñoz, Sr. in 1993 was a joint author of House Bill 1830, with Rep. Renato Cuellar, D-Weslaco, serving as the primary author, that proposed the creation of the Rio Grande Valley Health Science Center – a vision that continues to be a growing reality today as the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine.

In the House of Representatives, a joint author is a member authorized by the primary author of a bill or resolution to join in the authorship of the measure. 

House Bill 1830 provided the vision for setting up a University of Texas medical school, as well as recommended doctoral and master’s programs in anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, biophysics, public health, and nursing. House Bill 1830 also proposed that the UT-RGV Health Science Center conduct research relating to diseases along the border area, develop diagnostic and treatments for those illnesses, provide training programs for medical students and resident physicians, and provide for the diagnosis and treatment of patients in the area, including indigent patients.

Creation of South Texas College

Muñoz, Sr. in 1993 was a joint author of House Bill 1102, whose primary author was Rep. Roberto Gutiérrez, D-McAllen (Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, carried the final version in the Senate that would become state law.). House Bill 1102 led to the transformation of the Texas State Technical College branch campus in McAllen into South Texas Community College, later renamed South Texas College, which for decades has helped create a much larger middle-class in the region, and provided affordable, high-quality education for thousands of people in the Rio Grande Valley.

In the House of Representatives, a joint author is a member authorized by the primary author of a bill or resolution to join in the authorship of the measure. 

South Texas College now offers more than 120 degree and certificate options, including associate degrees in a variety of liberal art, social science, business, math, science, technology, advanced manufacturing, and allied health fields of study. Additionally, South Texas College is the only community college in the State of Texas to offer 5 baccalaureate degrees. South Texas College has a faculty and staff of more than 2,700 to serve the college’s five campuses, two higher education centers, and one virtual campus. 

State DNA database to prosecute sexual predators, other criminals

Muñoz, Sr. was coauthor of House Bill 40 in 1995, which authorized the director of the Department of Public Safety (DPS) to establish and maintain a computerized DNA database to classify, match and store results of DNA analysis and allow DNA evidence to be admissible as evidence of identity.

In the Texas Legislature, a coauthor is a legislator authorized by the primary author of a bill or resolution to join in the authorship of the measure. Both the Senate and the house of representatives allow an unlimited number of coauthors on a bill or resolution. A coauthor must be a member of the chamber in which the bill was filed.

DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, forms the molecular basis for heredity and can be used to identify an individual from fluids such as blood or semen.

Adults and juvenile offenders in certain sexual-offense cases would be required to provide specimens for inclusion in the database, and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) would be required to obtain samples.

The database could be used in the investigation or prosecution of offenses, for identifying human remains from a disaster or for a humanitarian reason, identifying missing persons and establishing population statistics. The database could not be used to obtain information about physical traits or predisposition for diseases unless it was related to another purpose of the system. The system would have to be compatible with the national DNA identification index system used by the FBI.

Significantly improved Texas’ ability to find missing children

House Bill 223, of which Muñoz, Sr. in 1995 was the author, changed state law to conform with the National Child Search Assistance Act of 1990, which required that federal, state and local law enforcement agencies report missing children under the age of 18. 

In the Texas Legislature (which is made up of the Texas Senate and the Texas House of Representatives), an author is a legislator who files a bill and guides it through the legislative process (also called the primary author).

Prior to the passage of House Bill 223, the difference between a missing child and a missing person was primarily for the designation of runaways. A missing person is someone whose disappearance was involuntary. A missing child, however, can be someone who voluntarily left the care of their custodian without the consent of the custodian and without an intent to return.

That dual system at the time created by the difference in state and federal law was frustrating for law enforcement officials who wanted to assist a worried parent concerned about a possible runaway child.

House Bill 223 additionally ensured that if the missing person was either accompanied or alone in a situation with indications of danger — such as some indication they have not left on their own choice — they would qualify as legally missing. Before the passage of House Bill 223, they must be in the company of someone under suspicious circumstances to have their disappearance reported immediately.

Required Texas to meet standards of National Voter Registration Act

House Bill 127, of which Muñoz, Sr. in 1995 was a joint author, wound up requiring the state to meet the standards set up by the National Voter Registration Act, enacted by Congress in 1993. Among the changes in the state law were that voters would no longer have to list their gender (sex), and voters would be required to verify the current address and sign a residence statement if the address was different from the registration.

In the House of Representatives, a joint author is a member authorized by the primary author of a bill or resolution to join in the authorship of the measure. 

Certain state agencies would be designated as voter registration agencies by the secretary of state. A voter registration agency employee would be prohibited from influencing or discouraging applicants regarding voting or political party preferences.

Addressed the threat of rabies, a highly contagious, potentially fatal disease

House Bill 721, of which Muñoz, Sr. was a joint author in 1995, created new penalties for failure to vaccinate a dog or cat, for transporting dogs and cats without vaccination certificates and for transportation or sale of high-risk animals; require veterinarians to quarantine certain animals and limit the liability of veterinarians who impound animals suspected of having rabies. It required counties to name a local rabies control authority instead of a local health authority. 

In the House of Representatives, a joint author is a member authorized by the primary author of a bill or resolution to join in the authorship of the measure. 

The threat of rabies, a highly contagious, potentially fatal disease, warranted taking stringent control measures, including new penalties for persons who failed to take rabies control seriously. Rabies had killed four people in Texas since between 1990 and 1995, while 1,600 more had undergone rabies inoculations during that period. From 1988 to 1995, about 600 animals ranging from coyotes to cows had been diagnosed with rabies.

REP. SERGIO MUÑOZ, SR. OBITUARY

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”  – 2 Timothy 4:7 

Sergio Muñoz, Sr. went to be with the Lord on July 30, 2020. He was born on January 20, 1952, in Mission, Texas to the Paulino Muñoz, Sr. and Celia Cantú Muñoz. 

Muñoz, Sr. is preceded in death by his parents, sister María Magdalena, brothers Domingo, Alejandro and Jorge Luis Muñoz, and numerous aunts, uncles and cousins.

Left to cherish his memory are his wife of 44 years, Connie Bazan Muñoz, his children Marla (Jaime) López, and Sergio (María Elena) Muñoz, Jr., and his nephews and nieces he claimed as his own, J.J. (Melissa) Peña, Jr., Gerardo and Selina Alaniz. 

His grandchildren who he adored are Gael Garza, Carolina Peña, Sofia Peña, Aleksandro López, Arianna López, Sergio Muñoz, III, Caterina and María Elena Muñoz.

He is survived by his brothers Paulino (Alma), Rubén (Araceli), Armando (Lupita), Leonel (Yolanda), Gerardo (Janie), sister Rosaura Muñoz, Sister-In-Laws Adela (Juan) Peña and Adelina Alaniz.

Muñoz, Sr. was well-known in his community and lived life to the fullest. He loved his community and loved to spend time with family, friends and anyone who needed a friend or someone to lend an ear. 

One could usually find him any given morning making his rounds to all the local restaurants with a cup of black coffee in hand. He was usually surrounded by friends talking about his favorite topics of family, politics, and Texas Longhorns football. 

When he wasn’t surrounded by friends, he was surrounded by his grandkids, who were his pride and joy. 

He especially loved all the family traveling to Austin in the Longhorns Express R.V. and tailgating before Texas Longhorns football games.

Muñoz, Sr. was raised in Los Ebanos, Texas, and graduated as Valedictorian from La Joya High School in 1970. 

Growing up he worked in the fields providing for his family as the oldest brother entrusted with raising his siblings. 

During his teenage years, he began his music career playing the trumpet in local bands like Henry and the Glares, Lenny and the Lucky Six, Carlos Guzmán y Los Jóvenes, and then his own band, Sergio Muñoz y Los Incas. 

He was a vocalist, songwriter, and provided the musical arrangements for some of the songs these bands performed throughout the United States. 

Upon graduation from high school, he was accepted to the prestigious West Point Military Academy in West Point, New York. However, due to the responsibility of providing for his family, Muñoz, Sr. decided to continue his music career after high school. 

He went on to pursue a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Social Work from Pan American University.

Muñoz, Sr. was always active in local and state politics. 

At 18-years old, he decided to run for the La Joya School Board. From that point forward, he set out on a path to stay engaged and make a difference. 

Muñoz, Sr. was proud to offer his advice and guidance to assist those who asked, always encouraging people to get involved in the political process. He helped many individuals pursue elected office, coordinating their campaigns and serving as a trusted advisor and mentor. His involvement and work helped elect numerous individuals to public office, past and present, on the federal, state, and local levels. 

Muñoz, Sr. believed in building coalitions, working together, and seeing past the outcome of past elections to build bridges for the future. He had the ability to put differences aside for the good of the community and on countless occasions, many of his previous adversaries became allies. 

Muñoz, Sr. served as Texas State Representative for House District 36 for two terms, from 1993 to 1997. 

He was the first to represent the then-just created House District 36, a seat that that has been held by his son, Sergio Muñoz, Jr., since 2011. This was the accomplishment of which Muñoz, Sr. was most proud.

In addition to his involvement in politics, Muñoz served in many organizations such as the Private Industry Council, Lion’s Club, Tripa Club, La Joya Educational Foundation, La Joya Quarterback Club, and the Touchdown Club in Mission. 

Muñoz, Sr. also served as city manager and municipal judge for the City of Palmview. 

During his time as city manager, he worked to relocate City Hall, establish essential city services and set the foundation for future growth and development for the City of Palmview. 

Muñoz, Sr. worked in the insurance industry operating the Muñoz Insurance Agency in the McAllen and Mission area during the late 1970s and 1980s. 

He also worked in residential and commercial land development over the years. 

After his tenure in the Texas Legislature, he worked as a lobbyist advocating for various local and municipal interests.

For the last 20 years, Muñoz, Sr. focused his time on being a strong advocate for the healthcare industry, where he and his businesses worked to provide quality care at home for the elderly. 

On many occasions Muñoz, Sr. would provide services to the less fortunate, without financial gain. 

His chief priority was to assure that everyone had the appropriate care needed, even if it meant as some of his friends would quote him saying, no tengo dinero (I don’t have money). 

His eyes and heart were to always help someone in need and he shared whatever knowledge or connections he had to help others operating in the local health care industry. 

It was common to see him at the State Capitol during the legislative session or on the phone with local, state or national leaders advocating for the needs of the Rio Grande Valley.

Muñoz, Sr. served as the Immediate Past Faithful Navigator of the 4th Degree Knights of Columbus-Bishop Garriga Assembly 1111. 

He also served as past Grand Knight of St. John of the Fields Knights of Columbus Council 10887. 

He was also very involved with the Hidalgo County Democratic Party, proudly serving as First Vice-Chair and Precinct Chair for Precinct 78.

Serving as Pallbearers were Jaime López, Judge J.J. Peña, Jr., Fire Chief Gerardo Alaniz, Armando Muñoz, Constable Larry Gallardo, Chief Deputy Mario López, Mario Hinojosa, Jerry Zamora, Raúl Garza, Octavio Pacheco, and Carlos Ortegón.

Honorary Pallbearers were The Knights of Columbus Council of St. John of the Fields, the 4th Degree Knights of Columbus-Bishop Garriga Assembly 1111, and the Hidalgo County Democratic Party. 

Muñoz, Sr. would have wanted to include his breakfast buddies from Taco Ole, El Patio, Díaz Diner, Taco Express, Rosie’s, Molcas, Don Lupe’s, and Taco Fiesta, and his Tuesday and Thursday lunch crew from Koko’s at Uptown.

A drive-by procession was held in honor of Muñoz on Friday, August 14, 2020, from 6:30 pm. to 8:30 pm at Mission Event Center. 

A blessing was performed at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church at 2 p.m. on Saturday, August 15, 2020. 

Interment followed at Valley Memorial Gardens. COVID-19 precautions were strictly observed following state and federal guidelines. 

Funeral Services were entrusted to Ric Brown Family Funeral Home in Mission. 

Although his time on this earth has concluded, his memory and the wisdom instilled in the lives he touched will live forever. 

“It is hard to forget someone who gave us so much to remember.” – Author Unknown. 

The family thanked all those who called, sent messages, cards, flowers, food and other kind expressions of sympathy following Muñoz, Sr.’s passing: 

“Thank you to so many for sharing countless memories and examples of his generosity, support, and guidance. This has brought much comfort to the family at this heartbreaking time. May God grant us peace and comfort in the days ahead and may you watch over us from above. We will love and miss you ALWAYS.”

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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 (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).

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