Eleanor Whilden Tinsley, Houston councilwoman and school board chair, daughter of W. C. “Tom” Whilden and Georgiabel (Burleson) Whilden, was born on October 31, 1926, in Dallas, Texas. Eleanor grew up in Dallas alongside her brother Walter Whilden. She attended the College of William and Mary and then went on to receive a bachelor’s degree from Baylor University. She met her future husband James Aubrey Tinsley while at Baylor, and they married in 1948. After graduation, they relocated to Houston in 1953 for his job. They had three children, two daughters and a son— Kathleen, Marilyn, and Tom Collier.
Tinsley was active in the struggle for racial equality throughout her life. She was part of the Citizens for Good Schools, which participated in desegregation efforts. She was elected to the Houston Independent School Board in 1969 and became president in 1972. She helped establish programs such as the Texas Council of Child Welfare Boards, Volunteers in Public Schools Program, and the Houston Community College System, and she served as president of Harris County Children’s Protective Services. She lost her seat on the school board in 1973 after a failed re-election bid.
In 1979 Tinsley, a Democrat, was elected to the Houston city council, on which she served for sixteen years. As a councilwoman, she brought about billboard regulations because she believed there were too many billboards in Houston. She worked for reforms such as smoking bans, bicycle helmet requirements, protection of gay rights, improvement of park spaces, choking first-aid signage in restaurants, and the 911 system. She also initiated the SPARK Program to construct recreational park areas on school grounds. With her support, Houston became the largest city to elect an openly gay mayor, Annise Parker, in 2009. Tinsley’s career as councilwoman ended in 1995 as a result of term limits. Afterwards, Tinsley continued to serve in community organizations such as Planned Parenthood, Baylor Alumni Association, and Baptist General Convention of Texas.
Among her many recognitions, Eleanor Tinsley Park and an elementary school are named for her. She was inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame and was named a distinguished alumnus of Baylor University. She received the Institute of Rehabilitation and Research President’s Award, and Planned Parenthood inducted her into the Margaret Sanger Circle. Eleanor Tinsley passed away at the age of eighty-two from cancer on February 10, 2009, in Houston, Texas.