Ruben M. Torres, Sr., state legislator, educator, school superintendent, and the first Mexican-American member of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, was born in Brownsville, Texas, on November 1, 1929. He was the son of Tomas Torres and Yrene (or Irena or Irene) (Pompa) Torres of Brownsville. In his youth, he played baseball on the sandlots of the Rio Grande Valley. Torres enlisted in the United States Marine Corps on April 14, 1948, and served until 1952. He attended and graduated from Texas A&I University (now Texas A&M University-Kingsville), where he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He later received his doctorate from Western Colorado University in 1974. After his studies at Texas A&I, he became an educator and coach and worked in the Brownsville and Point Isabel school districts. He served as superintendent with the Point Isabel Independent School District from 1961 until 1974 and then resigned to run as a Democrat for the elective office of then District 50 (Cameron County) of the Texas House of Representatives.
Torres was elected to serve in the House of the Sixty-fourth Texas Legislature, and his term began on January 14, 1975. He was elected to a second term and served in the Sixty-fifth legislature as well. As a member of the Texas House, he passed legislation of significance affecting both the local and state level. H.B. 248 from the Sixty-fifth Regular Session of the legislature created an “upper-level educational center of Pan American University” in Brownville that enabled residents of Cameron County to attend a full-fledged four-year university in that county. During the same session, he also passed his H.B. 247 overwhelmingly, a bill designed to give discretion to local school boards to determine the residency of students for purposes of attendance to our “public free schools.” Torres served on a number of committees during his tenure in the House, and was a member of the Public Education Committee and its various related subcommittees during both terms.
After serving in two legislatures as a state representative for the Brownsville/Port Isabel area, Torres resigned from his House seat on January 31, 1978. In 1979 he was appointed the state’s first Mexican American member of the Board of Pardons and Paroles, which handled all matters of clemency for those convicted of crimes. His service lasted almost eleven years, and he died while still in office in 1989. During his tenure on the board, he served as a member, vice-chair, and chair of that board.
Throughout his life, Torres engaged in many civic activities both in and outside of Cameron County. He was a past chair of the Port Isabel Housing Authority as well as the Hidalgo-Willacy-Cameron Division of the March of Dimes. Additionally, he assisted in various fundraising activities for the American Heart Association and the Rio Grande Valley Arts Council. He also served in various professional organizations such as the Texas Association of School Administrators, Rio Grande Valley Association of School Administrators, and the Texas Association for Bilingual Education. During his busy public life, he became a founding member and at one point served as chair of the board of directors for the Amigo Savings and Loan Association in Brownsville. He was a member of Austin City Tennis League as well as the National Pilots’ Association. He was a member of the Roman Catholic Church. In addition to an active civic and political life, Torres received numerous awards, including recognition as “Outstanding Educator” by the Association of Brownsville Educators. The Texas Association of School Administrators recognized him for “Meritorious Service”; he received the same type of recognition from the Texas Good Roads Transportation Association. The Point Isabel Independent School District also honored him with “Dedicated and Faithful Service.” The Texas Association of Visiting Teachers honored Torres with “Outstanding and Dedicated Service.”
Ruben M. Torres married Maria Elida Rodriguez in Cameron County on January 22, 1954. They had four children: Ruben Torres, Jr.; Evette Torres Martinez; Erie Torres Tejada; and Roel Torres. During his legislative stint, Ruben M. Torres and his family resided in Brownsville and later moved to Austin during his stint on the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. Ruben M. Torres, Sr., died of leukemia on November 23, 1989, in Austin, Texas.
Posthumously, the county of Cameron named its detention center after Ruben M. Torres, Sr., in 1990. The Seventy-first legislature, Second Called Session, posthumously honored Torres by passing a resolution in honor of his public service and successful private life. The state of Texas vis-à-vis the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Correctional Institutions Division posthumously honored Torres by having one its prison units in Hondo, Texas, named in his honor.