Dedman Law Remembers Former Justice Barbara Culver Clack

Dedman Law Remembers Former Justice Barbara Culver Clack

JUSTICE BARBARA CULVER CLACK, 1926-2016


Former Justice Barbara Culver Clack, the second woman to serve full time on the Texas Supreme Court when she was appointed in 1988, has died in Midland. She was 90.

Judge Culver Clack evidently died of natural causes overnight Sunday.

“Small of stature, she was a towering figure in the judiciary, to the legal profession and for the West Texas community she loved and who loved her,” Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht said. “She was a mentor to many, an inspiration to all and a dear friend.”

Last year Justice Eva M. Guzman, paying tribute to her in Midland, called her a pioneer in the law and a judicial trailblazer.

Then-District Judge Barbara Culver was Gov. Bill Clements’s pick for a vacancy on the Court in January 1988. She ran for election to keep her seat that November, but lost to Jack Hightower, and left the Court after 10 months to return home to Midland and to retirement.

Her appointment to the Court followed Clements’s appointment in 1982 of Judge Ruby Kless Sondock of Houston as the first woman to serve on the Court full time. Sondock, who did not seek election, left the Court at the end of 1983.

“I was the first Republican woman,” Culver Clack said. “It sort of showed Republicans had arrived by then.”

At 5 feet tall, her diminutive stature belied a larger-than-life and ferocious commitment, first to working almost singularly to change Midland County politics in the early 1960s and then to juvenile justice. In her 15 years as constitutional county judge she served as de facto juvenile court judge for Midland County, then spent 10 years as judge of the 318th Family District Court. Two years ago she proudly drove past Midland County’s Barbara Culver Juvenile Justice Center. “I represented the kids,” she said. “If the staff and I could keep even one from going to the penitentiary, then that was worth it.”

Regional Presiding Judge Dean Rucker of Midland, who succeeded Culver Clack as district judge when Clements appointed her to the Supreme Court, called her endowed with grace, charm, wit and wisdom and, as a judge, fair, forthright, firm and decisive. “She loved the law, especially family law, and she considered it a privilege to serve families and children,” Rucker said.

When voters elected her Midland County judge in 1962, she was the first Republican to hold county office in Midland and the first Republican woman to head a county government in Texas. Because Midland County did not have established county courts at law at the time, she led the county commissioners court, all men and at first all Democrats, and presided over probate, juvenile and misdemeanor legal dockets.

As Midland County judge, she helped found the Permian Basin Regional Planning Commission, served as its chair in 1974 and served as president of the National Association of Regional Councils in 1976.

Barbara Green Culver Clack was born in Dallas and graduated from Texas Tech University in 1947. She and her first husband, John Culver, practiced law together in Midland for 10 years after their graduation from the Southern Methodist University Law School in 1951. John Culver, a World War II veteran, lost his eyesight in the war but was determined to study law. She was paid at first to read for him in law school, but decided if she were going to read all that law she should get a law degree, too.

They were married in November 1951. John Culver died in 1981.

By her reckoning she was the first woman to practice law full time in Midland.

Among her professional honors she was the first recipient, in 1984, of the Judge Sam Emison Memorial Award by the Texas Academy of Family Law Specialists, was a member of the state commission to rewrite the Texas Constitution in 1975-76 and served on the Family Code Project to codify marriage, divorce, custody, child-support and juvenile laws in Texas.

She was honored by Texas Tech and by SMU as a distinguished alumnus.

In November 1988 she married retired Judge James H. Clack of Andrews. Judge Rucker presided over the ceremony.

Judge Clack died in 2014. Also preceding her in death were her sons, Lawrence Lanier Culver and John Bryson Culver. She is survived by her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who brought her great joy, as well as her many friends. “She counted scores of people among her friends,” Rucker said. “And if she had any adversaries, they were not known.

“In her 90 years on this planet, Barbara made a profound difference in the lives of many.  She was all goodness and light.”