All In the Family
Hector De Leon, ’73, grew up in the shadow of the University of Texas, but his journey to become one of UT Law’s leading alumni covered a far greater distance. De Leon’s father, educated to the third grade, was a cook and chef. His mother, who made it as far as the tenth grade, worked at Wes Williams Laundry and Cleaners at 21st and Guadalupe. On Saturdays, De Leon and his brother would come to work with her, often wandering off to explore the campus or catch the matinee at the old Varsity Theatre on the Drag.
In 1960, the brothers took a paper route together, delivering to the Capitol and points north. Aware that San Antonio had recently elected a congressman of Hispanic origin, the boys, 12 and 14, took it upon themselves to drop by State Senator Henry B. González’s Capitol office. They were surprised to find themselves warmly received. “He was the only Hispanic that we knew who was an elected official of any significance at all,” De Leon said. “We just couldn’t believe that a state senator would take time to talk to us. We weren’t his constituents. After that, we became a nuisance.”
González, perhaps most famous for speaking twenty-two hours straight to filibuster a series of segregationist bills in the Texas legislature, evidently didn’t mind striking up a friendship with a sharp-minded Mexican-American kid from East Austin. Nor did González forget the youngster when he left Austin to begin his long tenure (1961–1998) in the U.S. House of Representatives. When De Leon invited González to speak to his high school class, González accepted. “He was a mentor to me, an inspiration,” De Leon said. “For many years, his picture was the only politician’s on my wall. I switched parties in 1985, but his picture remained on my wall.”
In 1993, De Leon considered running for public office and invited a political consultant to his office. The consultant immediately advised that he’d have to take down the picture of González if he hoped to win Republican votes. “That really upset me, and it helped me decide not to run for attorney general,” De Leon said. “There are some things more important than public office. Family is one. Friends are another.”
De Leon said that, despite his parents’ lack of higher education, he had always expected to go to college, and specifically UT. “I guess it was a little presumptuous of me,” he joked. “My father always told me, people can take away from you anything you have, but they can’t take away what you know. He always believed in education.”
De Leon paid seventy-five dollars per semester in tuition while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in education. After graduation, he continued immediately to the Law School, where, in his last two years, he was selected to serve as university ombudsman. The job offered exposure to city and state leaders and helped De Leon hone real-world client-service skills. “It gave me a good appreciation for what I’d have to do in the practice of law—listening to issues, talking to folks they had complaints with, and learning there are usually two sides to a story, if not three,” De Leon said. “I’d listen to the professors’ side, the students’, the administrators’, and somewhere in there you might find the truth.”
During De Leon’s final year at UT Law, tragedy struck. His young wife Elizabeth was hospitalized with an infection and passed away within a month of entering the hospital. Many of De Leon’s most appreciative memories of UT Law are of professors whose friendship and understanding helped him through that difficult time.
After graduation, De Leon took a job as executive assistant to Austin’s mayor, Roy Butler, whom he’d met while serving as ombudsman. Not long into his tenure, De Leon was looking up a number in the phone book when he came across the listing for Arleigh Stoune, a friend from junior high school. “I called her up and asked for a date. We’d known each other as friends, and thought it just might work out. So far it has,” he said. Some understatement—he and Arleigh will soon celebrate their fortieth wedding anniversary. Their three grown sons are all successful professionals.
Leaving the mayor’s office, De Leon joined the State Board of Insurance, serving as general counsel for two and a half years. On July 1, 1977, he opened his own firm, now known as De Leon & Washburn PC. Since then, he has worked mostly with insurance companies, arguing before the Texas Supreme Court as well as most Texas appellate courts, closing major transactions, and providing administrative counsel.
At the same time, he has taught one class each year from 1990 to 2009 as an adjunct professor at the Law School. He currently serves as board president of the University of Texas Foundation, he is a trustee of the Law School Foundation, and in the past has served as president of both the UT Law Alumni Association and the Texas Exes. “The university was very good to me,” he said. “I would not be anywhere near where I am today if not for the University of Texas. Anything I do for UT is repayment in some small way for all it did for me.”
De Leon has also remained involved in the community, eager to make a difference in the lives of young people the way Congressman González once did for him. He helped form Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas in the 1980s, and since then has also been active in different capacities with the National Hispanic Institute, Children at Heart Ministries, and Miracle Farm Ministries.
This year marked the thirty-fifth anniversary of De Leon & Washburn. To mark the occasion, De Leon handed over the reins of management this July to his son Ben, ’04. The elder De Leon will continue to practice law in a senior role, but his son has ascended to president and managing partner of the firm.
De Leon couldn’t be happier with the transition. “As a parent, you can’t help but have a great sense of pride when someone’s willing to take over and continue what you started, and perhaps to build on the legacy of what you’ve done,” he said. “I’m very proud of him, as I’m proud of our other two boys.”
Ben De Leon remembers accompanying his father to his office as a boy, goofing around with the photocopier and quietly learning from his father’s example. “A lot of time what you see is a negative connotation associated with attorneys, because attorneys don’t give back,” Ben said. “My dad, as long as I can remember, ever since I was a little kid, has always been involved in community service. Same with my mother. If I do that half as well as my dad, I think that I’ve done good.”
For the elder De Leon, the transition is a perfect realization of the family and community values he learned from his parents—and from mentors like González who went out of their way to give him a hand up.
“Like any parent, my hope for Ben is that he accomplishes much more and greater things than I ever dreamed of doing for myself,” De Leon said, with unmistakable pride in his voice. “Hopefully one of these days he’ll be able to tell people that he stands on the shoulders of his parents and grandparents in whatever he’s done. He’ll be able to look back on us and say that we helped him become a productive and giving member of his community and his profession.”—Mike Agresta
(Photo by Steph Swope)