Lauro F. Cavazos Jr., the son of a Texas ranch foreman who became the first Latino to serve in a presidential cabinet during the tenures of Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush as US Secretary of Education, has died.
His death at his Massachusetts home on Tuesday was confirmed by Texas Tech University, where he served as president from 1980 to 1988. He was 95 years old. No cause of death was given.
A Democrat whose entire career had been spent in academia prior to his appointment, Cavazos was named Secretary of Education late in Reagan’s second term in 1988, a move viewed by some as a cynical attempt to boost Bush’s presidential ambitions among Latino voters , which Reagan denied .
He was considered less outspoken and less confrontational than his predecessor, the highly conservative William Bennett.
He pledged to work to improve school funding, focus federal services on high-risk children, and improve opportunities for Latino, Native American and immigrant students. During his two years as education minister, Cavazos was known for promoting the idea of giving parents the power to choose where to send their children to school – with restrictions to prevent segregation – and campaigning for bilingual education.
He called the dropout rate among Latino students in September 1989 “a national tragedy.”
Despite attempts to stay out of politics in Washington, he found it difficult.
“I don’t like politics,” he told Texas Tech Today in 2015. “I really went there to try and improve education and I think we did a pretty good job. I can be proud that as Secretary of Education I really focused the federal government on the need to improve the education of minority students and how to do that.”
Cavazos resigned from his cabinet post in December 1990, but was fired, according to reports by the Associated Press at the time, for not making enough progress towards the government’s education goals.
“I am particularly proud of the contributions I have been able to make to expand educational choices, advance the Executive Order on Excellence in Education for Hispanic Americans, and raise awareness of the growing diversity of America’s student population,” Cavazos wrote in his letter of resignation.
After his resignation, he was scrutinized by the Justice Department for allegedly using frequent flyer miles earned on business trips to obtain free airline tickets for his wife, who often traveled with him on business. At the time, federal regulations required employees to give travel awards to the government. The investigation was eventually dropped.
Cavazos grew up on the King Ranch near Kingsville, Texas, and his family became the first Latino family in a former segregated school district, according to Texas Tech.
After serving in the Army from 1944 to 1946, he enrolled at the Texas College of Arts and Industries, now Texas A&M University-Kingsville. He originally studied journalism, but then discovered his passion for biology and switched to Texas Tech.
He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Texas Tech and his doctorate in physiology from Iowa State University.
He taught anatomy at the Medical College of Virginia for ten years and then transferred to Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston from 1964 to 1980, including five years as dean from 1975 to 1980.
During his time at Tufts, he became known as an accomplished researcher in the field of endocrinology, as well as for his work in academic health planning.
“Dean Cavazos was passionate about education and guided the medical school through an important period in its development, helping to strengthen its reputation for academic excellence,” said current dean of Tufts medical school, Helen Boucher, in a Explanation.
From 1980 to 1988 he was President of Texas Tech. After his government service, he returned to Tufts as a professor of public health and family medicine.
“Although Dr. Cavazos became a force in higher education, he came from a humble background, and he never forgot what or what impact his work had on students in similar circumstances,” Texas Tech President Lawrence Schovanec said in a statement.
He and his wife Peggy married in 1954 and had 10 children.
One of his brothers was General Richard Cavazos, the first Latin American four-star general in the US Army. He died in 2017.
https://www.latimes.com/obituaries/story/2022-03-18/lauro-cavazos-first-latino-to-serve-in-a-presidential-cabinet-dies-at-95 Lauro Cavazos, first Latino in cabinet, dies at 95