State representative's late top aide receives chamber award

Kathryn Cargo By Kathryn Cargo

Feb. 1, 2018 at 10:21 p.m.
Updated Feb. 2, 2018 at 6 a.m.

Justin Unruh

Justin Unruh   contributed photo for The Victoria Advocate

Rep. Geanie Morrison remembers her late top aide, Justin Unruh, every day when Guero, the yellow lab that was formerly his, plays alongside her miniature dachshund, Hershey.

After Unruh died of a heart attack in December 2016 at age 41, Morrison adopted Guero, who is now Hershey's best friend.

"His loves were (the) two doggies," Morrison said.

Unruh served the public for 18 years as her policy chief of staff and political consultant. He was awarded the Outstanding 2017 Citizen of the Year Award at the 2018 Victoria Chamber of Commerce Banquet on Thursday. Morrison accepted the award for Unruh.

"I think that all of us are better people for what he did," Morrison said. "Yeah, he left us too early, but he surely made a better place for all of us before he did."

Unruh's award represents the first time the chamber has honored someone posthumously, said chamber president Randy Vivian.

"He was hardworking, and he really had a passion for the people of South Texas," he said. "We had already picked last year's recipient when he passed away. He gave 18 years of his life working for the people in Victoria and the surrounding areas."

Unruh's first established job after college was with Morrison, she said.

She noticed how unique he was right away. Although he grew up in Amarillo, Unruh had ties to the Crossroads and visited the area frequently to hunt and fish with his friends from Victoria.

"When he interviewed, he knew the district, and his personality - he was the perfect person," she said. "He could work with anyone, Republican or Democrat - no matter what your philosophy is or where you are on an issue."

Unruh worked behind the scenes, and he would have been embarrassed to receive the award, Morrison said.

"He always had a good grasp on how to achieve progress in working with everyone," she said. "That's one of the skills he really had. He was a very low-key person who could bring everyone together and help them come to a consensus."

He was passionate about helping other people, especially the staff he worked with, Morrison said.

"He was always very interested in what their goals were and what their ambitions were," she said. "If they were looking to go into the political arena or wanted to stay in policy, he was always the one encouraging them and helping them find positions."

When Morrison would serve on different legislative committees such as appropriations, higher education, environmental regulations and transportation, Unruh was always flexible and knowledgeable about the subjects, she said.

Unruh also played a big role in the University of Houston-Victoria becoming a four-year institution.

"Each session, he continued to work to have funding, improvements and buildings such as the student center for UHV," Morrison said.

City Councilman Jeff Bauknight was close friends with Unruh for more than a decade.

"There's no one more deserving," he said. "There's so much that he did for this area most people don't realize."


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