Heath, William Womack (1903–1971)

By: Charles Christopher Jackson

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: October 24, 2019

William Womack Heath, lawyer, educator, and public administrator, was born in Normangee, Texas, on December 7, 1903, the son of John Al and Runie (Hill) Heath. After graduating from high school he taught school intermittently while attending Lon Morris Junior College, Texas Christian University, and the University of Texas law school. He had not yet completed his legal training and was several months short of legal age when he was elected county attorney of Grimes County. After admission to the state bar in the fall of 1924, Heath served two terms as county attorney (1925–29) and then one term as county judge (1931–32). In 1933 he was appointed secretary of state by Governor Miriam A. Ferguson. He was assistant attorney general under Governor James Allred from 1935 to 1937.

After retiring to private law practice in 1937, Heath became one of the most prominent insurance lawyers in the country as a partner in the Austin firm of Davis and Heath. His reputation and connections got him on the boards of directors of several large banks and insurance companies. By 1950 his wealth had enabled him to purchase a ranch in Blanco County near that of his long-time friend Lyndon B. Johnson.

Heath reentered public service in 1952, when Governor M. Price Daniel, Sr., appointed him chairman of the Texas Board of State Hospitals and Special Schools. In 1959 he was named to the board of regents of the University of Texas, which he served as chairman from 1962 to 1966. In this capacity he helped direct the peaceful integration of the university. Heath was also instrumental in persuading President Johnson to leave his official papers to the University of Texas and played a prominent role in establishing the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.

On March 22, 1967, Heath accepted Johnson's appointment as ambassador to Sweden. In early 1968, however, he was recalled to the United States in a demonstration of American displeasure with Sweden's strident opposition to the Vietnam War. He retired once again from public service to devote the remainder of his life to ranching and the leadership of a number of charitable foundations. Heath married Mavis Barnett on July 14, 1927, and they had two daughters. He died in Austin on June 22, 1971, and was buried in the State Cemetery.

Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.


  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Lawyers
  • Labor and Insurance Law

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

Charles Christopher Jackson, “Heath, William Womack,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed January 28, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/heath-william-womack.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

October 24, 2019