HARLINGEN — Friends remembered former City Commissioner Jack Hatfield as a visionary who helped launch the Harlingen Literacy Center and the World Birding Center.
Hatfield died Tuesday at his home. He was 87.
“He was just an absolutely wonderful person,” Mayor Chris Boswell said. “He deserves so much credit for his vision.”
Hatfield worked as controller for the Valley Morning Star, the Brownsville Herald and the McAllen Monitor from 1981 to 1993.
With the Star’s $1,000 donation, Hatfield co-founded the literacy center in 1986, helping to teach its classes.
“He spent some of his own money to get it started and raised enough money to sustain it,” said Elaine Lockhart, chairwoman of the center’s board of directors. “He was so proud the center was not in any debt.”
Hatfield’s vision helped Spanish speakers learn English to help them earn their general equivalency diplomas, or GEDs, and become American citizens.
“Jack was the kind of guy that if you asked him to do something, he wouldn’t know the word ‘no,’” Lockhart said. “Jack always listened to people. If it could be done, he’d try to get it done. He was always giving to the community.”
For about 30 years, Hatfield served as senior warden of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, serving as the church’s administrator several times, Lockhart said.
“He was very active in church government and leadership,” Lockhart said. “He acted as head of the church when we were without a priest.”
In 1994, Hatfield won election to the City Commission’s Place 2 seat, going on to win a second term in 1997.
“He was on the City Commission when I was elected and shared a lot of wisdom with the younger commissioners,” Boswell said. “He was a great city commissioner to work with. He was a fiscal conservative and a great friend.”
Boswell said Hatfield pushed to turn Harlingen into the home of one of the biggest birding festivals in the United States.
“He was a real advocate of the World Birding Center and was instrumental in bringing that to fruition,” Boswell said.
In 2000, Hatfield decided not to seek a third term in office.
“It has been a wonderful and fulfilling experience but, at the same time, it is quite demanding time-wise, and I am ready to do other things at this time,” Hatfield said after announcing his decision.
After 26 years, Hatfield resigned from the literacy center’s board of directors in 2012.
“It makes me very proud to be a part of it,” Hatfield said at a ceremony in which city leaders honored his work with the center in 2012.
Funeral arrangements are pending with Buck Ashcraft Funeral Home.