Steven Wollard, a Dallas political activist who cofounded an influential Facebook group called Reform Dallas, died unexpectedly on May 4; he was 55.
Wollard was known for his outspoken, forceful personality, and his ability to not just embrace but also bring together people with opposing views. On the Reform Dallas page, he became a father figure and ringleader who helped engage local political leaders and steer the conversation towards causes he championed, including transparency and accountability in Dallas city government.
He was also irreverent and unfiltered in a way that made him unique in Dallas — and never shy about calling out traits or actions that he found unjust.
Barry Jacobs, who was a close friend, says that Wollard was driven by his values.
"He didn't much care about anything else: he was content to let someone else make the policy, but he wanted absolute transparency as to how the money got spent," Jacobs says. "He absolutely could not abide public corruption."
Wollard was born on August 3, 1964 and grew up in Waco. He attended UT Austin, then worked in construction and roofing.
"Steve was a mess of apparent contradictions," Jacobs says. "He was a college dropout who went from running a roofing business to being a pioneer of bitcoin mining. He was a redneck from Waco who cared deeply about racial equity. He was a strangely apolitical man who, somehow, became a political force in our city."
Wollard also had an irreverent, bawdy side which included salty language and over-the-top pronouncements. For example, when a friend posted a photo of a vintage Mustang, Wollard's comment was "So tits."
The Reform Dallas page was originally founded by a group of downtown Dallas residents, of which Wollard was one. Their efforts began with a radical vibe that sometimes bordered on unhinged — but Wollard's outreach to people from different neighborhoods transformed the page into a place where all walks of life could interact, thereby lending it more credibility.
Perhaps the most valuable outcome that Wollard and the page effected was the way it formed a community and encouraged the same kind of political activism that Wollard possessed; he was a generous mentor to many political newcomers. And in a world that feels like the cards are stacked against the little guy, he made it seem like the little guy stood half a chance.
The page also became a powerful campaign tool in the 2017 and 2019 Dallas City Council elections, helping to spotlight candidates such as Scott Griggs, who ran for mayor in 2019, and Adam Bazaldua, who was elected to the city council that same year.
When a public figure did something Wollard approved of, he would proclaim them to be "a Goddamned American hero," and made that phrase a recurring motif on the Reform Dallas page, used any time someone wanted to acknowledge a good deed.
Mark Melton, another close friend, described Wollard as "just a regular guy with charisma to outpace his station."
Part of that charisma sprang from the fact that he put on absolutely no airs, Jacobs says.
"He was a Central Texas cracker who had graduated from the school of hard knocks and absolutely did not give a damn who knew it," Jacobs says. "He was also wildly imaginative; he always had a hundred crazy projects in mind — 99 of which were batshit crazy, but one of which would have this little germ of brilliance. Bitcoin was one of those, and it apparently did well by him. Reform Dallas was another, and here we are."
During these polarized times, Wollard's approach was an inspirational example.
"He was a rare 'cross the aisle' kind of leader," Melton says. "He yelled loudly to motivate his base, and then went and actually tried to reason with his opposition. Sometimes they would move. And sometimes he would. It's a rare set of qualities in modern politics that I wish we could see more of."
"While he certainly thrived on controversy, his primary motivator was simply to get to the right answer, whatever that was and at all costs," Melton says. "Like all of us, he was subject to his own biases and the lens of his own life experiences, but he genuinely cared about his fellow man. And he spent a great deal of his time working for the betterment of others, whether that was lobbying politicos to move policies he cared about or handing a burger and fries to the homeless guy that hung out on his block."
CJ Gresh, another friend, said he admired Wollard because he was not fearful.
"He was a force of nature," Gresh says. "He pushed, cajoled, hell-raised, and delivered the most eloquent 'fuck off's in a town that champions itself on getting along — and he made it work."
Friends said that the cause of death appeared to be a heart attack. He was preceded in death by his brother, Chris Wollard, and grandparents Dorothy and Jim Lassiter. He's survived by his girlfriend Kelly Graham; mother Sherry Lewis; father and stepmother Bob and Karen Wollard; his sister Catherine Wollard; sister Lauren Pruitt and her husband Todd, nephews Kyler and Caleb, and niece Ainsley; and nieces Katie and Grace Wollard.
According to family members, due to the coronavirus, services will not be held at this time.