Updated at 8:53 p.m. with details throughout.
Updated at 11:21 p.m. with quote from former DeSoto mayor Rep. Carl Sherman.
DeSoto Mayor Curtistene McCowan has died of lung cancer, a little more than three weeks after announcing her diagnosis during a City Council meeting on Zoom.
“Those of you who know me are also aware that I have an unusual amount of energy,” she said at the time. “So when I get tired or don’t put in the time and energy that I normally do on an issue, something’s up.”
McCowan spent much of her life dedicated to serving the DeSoto community, the city said in a news release Wednesday night. She became the city’s first female mayor in 2016 and was the first African American elected to public office in the city after winning a seat on the DeSoto ISD board in 1990.
“We’ve lost a great committed leader,” U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, whose district includes DeSoto, told Texas Metro News. “Her leadership spirit will be missed. Her influence and her leadership was felt in DeSoto, her first love.”
My heart is heavy as I send my condolences to the family of my good friend, DeSoto Mayor, Curtistene McCowan. She was a diligent and faithful leader who will be greatly missed. pic.twitter.com/NpQ3kmr8yn
— Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (@RepEBJ) October 29, 2020
State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, said her death hits close to home.
“We have lost a good person, a leader, caring person who in many instances put her family behind public service,” he told Texas Metro News. “Curtistene will be missed. She loved her family, her community, her sorority, and fraternity brothers of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. She lived a full life, a life well lived.”
Her sorority sisters have been diligent with their prayers and calls of support, said Andrea Hilburn, president of the Dallas alumni chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.
“My phone is ringing off the wall,” she said. “The news was devastating. She wasn’t just our soror, she was a community leader too.”
McCowan, 72, said a week before the Oct. 6 City Council meeting, she contacted her physician after having trouble breathing. The initial diagnosis was pneumonia, and she was sent home after spending two days at the hospital. When her condition did not improve, doctors ran additional tests and discovered cancer.
McCowan was reelected as mayor in 2019 and first joined the City Council as a member in 2012.
A graduate of Dallas Baptist University, she worked for the Federal Trade Commission for more than three decades before retiring in 2005. McCowan served on the board of regents for Texas Southern University, as well as the DeSoto ISD board of trustees. A middle school in Glenn Heights bears her name.
The mayor is survived by her husband of 54 years, Leon McCowan, two sons and three grandchildren.
Rep. Carl Sherman, a former two-term DeSoto mayor, called McCowan “the most gracious mayor we’ve ever had,” saying that unlike many leaders “she was able to diplomatically bring both sides of the city together. There was an elegance and an eloquence about her.”
Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price called McCowan a selfless leader, pointing out her years of service to the community.
“She devoted a lot of her time and service to the public,” he told Texas Metro News on Wednesday night.
In a Facebook post late Wednesday, the DeSoto High School band sent condolences to the McCowan family.
“We will forever appreciate the support and kind words from Mayor McCowan, as she truly loved the DeSoto Eagle Band,” the post read. “She was one of the first individuals to sing our praises when we achieved national recognition and she has always encouraged us to strive for greater and higher heights.”
The DeSoto community had adopted the hashtag #McCowanStrong to show their support for the mayor after her diagnosis.
Dallas leaders also expressed condolences and remembered McCowan’s service.
“This is unbelievably sad news,” Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson tweeted. “On behalf of my family and the @CityOfDallas, I offer our sincerest condolences to the family of Mayor McCowan and the entire city of @desototx.”
“Personally, and on behalf of the 2.7 million residents of @DallasCountyTx, I thank the mayor for her service and to her family for sharing a gifted leader with us,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a tweet Wednesday night.
Godspeed to a great person and mayor, @desototx Curtistene Smith McGowan. Personally, and on behalf of the 2.7 million residents of @DallasCountyTx , I thank the mayor for her service and to her family for sharing a gifted leader with us.🙏 https://t.co/uHO3nlMxeH
— Clay Jenkins (@JudgeClayJ) October 29, 2020
The city of DeSoto said services will be at the Kirkwood Temple CME Church at 1440 Sunny Glen Drive in Dallas, where the mayor was a longtime member and chairwoman of the board. A date has not been announced.
Staff writer Marc Ramirez contributed to this report, as did Texas Metro News — the latter as part of a collaborative partnership with The Dallas Morning News that seeks to boost coverage of communities of color, particularly in southern Dallas.