Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison spent 19 years tending to the needs of Texas, hard work with tangible results for military installations, flood projects and highways, as well as many taxpayers.
Two years ago, in a bruising bid to become governor, her knack for bringing home the bacon and her deftness at setting aside party became liabilities. Concerns about red ink trumped demands for largesse, and fears of federal overreach fueled a hard right turn among Republican voters.
As the Hutchison era ends, her approach is giving way to much different expectations resting on successor Ted Cruz, a tea party darling with a national agenda and a markedly sharper ideology.
"We're going to miss her, and Ted Cruz and I have our work cut out for us to try to fill the gap that's going to be left by her departure," said Sen. John Cornyn, the party's deputy Senate leader and, next week, Texas' senior senator.
Texas counties, researchers, road builders and rocket scientists may feel the impact. Hutchison advocated for a robust national defense. She looked after Texas veterans. She pressed for a fairer Texas slice of gasoline tax revenue. She championed tax-deferred retirement accounts for homemakers and easing the so-called marriage penalty, and made sure that Texans, who pay no state income tax, could at least deduct state sales tax.
"I hope some of the priorities I have championed will continue," she said last week in her Senate farewell address.
Those priorities weren't always glamorous or controversial. More dogmatic colleagues commanded the spotlight on major debates over judicial nominees or health care policy, for instance.
"Some senators choose to focus solely on national issues. She chose early on to make fighting for Texas the highest of priorities. And she made a difference," said Chet Edwards, a former Democratic congressman from Waco.
Voters didn't always reward her. The tea party wave crested just as Hutchison took the plunge to run for governor two years ago. Party activists shunned her. Gov. Rick Perry mocked her as an "earmark queen" and "Kay Bailout," for her support of the bank rescue package enacted at the height of the 2008 economic crisis.
Perry won their primary by 21 percentage points, a crushing rejection for a senator who had drawn more votes in 2000 than any statewide candidate in Texas history.
"It was a horrible experience," she told WFAA-TV (Channel 8) this month, voicing regret that her biggest ambition eluded her. "I love the Senate, but I always wanted to be governor."
In hindsight, she said, she should have challenged Perry in 2002, when he'd been on the job just two years, or four years later — the year he won another term with less than 40 percent of the vote in a four-way contest. But she kept biding her time, citing a desire to promote party unity.
By 2010, her moment had passed.
"I just don't think she sensed the changing mood that was out there," said Dallas lawyer Tom Pauken, who chaired the state GOP in Hutchison's early years in the Senate. "You get into an insular atmosphere where you're talking to the lobbyists, you're talking to the insiders, and you begin to lose touch with the frustration at the grass-roots level."
After the defeat, Hutchison got back to work, setting aside plans to retire early, win or lose.
"She was a grown-up in a party filled with radicals," said Bruce Buchanan, a longtime University of Texas at Austin political scientist.
With President Barack Obama's re-election suggesting a pendulum swing away from tea-party-style radicalism, her departure takes on an ironic poignancy.
"It's unfortunate. If she'd held on for another term, she might have been a player in the Senate in a way she hasn't been before," Buchanan said.
Through aides, Hutchison, 69, declined numerous interview requests over several months for this story.
Texas has seen any number of larger-than-life senators, from Sam Houston to Lyndon Johnson and John Tower — lawmakers who left a lasting mark on Texas history, the national discourse or both.
Stylistically, Hutchison's behind-the-scenes focus put her more in the mold of Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, a centrist Democrat, than that of Cornyn's predecessor, Phil Gramm, a Republican attention-magnet who put his stamp on banking and budgetary policy.
That made it a challenge for Hutchison to tamp down grumbling among social conservatives as their dominance grew within the Texas GOP.
She was booed at the party's 1996 convention, just three years after her election, and anti-abortion activists took the extraordinary step of trying to exclude her from Texas' delegation to the presidential nominating convention.
Her stance on abortion has long confounded activists on both sides. She has voted to affirm the ongoing validity of the landmark Roe vs. Wade ruling legalizing abortion.
She accepted funds from and served as an honorary board member of The Wish List, a group that helps GOP candidates who support abortion rights. Yet she routinely voted to restrict access and funding for abortion.