Many of our members may know and remember two great leaders in both the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) and Texas Retired Teachers Foundation (TRTF): Mike Lehr and Tom Pritchard. Both gentlemen have served in multiple capacities for both organizations, guiding not only legislative activity, but also charitable giving and promoting the legacy of public education in Texas.
Recently, Mike Lehr and Tom Pritchard have reached the end of their terms serving on Foundation’s Board of Trustees. June 30 marks their last day of official business on the board.
Lehr served as TRTA’s Executive Director from 1994 to 2003. Lehr spearheaded the development and lobbying of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) Catch-Up Plan, which provided benefit increases for retired public educators for four consecutive legislative sessions. In 1995, the Texas Legislature approved a $1.6 billion increase for Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) annuitants.
After working for 38 years in public education, Lehr retired and became a TRTA member. Less than a year after starting his position on the Legislative Committee, Lehr became the chairman of the committee, and worked to solve the problem of retired educators receiving poverty-level annuity checks.
“There was a great challenge there that we needed to get something accomplished,” Lehr said.
Lehr worked with his Legislative Committee and TRS to develop the CPI Catch-Up, which proposed to dramatically increase the annuity payments owed to retired educators. Lehr used his previous work experience with the Austin Independent School District and the Texas Legislature to convince the Speaker of the House, Gib Lewis, and the Lieutenant Governor, Bob Bullock, to support the plan.
“That was quite a feat that we were able to pass the CPI Catch-Up,” Lehr said.
In 1994, Lehr was promoted to the position of TRTA Executive Director. La Vonne Rogers, who worked as the officer manager for TRTA during Lehr’s tenure as Executive Director, considers the CPI Catch-Up a miracle.
“People who had retired many years ago were living on practically nothing,” Rogers said. “All of a sudden the fund was fully funded, and we had lots of cooperation from the Legislature, because the people that were working with Mike wanted to see it happen.”
Lehr stepped down as TRTA’s Executive Director in 2003, and Tim Lee soon after filled the association’s vital role. Lehr began his tenure as a board member of TRTF in 2001, and he received the E.L. Galyean Service Award, TRTA’s highest honor, in 2002.
Tom Pritchard joined TRTA in 1988. Pritchard became the President of the Parker County RTA, and served in that capacity for three years. He went on to become the President of District 10, and he served as the TRTA State President from 2002-2004. Pritchard began his service to the Foundation board in 2001.
“I think that was one of the best decisions that I ever made,” Pritchard said. “(It) has really been a joy to be associated with that Foundation and all the work that we have accomplished with it.”
During Pritchard’s time as TRTA President, the organization opened the doors to its state offices right next to the Texas Capitol. The state office building’s purchase and construction was accomplished through many years of donations to TRTF, but finally came to fruition under Pritchard’s watch.
Pritchard would often make the six-hour round-trip commute from his home in Brock, Texas to TRTA’s state offices in Austin. “B” Zimmer, TRTA’s office assistant since 1981, remembers Pritchard’s enduring dedication and commitment fondly.
“No matter what they ask of him or if he sees something that needs to be done, he’s always (willing to) drive in and drive home. That’s a long ways in a day,” she said.
Among Pritchard’s many accomplishments as a TRTF board member, he was instrumental in the development of the “A Helping Hand” program, which provides grants for retired educators who are experiencing critical emergencies. Pritchard also spearheaded the “Legacy Campaign.” The “Legacy Campaign” promotes the positive image of public educators and works to connect active educators with retirees.
Tom and Jane Pritchard (left) with Mike and Francine Lehr (right) in front of the TRTA state office building.
Both TRTA and TRTF are deeply indebted to the efforts of Lehr and Pritchard. Their tireless work ethics have molded TRTA into the organization it is today, and their legacy will carry on long after their departures from TRTF. Thank you Mike Lehr and Tom Pritchard.
Please consider donating to TRTF to carry on the initiatives started by Lehr and Pritchard. Your donations will not only help sustain “A Helping Hand” and the “Legacy Campaign,” but also will add to the scholarships and grants the organization provides to students and educators. Click here to make a donation.