Former Dallas Mayor Adlene Harrison Dies at 98

Harrison was the first woman to serve as Dallas mayor

Adlene Harrison was a woman of firsts — not just in Dallas, but for the U.S. as well. When she was appointed mayor in 1976, she became the first woman to serve in the role in Dallas, and was the first Jewish woman to be mayor of a major city in the U.S.

Harrison, who was a longtime resident of Preston Hollow, died Saturday at her home. She was 98.

“We have lost a Dallas legend. Adlene Harrison had an amazing impact on this city,” Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said. “As the first woman that this city called its mayor, she made history. As a loyal, smart, and caring person, she made countless friends. And as a fearless and strong leader, she made Dallas better.

“We grieve with her friends and family, but we should also celebrate her inspiring 98 years of life. May God rest her spirited soul.”

PHOTO: UNT Libraries Special Collections 

Harrison also served as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency from 1977 to 1981, and was the first chair of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit board.

She was appointed to serve as mayor in 1976 after Wes Wise resigned to run for Congress, serving until the election of Robert Folsom at the end of the year. Prior to that, she served as the only woman on the Plan Commission in 1963.

​Left to Right: Councilmembers Adlene Harrison, Juanita Craft, Lucy Patterson, and John Walton, 1977 (PHOTO: City of Dallas)

That year, the Texas Monthly‘s Richard West deemed her the Best Mayor, adding, “Hard working with a great malarkey detector, she should run for governor.”

In 2000, she was interviewed about her experience as a city council member, mayor, and with the EPA and DART, and why she didn’t run for mayor.

“I very seriously considered running and, at that time, we were having problems and just very near a decision about whether we integrated our public schools, and I had a lot of people on the council, they were going to speak out against whatever the judge ruled—because we knew he was going to rule to integrate—and I decided we needed someone with stability on that council to speak out to the citizens of this city,” she said. “So, I opted to stay in that chair waiting for that decision.”

Harrison said that while the city waited for the ruling, she worked on what she would say to the city.

“I worked three weeks on a statement to issue it to the citizens of this city and, basically, it told why we needed to do that, but, it also said that I would not tolerate any civil disobedience, and that it would be punishable,” she said. “And we didn’t have one rock thrown. We didn’t have one problem the day all that happened. And I don’t mean everybody liked it.

“So, I gave up the opportunity to run for that office. And just as well, because what would have happened had I won that—in an election—I would have left anyway when President Carter called and I became the Environmental Protection Agency Region 6 Administrator.”

Part of the interview can be viewed here, and the entire transcript is here.

In 2018 she was also interviewed by the Dallas Morning News about her time as mayor.

In 2009, she recounted the day John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas, and how she and her husband waited at the Trade Mart for the luncheon he was to attend. That interview can be found at the Sixth Floor Museum, and an excerpt can be found here.

As news of her passing was announced, other former Dallas mayors were quick to praise Harrison.

“She was full of grace but tough as nails, and that’s what made her special,” former Mayor Mike Rawlings told the Dallas Morning News. “She often had to navigate in rooms full of men and she fought hard for what she believed in.”

“Adlene was sharp, funny, wily, and suffered no fools or foolishness,” former Mayor Laura Miller said. “All of us in public service were lucky to have her as a role model.”

Harrison was preceded in death by her husband, Maurice. She is survived by her daughter, Jane Harrison Fox.

Services will be Tuesday at Temple Emanu-El, where Harrison was a lifetime member. Her family told the Dallas Morning News that donations can be made in her name to Temple Emanu-El, Planned Parenthood, or another reproductive-rights or environmental nonprofit group of their choice.

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Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, Digital Editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Education Writers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the News Leaders Association, the News Product Alliance, and the Online News Association. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at [email protected].

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