R. Vernon Whiteside, former mayor of Pasadena and a college roommate of President Lyndon B. Johnson, died Sunday of congestive heart failure in a Baytown nursing home. He was 96.
Johnson's prize-winning biographer, Robert A. Caro, said Tuesday that Whiteside was the key to Caro's trailblazing account of LBJ's political activities at what is now Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos.
This account is a high point of the first volume of Caro's biography, The Path to Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, published in 1982.
At Southwest Texas, LBJ, Whiteside and others founded an organization in 1932, called the White Stars, that by various means -- some described as devious -- won control of student politics at the school. This, Caro said, was Johnson's first political victory.
"No one knew more about Johnson's college days than Vernon Whiteside," Caro said. Other classmates of Johnson's refused to talk unless Whiteside did, Caro said. "After he talked, they all did. He pulled no punches. I was very impressed by his desire to get it all accurately."
Whiteside's niece, Patricia Ball, of Kaufman, said her uncle and LBJ remained friends until Johnson's death. Whiteside and Johnson were much alike, she said.
"Uncle was president of everything he ever did. Very charismatic, a real leader. Uncle also was overbearing, probably as much as Lyndon," she said.
Patricia Ball's twin brother, Patrick Ball of Houston, said Whiteside once described Johnson as "not a particularly popular person at Southwest Texas. But he said Johnson ... knew how to get things done. That quality stayed with him when he went to Congress."
Whiteside, born in Kyle in Hays County, grew up in Lockhart, where he played football and was captain of the track team.
At Southwest Texas, he lettered in track, and won a track scholarship to New York University.
Whiteside later taught school in Beaumont and in Devine in Medina County. He also was superintendent of schools in Tilden in McMullen County.
Whiteside served in the Navy in the Pacific theater during World War II, attaining the rank of lieutenant commander.
In 1948, Whiteside and his wife, the former Marguerite Carroll of Birmingham, Ala., moved to Pasadena, where Whiteside purchased an insurance agency. He later served as president of the Pasadena Rotary Club and on the Pasadena school board.
In 1951, he was elected mayor of Pasadena and served one term. Two years later, Whiteside was appointed a commissioner of the Port of Houston, a post he held for eight years.
He retired from the Whiteside Insurance Agency in 1959 and moved to his ranch near Bellville, where he raised Brangus cattle. From 1961 to 1962, he was president of the Texas Brangus Association.
He later lived in Lockhart, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Marble Falls. After his wife's death in 1991, Whiteside moved to Beach City in Chambers County near Baytown.
He leaves his niece and nephew, and stepsons, Jack Carroll of Granbury and Gene Carroll of Collierville, Tenn.
The funeral will be at 2 p.m. today at Navarre Funeral Home in Baytown. Burial will be in Marble Falls