Harry Whittington, Texas lawyer shot dead by Cheney, dies at 95
Harry Whittington, a wealthy and well-connected lawyer who rose to sudden global fame as the unwitting victim of a shotgun blast by former Vice President Dick Cheney, died early Saturday morning, his wife said. He was 95 years old.
Mr. Whittington characterized the breed of Texan known as the Good Old Boy, a traditional Lone Star tribute to wit, understatement and loyalty. He regularly played cards with a nonagenarian former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas and had a pleasant relationship with President George W. Bush. He died peacefully at home, his wife said on Sunday.
His strong Republican connections led him to hunt on a ranch in Texas with a group that included Mr. Cheney, whom Mr. Whittington had previously met only briefly. In the encroaching twilight of February 11, 2006, Mr Cheney sharply turned to shoot a quail, and instead shot Mr Whittington in the face and upper body. He suffered dozens of gunshot wounds.
The story captured the nation’s attention as two eyewitnesses and a White House spokesman blamed Mr Whittington for the accident, saying he walked into Mrs. Cheney. Texas authorities cited Mr. Cheney solely for the offense of not having an appropriate game stamp on his hunting license.
But then and later, hunting experts have questioned whether the vice president followed proper safety procedures and considered a shooter’s obligation to know what was in front of him before shooting. ‘pull the trigger.
Many were surprised – late-night comedians were delighted – when Mr Whittington, not Mr Cheney, apologized for the incident. Mr. Cheney only admitted that he was responsible for pulling the trigger.
After his release from intensive care a week later, a frail Mr Whittington said: ‘My family and I are deeply sorry for everything Vice President Cheney and his family had to go through last week.
In a 2010 interview with The Washington Post, Mr Whittington said his injuries were more serious than was revealed at the time. Doctors reported that he had a mild heart attack after a bird shot traveled through his heart. He suffered a collapsed lung and around 30 bullets remained in his body, including one near his heart.
In 2011, Mr. Cheney issued a sort of apology. “Of course I was deeply sorry for what Harry and his family had been through,” he wrote in a memoir, “In My Time.” “The day of the hunting accident was one of the saddest of my life.”
Mr. Whittington made his fortune through a law practice focused on oil and gas and through real estate investments. In politics, he was at the forefront of former Texas Democrats who switched allegiances to the Republican Party, ultimately making it the dominant party in the state.
In 1960, he led John Tower’s successful campaign to become Texas’ first Republican senator since Reconstruction. He then worked on campaigns for George HW Bush and George W. Bush, and helped Republican strategist Karl Rove create his first direct mail company. This political work led him to be appointed to state councils by five governors for 27 years.
As a lawyer and investor, Mr. Whittington was a strong proponent of property rights. He repeatedly questioned the City of Austin’s use of eminent domain to acquire private property – some of which belonged to him – for public purposes.
Harry Whittington was born in Henderson, Texas on March 3, 1927, and his family struggled through the Depression when his father lost his dry goods store and cotton gin. Harry did many odd jobs to pay his way through the University of Texas and its law school, from which he graduated in 1950. He then practiced law in Austin.
In 1979, Governor Bill Clements appointed Mr. Whittington to the Texas Corrections Board (now the Board of Criminal Justice), where he found himself the only Republican on a nine-member board that had tended to endorse everything the prison directors wanted.
“It was about time someone asked the question,” Mr. Whittington said in an interview with The Austin American-Statesman. “There was no other way that I know of to do it.”
He uncovered secrets that stunned him, from prison officials dealing drugs to no-tender contracts to families paying guards to protect their loved ones. In meetings, he asked tough questions.
His tenacity led to the creation of a separate unit for prisoners with intellectual disabilities and the end of guards using prisoners to punish other inmates.
Mr. Whittington eventually became a leading catalyst in overthrowing a corrupt leadership. When he served on the government bond approvals agency, he fought for the disclosure of contributions to political candidates from Wall Street firms. As president of the agency that oversees the funeral industry, he is credited with improving the handling of consumer complaints.
In 2001, Mr. Whittington urged Governor Rick Perry of Texas to sign a bill banning the execution of people with intellectual disabilities. (The issue mattered to him; one of his daughters has such disabilities.) Mr. Perry, a Republican, vetoed the bill, saying it would reduce the power of juries and that Texas was not executing in any way. way not people with intellectual disabilities. The United States Supreme Court subsequently overturned capital punishment for prisoners with intellectual disabilities.
Mr Whittington married Mercedes Baker in 1950.
In 2018, the shooting accident was featured in a scene from “Vice,” a biopic about Mr. Cheney starring Christian Bale. Mr Whittington said he planned to see the film, although he disputed some of the details depicted in a trailer for the film. He also told the Daily Mail that he had ‘no hard feelings towards the vice-president’.
Mr Whittington kept the bloodstained vest he was wearing when Mr Cheney shot him, using it to show children the danger of guns, The Washington Post reported. He said he rarely hunted after the accident, explaining, “Some of my enthusiasm disappeared.”
April Rubin contributed report.