MISSION — After the applause, the casket carrying him exited the church where he was baptized as a young boy, past his statue a couple blocks away, through the street named after him and eventually into the mausoleum that he dedicated many years ago.
Eligio “Kika” de la Garza, who died Monday at the age of 89, was celebrated yesterday first during a service at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, followed by an interment at Valley Memorial Gardens.
De la Garza was baptized in the waters of the Rio Grande at Our Lady of Guadalupe when he was young, and in that same church hundreds attended his funeral service yesterday. Family, elected officials locally, statewide and nationally were on hand, as were veterans, police officers, administrators and many more.
He touched many lives over his 32 years as the Democratic Congressman from District 15, especially with his work as Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture from 1981 to 1995 and his work on the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Before that, he impacted many during his time in the Texas House of Representatives, U.S. Army and Navy, and at St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio. Growing up in Mission, he attended Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic School and Mission High School.
“I don’t know if Kika knew everyone,” the Rev. Roy Snipes said. “But it sure seemed like it.”
Despite splitting time between the Valley and Washington, D.C., during his time in Congress, as well as many trips around the world, people here always felt they could go up and talk to de la Garza. He was a “regular guy” here, but an “icon” in Washington, as state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa said, though that description might work beyond the country’s capital.
“A visitor from the U.S. was in Moscow,” said de la Garza’s son, Jorge de la Garza, during his eulogy. “He (the visitor) was there to visit with Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev asked him through an interpreter where he was from. The visitor replied, ‘Texas.’ The Russian President asked him, ‘Ah, do you know Kika de la Garza?’”
He could converse in five languages, his son said, and could get by in many more, surprising many he met. While de la Garza fostered relationships with many around the country and the world, he was always focused on the Valley.
“He could go from a White House State Dinner on Thursday,” Jorge de la Garza said, “to a tripa club pachanga in McAllen on Saturday.”
His family emphasizes how much of a family man de la Garza was, throughout his life. During his meetings with world leaders and work on famous legislation as a public servant, family kept him grounded.
“Everything he did was to better the people of Saaaouth Texas and the United States,” Jorge de la Garza said. “Today, we mourn his passing, but we also celebrate his life.
“We are all better off today because of the humble man, Kika.”