HOUSTON - Hundreds filled a downtown Houston church Monday to pay their respects to state Sen. Mario Gallegos.
Gallegos, 62, made history and inspired many as the first Hispanic state senator to serve Harris County when he was elected in 1995. However, his dedication to service began decades earlier. Gallegos served 22 years as a Houston firefighter.
His funeral mass took place at Sacred Heart Co-Cathedral in downtown Monday morning.
Members of the Houston Fire Department hung a large Texas flag suspended in the air by HFD ladder trucks to honor their fallen comrade.
Gallegos was described as a true fighter.
"If your back was against the wall, you wanted him on your side -- both sides -- my Republican colleagues as well. (He was) someone who believed in issues he fought for and he will be missed," said State Sen. Rodney Ellis.
"Sen. Gallegos lived life intensely, passionately and didn't waste a single moment of his precious life. Always giving back to others, even in the bitter end," said Dr. Laura Murillo with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
He was known for his strong defense of civil rights, health care and economic development in his district, where about a quarter live in poverty.
Gallegos' viewing and rosary were held Sunday at the University of Houston.
"We are very deeply thankful for you, his family, for sharing him with us. And of course, for all he has done for us," said Nelda Blair, University of Houston's system board chair.
"Every single day, he did his very best," said Gallegos' friend, Harold Cook.
"We lost someone who meant a lot to the Hispanic community as well as myself," said Gallegos' cousin, Joe Sanchez.
State leaders described the spirit of the senator.
"[He was] kind, friendly, courteous, brave, courageous and a fighter," said Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.
"Whenever Mario fought, he fought for others," said Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. "For Mario, may you rest in peace, my friend. I will miss you. I will miss you."
The retired firefighter earned a reputation for toughness in 2007 when he showed up for a critical vote just a few weeks after undergoing a liver transplant. He set up a hospital bed outside the Senate chamber to make sure he could block a bill that would have required a photo ID to vote. The Senate passed the bill four years later.
Mario Gallegos Jr. died Oct. 16 from liver disease.
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