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Nelda Wells Spears, a beloved community leader and the state’s first African‐American tax assessor-collector, died this morning, Tuesday, March 20, after a brief illness.

Spears, 71, was a champion of women’s causes who dedicated her life to public service. She was elected Travis County tax assessor‐collector for five consecutive terms, retiring on Dec. 31, 2011, to care for her elderly mother and aunt.

Her passing came as a shock to tax office employees, some of whom she hired and worked with for two decades.

“Nelda was loved by tax office employees throughout her 20 years of service to Travis County,” said Tax Assessor‐Collector Bruce Elfant, who succeeded Spears as the next elected official to take over the office. “She was dedicated to her staff, committed to hiring quality people and was passionate about giving county residents exceptional customer service.”

Before he became tax assessor‐collector in 2012, Spears tapped Elfant, then a county constable, to assist the tax office with its voter registration efforts. “She believed everyone should have a voice in their government and was committed to making sure eligible voters were registered,” Elfant said. “Travis County, the tax office and our customers were richly rewarded by Nelda’s service. Her passing is a great loss to our community and we extend our heartfelt sympathy to Nelda’s family and friends.”

Stan Wilson, who Spears hired at the tax office in 1992 and is the director of the office’s Motor Vehicle Division, said she was committed to mentoring black youth, especially women, to choose a life of public service. “Nelda was a woman of strong faith who worked tirelessly for everyone in the county, but also was a leader in the African‐American community, including the black women’s movement, and dedicated to furthering the careers of all women and building strong families,” Wilson said.

Spears, a lifelong member of Greater Mount Zion Baptist Church, was a founding member of Executive Women in Texas Government, where she fostered women’s growth in state leadership roles.

Spears was appointed tax assessor‐collector Aug. 1, 1991, making her the first African‐American tax assessor-collector among the state’s 254 counties. She was a proud Austin native. She attended Austin public schools and graduated from L. C. Anderson High School. She went on to Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English and became a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Spears completed her graduate studies at Memphis State University, where she earned a master’s degree in communications.

Before serving as tax assessor‐collector, Spears filled many leadership roles in state government, working at the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, Texas Department of Community Affairs and Texas Land Office. She has a distinguished background in community service, including leadership roles with the Austin Women’s Center, the NAACP and the Texas County and District Retirement System.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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