Colleen Ward Hightower, former Texas Supreme Court Justice Jack Hightower's widow, died Thursday in Austin at 87. She served for a half-century as a church organist in West Texas and Austin, beginning as a teenager in her hometown church.
Justice Hightower died in August 2013. They were married 63 years.
A graveside service will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Texas State Cemetery. A memorial service will follow at 2:30 p.m. in the First Baptist Church in Austin.
"Colleen Hightower was a gracious and talented lady," Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht said, "a gifted musician, and a mainstay for her husband during the years he served on the Supreme Court of Texas and all his life. The justices and staff of the Supreme Court extend our condolences to her family."
Mrs. Hightower, born in Tulia on the eve of the Great Depression, took piano lessons from a neighbor before her father rewarded her determination on the keyboard by buying her a piano. In 2001, upon her retirement as an organist at Austin's First Baptist Church, she recalled that the $90 her father paid for the piano amounted to two months' pay.
"I had promised to practice daily and did so faithfully until the 'terrible teens.' Mother finally sat down with me and explained how my dad has sacrificed to buy that piano," she wrote.
"I was ashamed that I had become negligent about my practice ... if he had that much faith in me I was going to make him proud of me."
She was an organ-performance student at Baylor University when she met her future husband. After she graduated in 1949, she spent a year as a graduate student as Jack Hightower attended Baylor Law School. They were married in 1950.
When he graduated, they moved to Vernon, near his hometown, Memphis, in the southeastern corner of the Texas Panhandle. While he practiced law and served as state representative, then district attorney and finally as a Texas senator, she reared three daughters and for more than 30 years, come Sunday mornings, led the choir and congregation in hymns from her bench at the organ in Vernon's First Baptist Church.
The Hightowers moved from Vernon to Washington, D.C., in 1975 after his election to Congress. Defeated in his bid for a sixth term, they returned to Vernon briefly, then moved to Austin in 1986. Jack Hightower served as first assistant attorney general until he was elected to the Texas Supreme Court in 1988. He retired from the Court in 1995.
Colleen then took her position as assistant organist at Austin's First Baptist.
She was a life member of the Baylor University Alumni Association and served six years on the Baylor University Libraries board of advisors.
In her retirement notice in 2001, Mrs. Hightower, a steadfast St. Louis Cardinal fan, told the congregation: "It has been a wonderful 58 years in church music and I would not change a thing ... unless I could have been a starting pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals."