Commissioner Chris King

Staff photo by Albert Villegas

Commissioner Chris King smiles as he stands in between Precinct 1 Commissioner Doug Mathews and Judge Phillip Spenrath following swearing-in ceremonies for the three on Jan. 1.

It is a time of reflection and sorrow as those who worked with long-time commissioner Chris King learned of his passing on Tuesday, July 23.

King, 64, had been an elected official several times over and began his tenure in Wharton County matters in 1991.

Many of those who are in office now weren’t when King was elected back in the 1990s, one of at least a dozen times Precinct voters said yes to being represented by him.

One of those who worked many years with King was Wharton County Judge Phillip Spenrath. The former El Campo mayor took office after former Judge John W. Murrile opted not to seek a third term in 2010.

“Chris was kind, caring, and always well-informed,” Spenrath said. “While there may have been some disagreements, Chris was always open and fair when it came to listening to differing perspectives. We have lost a legend … a man of great wisdom, knowledge, and unquestionable respect. I am truly going to miss him.”

Precinct 2 Constable John Szymanski said he learned a lot from working with King as the two men came aboard around the same time in the early 1990s. There were more good times that outweighed the bad, but he said the unfortunate incidents usually involved mother nature. It forced the two men to check on the wellbeing of their fellow man as elected officials. 

“We’d check flood levels, rivers, worked alongside each other inside Emergency Operations Centers (EOC). Those were some bad times, but we worked together and tried to help our citizens through it,” Szymanski said.

His off-the-job memories with King were about East Bernard sports – the Brahmas’ football, baseball, softball and other teams. Having a son play for EBHS and the chance to see teams play deep in the playoffs on several occasions made for some memorable moments with the King family, said Szymanski.

One of the last times King was seen in public was before Commissioners Court that was set to begin morning before at 9:30 a.m. He was unable to attend and had been absent from meetings several times this summer. He had been in ill health for quite some time and was always mentioned in the opening prayers by Commissioner Richard Zahn, who sat next to King.

News of King’s death was mentioned July 23 evening during a Wharton ISD Board of Trustees meeting when a prayer was offered by Trustee Sherrell Speer.

Other elected officials and county workers offered their thoughts on King:

Andy Kirkland, Emergency Management Coordinator

“I’ve got a lot of Chris King stories, from operating backhoes in the rain to driving endless county roads looking for flooding. But this, I think, best sums up Chris. One night after Hurricane Harvey, soon after the flood waters had dropped and folks were cleaning out their houses, I met Chris at the “Temporary Disposal Site” we set up in Glen Flora. I told him getting this site was very difficult to procure, and many obstacles had to be jumped to get this site. He told me he did not have time for the paper work, I would take care of that, he would take care of his people. That was Chris. Always taking care of his people. Our county will miss him, He was a voice of experience.”

Glenn P. Russell, WC Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace

“Chris embodied the old quote ‘only a life in the service of others is worth living.’  He was a true servant of the people; and the county he loved. Chris was a unique voice on the Wharton County Commissioners Court and will be sorely missed by many people; friend and foe alike.”  

Shannon Srubar, Wharton County Sheriff

“Commissioner King was well respected and appreciated by all elected officials.  His wisdom and experience provided guidance to all that needed assistance. His active role as a part of the Wharton County Commissioners Court was well respected.  King was a gentleman that researched and asked the right questions to ensure his decisions were appropriate.  He will be dearly missed.  He often showed his support for law enforcement through his gestures and kind words.  His dedication to this community will never be forgotten.”

Paul Shannon, Wharton County Maintenance Supervisor

“I was working for the Wharton Independent School District Maintenance Department. Wharton County did not have a building maintenance person. His son and my son were on the same baseball team. He asked me if I would consider working for Wharton County and I could tell this guy was a dedicated public servant. The more we talked the more I wanted to become a public servant with his passion. I owe a lot to Chris King.”

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