RGV native inducted into UT hall of fame

Antonio Garza, former U.S. ambassador to Mexico and a native of Brownsville, was inducted into the University of Texas McCombs School of Business Hall of Fame on Nov. 7 in Austin.

The honor recognizes outstanding professional, civic, philanthropic and educational contributions from former students, faculty and other supporters of the McCombs school, where Garza earned his bachelor of business administration.

Born and raised in Brownsville, the 1977 St. Joseph Academy graduate was elected Cameron County judge in 1988, making him the first Republican and youngest county judge in Texas at the time. He served in that office through 1994 and later held state and federal office. Garza attributes his success to his Rio Grande Valley roots.

“Home isn’t where you’re from, it’s who you are,” he said.

Ricardo Hinojosa, U.S. district judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, noted that Garza also served as Texas secretary of state and chaired the Texas Railroad Commission before being appointed ambassador to Mexico.

“That is a subject of great pride to all of us in South Texas, because he’s one of ours,” Hinojosa said.

Garza is director of the Americas Society/Council of the Americas, a member of the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations and Mexico’s foreign relations council, and has been honored with the Aguila Azteca, the Mexican government’s highest honor for foreign nationals.

He is credited as a leading advocate for the Merida Initiative, a critical component of U.S.-Mexico security architecture, and continues to be active in that bilateral relationship.

Bobby Chesney, director of the Strauss Security Center at UT-Austin, said Garza served as ambassador during a “very tricky time,” from 2002 to 2009.

“The 9/11 attacks required someone with a steady hand to be able to strike the balance between America’s interests while at the same time continuing to cultivate the bi-national relationship between the U.S. and Mexico,” Chesney said.

Garza currently serves as counsel to White & Case in Mexico City. He sits on the board of directors for Kansas City Southern Railway and is an executive committee member and chairman of subsidiary Kansas City Southern de Mexico. Garza is also a director for MoneyGram International Inc. and serves as chairman of that board’s compliance and ethics committee.

He is a trustee for Southern Methodist University, where Garza earned his law degree, and serves as chairman for SMU’s legal and governmental affairs committee. He was recently recognized among the National Association of Corporate Directors “Directorship 100” for leadership in the boardroom, and was named by Hispanic Executive Magazine as one of 2019’s “Best of the Boardroom.”

In addition to being recognized by St. Joseph Academy, Garza has been honored as a distinguished alumnus by UT-Austin and SMU. He is a member of the State Bar of Texas and the District of Columbia Bar, and is admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Evan Smith, co-founder and CEO of the Texas Tribune, said Garza hasn’t necessarily been the most visible public office holder, or the one with the biggest ego, though he has “behind the scenes and largely out of sight, influenced so many areas of life in Texas.”

“It’s hard to imagine where we’d be right now had he not played the roles he played,” Smith said.

Garza said the hall of fame recognition was a big surprise and that he’s humbled to be included among the school’s many distinguished inductees.

“The truth is I have spent most of my professional life in the public sector, and to be recognized by the McCombs business school is a real honor,” he said.

Garza, who was in Brownsville earlier this year as part of the UT “send off” for the Longhorn class of 2023, said he hopes his experience can serve as an inspiration to young people.

“I was really impressed with the level of talent, great kids with amazing futures,” he said. “I hope that on some level others will follow my path to UT and then blaze their own trails.”