Cole, Criss (1918–1985)

By: Diana J. Kleiner

Type: Biography

Published: December 1, 1994

Updated: November 12, 2016

Criss Cole, Texas legislator and judge, was born on May 11, 1918, in Sawyer, Oklahoma, one of ten children of sharecroppers James M. and Drucy Cole. He spent his childhood on a farm near Avery, Texas. He worked in the Civilian Conservation Corps near Golden, Colorado, before joining the United States Marines in 1940. He served in Iceland, New Zealand, and Guadalcanal. As a corporal, he was blinded in 1943 during a beach attack at Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands by a Japanese grenade, an injury for which he was later awarded a Purple Heart. He returned to civilian life, moved to Houston, completed high school work, worked for Reed Roller Bit and as a legal stenographer for the city's legal department, and took prelaw courses at the University of Saint Thomas. He received his law degree in June 1954 from the University of Houston law school. Cole was a member of the Texas House of Representatives from 1955 to 1962 and served in the Texas Senate from 1963 to 1970. In 1971 he was appointed to preside over what became in 1977 the 315th District Court, one of three courts handling juvenile cases in Harris County. He helped to pass bills establishing Padre Island National Seashore and the University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures at HemisFair in San Antonio, was instrumental in passing a measure banning racial discrimination by state and local governments, and was involved with measures for redistricting, loan-company regulation, multiple use and pollution of Texas waters, and vocational rehabilitation. In 1970, 1976, and 1977 he attended the National College for Juvenile Justice. Cole served as director of the Lighthouse for the Blind, vice president of the Texas Air and Water Resources Foundation, state general chairman for the Texas Society for the Prevention of Blindness, and state advocate for the Knights of Columbus. He was a member of the Houston and Texas Bar associations, a trustee of the University of Saint Thomas, and a founder and president of the Hope Center for Youth in Houston. In 1969 the legislature voted to name Austin's rehabilitation center for the blind in his honor. Cole married Joanne Spica on September 25, 1945; the couple had two sons. Cole died on June 21, 1985, in Houston and was buried in Houston National Cemetery.

Houston Metropolitan Research Center Files, Houston Public Library. Mary Reincke, American Bench: Judges of the Nation (Minneapolis: Reginald Bishop Forster, 1977-). Texas Bar Journal, April 1986. Texas Parade, August 1974. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.


  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Politics and Government
  • Judges
  • Fifty-fourth Legislature (1955)
  • Fifty-fifth Legislature (1957)
  • Fifty-sixth Legislature (1959)
  • Fifty-seventh Legislature (1961-1962)
  • Fifty-eighth Legislature (1963)
  • Fifty-ninth Legislature (1965-1966)
  • Sixtieth Legislature (1967-1968)
  • Sixty-first Legislature (1969)
  • Senate
  • House

Time Periods:

  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II


  • Houston
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • East Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Diana J. Kleiner, “Cole, Criss,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 21, 2021,

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December 1, 1994
November 12, 2016

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