AUSTIN — Harry Whittington, a pioneer Texas Republican and prominent Austin lawyer who found himself thrust into the national spotlight in 2006 when he was accidentally shot by then-Vice President Dick Cheney, died over the weekend at 95.
Whittington’s death was reported by several major news outlets since Sunday and confirmed by his wife. No cause of death was listed and no funeral arrangements were made public.
Tall and impeccably dressed, Whittington remained active in his Austin law practice into his 90s. For the rest of his life, he carried in his cheek and torso some of the birdshot pellets from Cheney’s shotgun in the quail hunting accident on a ranch owned by South Texas’ influential Armstrong family.
In a 2018 interview with the USA TODAY Network that coincided with the release of the Cheney biopic, “Vice,” Whittington said he remained in touch with the former vice president since the February 2006 incident and harbored no ill will. At the time of the interview, Whittington said he had last seen Cheney a few months earlier in Austin.
“He and I went to dinner,” said Whittington, who called the film’s account of the shooting inaccurate and misleading. “We’re just acquaintances.”
more:‘Vice’ the film: How the Caller-Times broke the story on Dick Cheney shooting accident
After being released from the hospital following the shooting accident, Whittington offered a public apology to Cheney because of the controversy that proved rich for late-night comics.
Prior to the hunting accident, first reported by the Corpus Christi Caller-Times to the dismay of the White House press corps, Whittington had been an inside player in the emergence of the Republican Party when Texas was dominated by Democrats. He managed the successful US Senate campaign for John Tower in 1961 when the Republican won the seat vacated by Lyndon Johnson’s ascension to the vice presidency.
It was the first statewide victory by a Texas Republican since Reconstruction. Whittington, native of Henderson in East Texas, was appointed to chair the board that oversees state prisons by then-Gov. William Clements and later was tapped by George W. Bush to lead the panel that oversees the Texas funeral industry.
Ben Barnes, a former lieutenant governor in the late 1960s and early ’70s, and before that the speaker of the Texas House, said Whittington was becoming active as a political insider around the first time Barnes ran for office. That the two were from different parties did not diminish Barnes’ respect for Whittington.
“Looking at and observing state government for the past 60-some-odd years as I’ve done, I think that Harry Whittington epitomized the kind of citizen board member that we need on the various boards and commissions in Texas,” Barnes, 84 , recalled in an interview. “We were very lucky to be able to attract (his) caliber of leadership. He read every piece of material, attended every meeting of what board or commission he served on, and he was very dedicated.”
In 2000, Whittington brought legal action against the city of Austin over land he owned that had been condemned for the city’s convention center. The protracted proceedings ended some 13 years later with a court ordering the city to pay Whittington and his family $10.5 million.
Whittington, who was 78 at the time of the hunting accident and 91 when he was interviewed in his law office about the biopic, said the wounds he suffered did not slow him down even as the years piled up.
“I’m able to navigate and get around. I still have a lot of ‘quiet pellets,’ but some of them had to be lifted and removed,” he said. “When I go to the doctors, they all want to look at my pellets I still have. Usually everybody in the clinic wants to come look. I get a lot of questions and discussions about it.
“Needless to say, I’m very, very fortunate.”
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