At first thought, many people might not consider state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. a rebel, but few would deny his willingness to go against the grain. Fellow Democrats at several times found themselves at odds with the man who has represented the eastern Rio Grande Valley in the Legislature for more than three decades, serving two terms in the House and before his election to the Senate in 1990. Lucio, 75, announced last week that the current term, which ends in January 2023, will be his last.

Over the past 35 years, which now places him as the third-longest-serving member of the Senate, Lucio has become known for using his charm, force of will and, sometime, a little guile to help enact important legislation, both large and small, that has benefited the Valley.

Through it all he has defied the old adage that one can’t serve more than one master. Lucio clearly had three: his constituents, his faith and his party. That fact at times frustrated, and even angered, state, local and party officials when he refused to toe their line. For example, he was the only Democrat in the Senate who voted with Republicans on controversial bills to restrict abortion and give transgender Texans access to restrooms and sports teams that reflected their chosen sexual identity.

Still, the former St. Joseph Academy staffer, who still identifies himself as an educator, will be best known for is support and advocacy for education and students. He authored bills to improve bus safety, make lunches healthier — even restrict student access to vending-machine candy — and strengthen laws against school gangs.

Lucio also was instrumental in improving higher education in the Valley, not only in supporting the universities and colleges in South Texas but also in the establishment of the University of Texas Regional Academic Health Center. When Valley cities began bickering over placement of the center, Lucio helped forge the compromise legislation that placed it in the central location of Harlingen. Along with other members of the Valley contingent, he also pushed through legislation that fast-tracked the creation of UT Rio Grande Valley and its ground-breaking medical school.

He also has been a strong champion of infrastructure and business development. Even before the partial collapse of the Queen Isabella Causeway, Lucio was calling for a second crossing between South Padre Island and the mainland.

To be sure, it would be unusual to serve this long without some controversy. Lucio has been connected to an international bridge at the Port of Brownsville that was promised and partly financed but never built, and the federal detention center in Willacy County that became embroiled in a bribery and kickback scandal. The senator, who said he helped “bring people together” using the contacts he’d made in Austin, was never formally connected to  the scandal although he was a paid consultant for the principal contractor on the jail contract.

Overall, however, Lucio can step away from a political career that has filled half his life knowing that he holds widespread respect, and gratitude, of countless people across the Valley whose lives he has affected, and who appreciate his staunch devotion to his principles, and to his people.