Flags across Montana were lowered to half-staff Thursday as the state mourned Democrat Chet Blaylock, who died before he could cross the finish line in his race for governor.
A private funeral service for family, close friends and neighbors tentatively is set for Monday afternoon in Laurel, and a simultaneous public memorial service is planned at the state Capitol here.
Gov. Marc Racicot called Blaylock’s death on Wednesday, apparently from a heart attack, “a terrible, terrible tragedy” and praised him as “a man of courage and decency” who fought passionately for what he believed.
“We will try to continue on with the kind of life that Chet Blaylock lived,” Racicot said at the Capitol.
Meanwhile, state election officials tried to address possible impacts of Blaylock’s death on the general election, only 12 days away. And Democratic Party leaders wondered who, if anyone, should be chosen to replace Blaylock on the ballot.
Racicot, who had declined to comment after his opponent’s death Wednesday afternoon, said he will schedule no public activities as governor or candidate for several days.
“It just doesn’t seem right that we’re involved in discussions about anything other than the life and the contributions of Chet Blaylock,” a somber Racicot said in a hallway outside his office.
“To his family, we extend our sincerest sorrow and sympathy and pledge to them that we will do everything that we possibly can to move through this difficult period in a peaceful way,” he said.
Blaylock, 71, was stricken with chest pains about midafternoon while driving from Butte to Missoula for a debate with Racicot. He pulled to side of the highway near Deer Lodge and used his cellular phone to call for an ambulance.
He was taken to the local hospital where he died before a helicopter could arrive from Missoula to carry him to St. Patrick Hospital there.