A stalwart of the local political scene died early Saturday.
William “Billy” Leo died shortly after midnight at the age of 70 from what is believed to be a heart attack, according to his wife Filomena Leo.
“We are thankful that we were able to share his life with so many others because he was a public servant in every sense of the word,” she said. “Many of whom he helped during their formative years in politics and in their careers are reaching out to us and that is comforting.”
The former La Joya mayor lived a life of public service, leading the city for nearly 15 years, first for four years in the 1980s and then for another 10 years after being re-elected in 1999.
Leo also served as Hidalgo County clerk from 1986 to 1994.
Prior to that, he sat on the La Joya school board from 1974 through 1981.
“To have known him is to know that he truly lived from a good heart; it was always his desire to help others,” said Leo, his wife of 46 years. “That may sound like a cliché but that is what he lived for.”
She said he was influential through building a voter base in order to call attention to the Rio Grande Valley. His motivation was not to seek power or glory, she said, but to bring services from the state or national level down to the area.
“It was more from the love of his city and this county, and this Valley that he spoke and he fought,” Leo said.
In 2012, Leo was honored by the county’s commissioners court for his service and contributions.
However, his contributions were not just limited to local politics. Leo was also a delegate for the National Democratic Committee from 1992 to 1996.
Then in 2014, he received the Ann Richards Award for leading activity on behalf of the Democratic Party. Prior to that, he was asked to be an honorary pallbearer at the funeral for the former governor when she died in 2006.
In a statement posted to social media, state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa described him as an icon in the Valley and throughout the state.
“Billy committed much of his life to public service and helping others to get elected to represent la gente,” Hinojosa wrote. “Billy was a loyal friend and will be missed by many.”
Born in Laredo, Leo and his family moved to La Joya shortly after his birth. His father, Leo J. Leo, was also heavily involved in politics and served a lengthy tenure as mayor.
Billy Leo’s legacy will continue through his family including his five children, one of whom, Lita Leo, is currently running for county treasurer.
Leo had been suffering from Alzheimer’s for a few years, according to his wife, but on the day leading up to his passing, she said he appeared to be doing fine.
“He had been well during the day and it actually happened as he slept,” she said. “As he slept he slipped away.”