Press Club Legend, Past President, Mayor of Dallas
by Everton Bailey, Jr. Dallas Morning News, December 14, 2022
Wes Wise, who served as Dallas’ mayor for most of the 1970s and previously worked as a sports broadcaster, died Friday of natural causes. He was 94.
Wise recently had been at a nursing home recovering from a fall at his home on Cedar Creek Lake in Eustace, according to his son, Westley Wise Jr.
A political outsider who once told D Magazine he got into politics because he interviewed City Council candidates and didn’t think any of them were good, Wise was elected mayor three times from 1971 to 1976. He first joined the council two years earlier and resigned as mayor in 1976 to run for U.S. Congress. He lost the Democratic primary nomination later that year to then-state representative Jim Mattox.
Wise was re-elected as a City Council member in 1981, but two years later lost out on his fourth attempt to become Dallas’ mayor to Starke Taylor.
Wise Jr. said his father often told him and his siblings stories of what it was like covering the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 while working as a reporter at a local TV station. He said he remembers his dad often having impromptu question-and-answer sessions with residents while he was mayor. Wise Jr. said in recent years he and his father bonded over a plate of homemade fried catfish or chicken fried steak.
“He was just Dad to me,” Wise Jr. said. “He was funny, a great guy, always had an open ear for people, and we’re all going to miss him very much.”
Funeral arrangements are still being finalized, Wise Jr said.
While Wise was mayor, Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport was constructed, building of the current City Hall began and the first legal case challenging Dallas’ City Council election system, which called for all then-11 positions to be at-large seats with two reserved for people of color, was filed. A federal judge in 1975 later ruled that Dallas’ at-large system was unconstitutional because it diluted the votes of Black residents.
Wise was listed as a defendant in the lawsuit, along with the city. The system was changed in 1976 to have the mayor and two council members elected citywide, with the remaining eight council seats elected via single-member districts. It wouldn’t be until 1991 that Dallas began using its current system, where the mayor is elected citywide and the 14 other seats on the City Council are elected by district.
Wise was once in favor of having the city block promoters from putting on the musical Hair at the Dallas Memorial Auditorium, saying he believed the treatment of the American flag during the show was offensive and described the play as having an “anti-American tone”. The show went to Fort Worth instead.
Mayor Eric Johnson in a statement said he was sorry to hear of Wise’s death and that his prayers are with Wise’s loved ones.
“While I never had the privilege of meeting him personally, I am grateful for his service to Dallas in this demanding role during one of the most critical periods of our city’s history,” Johnson said.
Born in 1928 in Shreveport, Louisiana, Wise began his career as a radio broadcaster calling college baseball games while attending college in Louisiana. He moved to Dallas in 1949 to work as a radio announcer for Major League Baseball games for the Liberty Broadcasting System.
Wise joined the army in 1951 as an instructor and spent two years in military service. Over the next several years, he would work in Beaumont as a public relations director for a baseball team and sports director for a local television station before moving back to Dallas as a sports anchor for WFAA and later sports director and anchor for what was then the CBS affiliate KRLD-TV and is now Fox 4. He also called Dallas Cowboy games, and his work has also appeared in Sports Illustrated, Time Magazine and Life Magazine.
He was also president of the Dallas Press Club when Kennedy was assassinated. Wise would later co-author “When the News Went Live: Dallas 1963” detailing what it was like to cover the event.
Wise covered the Kennedys’ arrival at Dallas Love Field, later encountered Jack Ruby the day before Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald, and was in the Dallas County Jail when Oswald was shot dead.
In the years out of public office, Wise was vice president of international affairs for the Dallas World Trade Center, was public relations director for a chemical company and gave lectures on politics and sports, his family said.
Wise is survived by his wife Sally, and their three children.