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Pat Morris Neff Passes Away

Today in Masonic History Pat Morris Neff passes away in 1952.

Pat Morris Neff was an American politician.

Neff was born November 26th, 1871 in Coryell County, Texas on the family ranch. He graduated from Baylor University in Waco, Texas with a bachelor's degree. After graduation he moved to Magnolia, Arkansas where he taught at the Southwestern Academy. When he returned to Texas he received his law degree from the University of Texas School of Law in Austin, Texas.

From 1899 to 1905, Neff served in the Texas House of Representatives. He also served as the Speaker of the House. After leaving the House, Neff returned to his law practice. He also became the assistant county attorney and then the county attorney for McLennan County.

In 1920, Neff defeated a former United States Senator and populist candidate in the Democratic primary for Governor of Texas. Neff was a strong supporter of Prohibition. He also ran on promising not to grant any pardons, the only way out of prison at the time in Texas, there was no parole.

During Neff's term he was instrumental in the Development of the Texas State Parks Board. Neff and his mother donated the land which became the first state park in Texas called Mother Neff State Park. Also during his administration there was a resurgence of the Klu Klux Klan in Texas. Neff was criticized for not taking a stronger stance against the Klan. In 1921, Neff vetoed a bill establishing a West Texas A&M College. He argued it was a waste of money to create another state college in sparsely populated West Texas. Two years later he signed similar legislation creating Texas Tech University.

Neff was reelected to a second term in office in 1922. Despite his promise not to issue any pardons, Neff is notable for granting a pardon in his final days in office to Huddie William Ledbetter, more commonly known by his nickname of "Lead Belly." Ledbetter was originally arrested in 1915 for carrying a pistol and placed on a chain gang. He escaped and began living in a town in a neighboring county. He was arrested again when he and a relative argued over a woman and Ledbetter shot him. He began serving a 7 to 35 year sentence in 1918. In 1925, Neff issued his pardon. There are a couple of reasons it is believed Neff issued it. One reason was Ledbetter wrote a song to Neff asking for his freedom. The other claim is Neff invited friends and family to accompany him to the prison where Ledbetter was incarcerated to hear him play. Regardless of Neff's reasons for releasing him, he was a well behaved prisoner and regularly performed for the prisoners and guards. One of Ledbetter's songs was "Midnight Special," which in the 60's was made popular by Creedence Clearwater Revival.

When it came time for a third term, Neff declined to be re-nominated. At the time in Texas it was "understood" no Governor sought a third term, even though there was no law against it.

After leaving office, Neff briefly served on the Texas Railroad Commission. He left the position to become the President of his alma mater, Baylor University.

Neff passed away on January 20th, 1952.

Neff was raised in Waco Lodge No. 92 in Waco, Texas. In 1926, Neff affiliated with Baylor Lodge No. 1235, also in Waco. In 1946, Neff served as the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Texas. He was also a member of Karem Shrine Temple, also of Waco.

This article provided by Brother Eric C. Steele.