Ron Kirk life and biography

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Ron Kirk biography

Date of birth : 1954-06-27
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Austin, Texas, U.S.
Nationality : American
Category : Politics
Last modified : 2010-06-25
Credited as : Politician and Lawyer, U.S. Trade Representative, Obama administration

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Ron Kirk (also known as: Ronald Kirk) born June 27, 1954 in Austin, Texas, United States is an American politician and lawyer.

Ron Kirk is the U.S. Trade Representative, a Cabinet position in the administration of President Barack Obama. Before assuming his new post, Kirk was known chiefly as the first black mayor in the history of the city of Dallas, Texas. His 1995 election to that post in a landslide victory signaled a new era in Dallas that brought with it an impetus to improve everything from city services to race relations. Kirk campaigned on a platform that promised increased economic prosperity, a lower crime rate, and the important notion of uniting Dallas's diverse ethnic and racial population. His record of bipartisanship and ability to work with business leaders led to his easy confirmation to the Obama Cabinet in March of 2009.

Raised in Supportive, Strong Family

The youngest of four children, Kirk was born and raised in Austin, Texas. His family knew its share of adversity, but both of his parents were politically attuned and active in their predominantly black community. Kirk's father was a college graduate who, although he was accepted at two medical schools, had to give up his dream of being a doctor because he could not afford the tuition. Instead, the elder Kirk took a job with the U.S. Postal Service, becoming "a racial ground-breaker of sorts ... as the first black civil service employee in Austin," as reported by Lori Stahl and Sylvia Moreno in the Dallas Morning News. The postal job might have been an important step for black Texans, but Ron Kirk recalled in the Dallas Morning News that his father became extremely frustrated working "35 years in a career that was below his intellectual ability." Kirk added: "He stayed there, and he endured.... There was an expectation from everyone that we are going to have it better."

In addition to the ideals of hard work and social commitment, Kirk's parents stressed Christian values such as helping the needy and being supportive to family and friends in troubled times. Kirk noted in the Dallas Morning News that, then and now, his family believed the African proverb, "It takes a whole village to raise a child." Kirk attended public schools, where he earned good grades, played sports, and sang in the school choir. Even though he was a student during the disruptive early years of desegregation in Austin schools, he was rarely affected personally by racial strife. In fact he was elected student body president as a high school senior. The issue of race became more important to him when he entered Austin College in Sherman, Texas. He was one of only a few African Americans on campus at the time, and, as he told the Dallas Morning News, he finally underwent an identity crisis. "I got called Uncle Tom [overeager to win the approval of whites] so much it made me wonder who I was," he explained. His response to the personal confusion was to leave the school during his sophomore year.

The hiatus from college was temporary, however. While home with his family, Kirk received an internship as a legislative aide to the Texas Constitutional Convention of 1974. He became so fascinated by the political process that he returned to Austin College and completed his degree in political science and sociology in 1976. From there he went directly to the University of Texas School of Law, earning his law degree in 1979. Kirk admitted in the Dallas Morning News that he was an "undistinguished" student, both as an undergraduate and in law school. "I was much more interested in politics and law practice than law school," he explained.

Developed Interest in Political Career

Having worked as an intern with the Texas legislature during his law school days, Kirk gravitated toward politics. After only two years as a private practice attorney, he took a job in the office of then-U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen, a popular and well-connected Washington insider. Kirk worked in Bentsen's Capitol Hill office for two years, from 1981 until 1983, and then returned to Texas with a clear vision of the political process. He joined the staff at the Dallas City Attorney's office, rising quickly to the position of chief lobbyist for Dallas. As Stahl and Moreno put it, Kirk's job "was to push the city's legislative agenda with state legislators in Austin." Among his other initiatives, Kirk helped to persuade the state legislature to toughen penalties on the most serious criminals and to enact bills that would enhance economic opportunities for women and minorities. At home in Dallas he also worked as an attorney for the firm Johnson & Gibbs and played an active role in the Dallas chapter of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America, a volunteer organization linking children with adult role models.

The opportunity that put Kirk on the political map permanently occurred in 1994. Early in that year, then-Texas Secretary of State John Hannah resigned to accept a federal judgeship. Governor Ann Richards appointed Kirk as Hannah's replacement. Kirk agreed to become the new secretary of state but declared that he would only fill the remainder of Hannah's term. By that time, Kirk had his eye on another, even more high-profile political prize.

Over the years, Kirk became convinced that the federal government had become so mired in bureaucracy that real political change could only be initiated at the local level. When friends in the Dallas business community began urging him to run for mayor, he and his wife, Matrice, prayed about the decision and then announced his candidacy. The political commitment was not entered into lightly. Not only did Kirk have two preschool-aged daughters, but his wife also held a job. Matrice Kirk was faced with resigning from a job she loved in order to further her husband's career, and this sacrifice was not lost on Kirk. "It's a lot to ask of someone," he stated in the Dallas Morning News. "Any two-career family can appreciate the difficulty with one [partner] sacrificing something they've given a lot of time, education, and passion to. It says more for her love and unselfishness that I'm in the position I am now."

Elected Mayor of Dallas

Kirk was one of six candidates running for mayor of Dallas in the spring of 1995. Earning a broad base of support among the African-American community and the important backing of many influential black and white business people, he campaigned on a platform of stopping the "blame game" and ending the gridlock-producing bickering in City Hall. His more detailed plans for Dallas included targeting 400 city businesses for growth, a reduction in government regulations for small businesses, and a response team to help cut through government red tape.

Like his opponents, Kirk promised to be tough on crime, but he was the only candidate to suggest that Dallas's future prosperity as "the gateway to the largest free trade zone in the world" hinged on enhancing racial and ethnic harmony. "You don't become an international city until you become a city that understands diversity," Kirk told the Washington Post. "Historically, Dallas has been seen as a white power structure, but those days are over now.... We now live in a city [where] a candidate of color can now win with a coalition of blacks and browns and Anglos."

Kirk did just that. On May 6, 1995, he won the mayor's race with 62 percent of the vote. His closest opponent earned a meager 22 percent, and Kirk drew more white support than two other white candidates. Kirk's inaugural ceremony was the largest ever seen in Dallas and was attended by Richards and other state dignitaries. At his request, a choir sang the civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome." In his inaugural address, Kirk declared that his victory was all about vision, not color. He said he hoped the voters of Dallas had reacted to his positive, optimistic campaign and not to any history he would make as the first black mayor of a major Texas city. He told the Detroit Free Press, "I've always believed that if you have to choose between making history and making sense, you ought to make sense."

Kirk carried a serious commitment to social issues such as homelessness and the need for decent public housing into the mayoral job, but he also placed a priority upon encouraging business expansion and new economic opportunities in Dallas. Kirk expressed the hope that his victory in Dallas indicated better times to come for a city that had known its share of racial discord. His greatest challenge, he told Ebony, was "to get people of different cultural and national backgrounds to work together peacefully and build a community that is economically viable and a wonderful place for families to live."

In 1999 Kirk won re-election by a large margin. In November of 2001 he resigned as mayor to run for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Phil Gramm. He faced a tough campaign as a Democrat in Bush country. He attempted to hold on to the Democratic base in Texas, while also presenting himself as a pro-business centrist who could cross the aisle and work with Republicans. Karen Tumulty noted in Time that Kirk appealed to a wide swath of Texas voters, having left Dallas with "a gleaming sports arena, a successful light-rail system, a new police headquarters under construction and $543 million in funding for development along the Trinity River." However, President George W. Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney, and First Lady Laura Bush all made campaign appearances for Republican John Cornyn. Kirk lost a close election to Cornyn in November of 2002.

Appointed U.S. Trade Representative

Kirk subsequently worked as a lawyer and a lobbyist. He campaigned for Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential campaign, and in December of 2008, President-elect Obama named Kirk to his Cabinet as U.S. trade representative. Kirk was widely viewed as a friend to business, and labor activists remained wary of his selection to the post.

Despite tax errors found during the vetting process that required him to pay nearly $10,000, Kirk faced an easy Senate confirmation hearing on March 9, 2009. He promised that during his tenure he would emphasize workers' rights and environmental concerns. The Senate Finance Committee approved him for the post a few days later, and he was easily confirmed by the full Senate with a vote of 92 to 5. In his Trade position, Kirk is charged with developing U.S. trade policy, negotiating international agreements, and serving as a spokesperson on trade issues for the president. Additionally, in his Trade role Kirk serves as the U.S. ambassador to the World Trade Organization and functions as an advocate on behalf of U.S. business interests abroad.


Born June 27, 1954, in Austin, TX; son of a U.S. postal worker and a schoolteacher; married Matrice Ellis-Kirk; children: Elizabeth Alexandra, Catherine Victoria. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Methodist. Education: Austin College, BA, 1976; University of Texas School of Law, JD, 1979. Memberships: Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Dallas, Leadership of Dallas Alumni Association, National Bar Association, North Texas Food Bank. Addresses: Office--Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, 600 17th St. NW, Washington, DC 20508.


Volunteer of the Year Award, Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Dallas, 1992; Distinguished Alumni Award, Austin College Alumni Association, 1992; Citizen of the Year, Omega Psi Phi, 1994; Outstanding Public Service Award, Woodrow Wilson Center for Public Policy, 2000; Mickey Leland Leadership Award, Texas Southern University, 2004; named one of the "50 Most Influential Minority Lawyers in America," National Law Journal, 2008.


David Cain (law firm), lawyer, 1979-81; Office of U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen, legislative assistant, 1981-83; City of Dallas, assistant city attorney and chief lobbyist, 1983-89; Johnson & Gibbs, PC (law firm), shareholder, 1989-94; Secretary of State, Texas, 1994; Gardere & Wynne, LLP (law firm), partner, 1994-2005; City of Dallas, mayor, 1995-2001; Vinson & Elkins, partner, 2005-09; U.S. Trade Representative, 2009--.

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