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John Hill, the only person in state history to serve as secretary of state, attorney general and chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, died Monday. He was 83. He died of a heart condition around 9:45 a.m. at a Houston hospital, said a spokeswoman for his law firm. "He was a man of enormous integrity, great moral courag, and deep commitment to law and justice," President Bush said. "Laura and I join John's family and friends and all Texans in mourning the loss of a devoted statesman."

In 1978, Hill ran for governor and defeated incumbent Gov. Dolph Briscoe for the Democratic nomination. But Hill became the first Democrat in 100 years to lose the gubernatorial election, falling to Dallas millionaire Bill Clements, a Republican.

The loss was not the end of Hill's career in public service. After several years as a behind-the-scenes player in state politics, Hill was elected to a four-year term as chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court in 1984.

He resigned before his term ended to begin an unsuccessful crusade to reduce political pressure on the judicial branch by ending the system in which voters elect judges in Texas. Hill continued to push for reforms even after he no longer held public office.

"His retirement from public service was no retirement at all, because he continued to advocate for a method of judicial selection that would assure trust and confidence in our judiciary," Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson said.

The setbacks never seemed to discourage Hill, said former Texas Supreme Court Justice Craig T. Enoch.

"He fits the mold of legendary lawyers in Texas," he said.

"I never saw something that would eat at him anyway," Enoch added. "It illustrates a depth to this person far beyond whether he won or lost a particular election."

Hill was born Oct. 9, 1923, in Breckenridge. He later said he "could have outdone Abe Lincoln in terms of the smallness of the house in which I was born."

He spent a year at Kilgore Junior College, where he won a national debate championship, and then went on to the University of Texas at Austin, where he graduated from law school and met his wife, Elizabeth "Bitsy" Graham.

After serving in the Navy during World War II, Hill became a lawyer. He built his reputation by winning large awards for the families of passengers who died in plane crashes in Texas.

He was secretary of state from 1966-68, after helping Gov. John Connally get elected. In 1972, he won an election for attorney general by 100,000 votes.

After the failed gubernatorial run and his stint on the state Supreme Court, Hill returned to private practice. Gov. George W. Bush appointed Hill to the three-member Texas Lottery Commission in 1997.

Since 2005, Hill had been a partner in the Houston office of the law firm Winstead PC.

Gov. Rick Perry ordered flags flown at half-staff through Saturday.

"John Hill represented all that is good about politics and public service," former U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III said. "I have been privileged to have been involved in political efforts both with John Hill and against him, and believe me, it was better to be with him."

Texas' two senators also released statements acknowledging Hill's impact on state politics and the judicial system.

"He was dynamic, witty, compassionate and always a gentleman," said Sen. John Cornyn, a former state attorney general and Texas Supreme Court justice. "He generated respect and admiration among his fellow Texans that transcended partisan politics."

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison said, "The state of Texas owes him and his family a debt of gratitude."

Hill is survived by his wife; three children, Melinda Elizabeth Hill Perrin, John Graham Hill and Judge Martha Hill Jamison; 10 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Services are scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday at St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Houston.


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