BOISE – Bethine Church, matriarch of the Idaho Democratic Party and wife of the late U.S. Sen. Frank Church, has died. She was 90.
Her son, Chase Church, said she died Saturday evening of old age after two weeks on home hospice, listening to Christmas music with he and his wife, Pam, by her side.
Bethine Church traveled the world with her husband, campaigning with him four times for senator and once for president in 1976. The daughter and niece of former Idaho governors, she was often called the “third Senator” from Idaho because of her active participation in public life during her husband’s tenure in the Senate.
“She always loved to entertain when I was growing up,” Chase Church said Sunday. “A lot of famous people came over to have dinner – movie stars or different politicians.”
She met every American president from Franklin Roosevelt to Bill Clinton.
“I was born to politics,” Church told the Times-News in 2003. “It’s part of me.”
Church became a widow in 1984 when her husband died of cancer at age 59. She remained in politics, becoming the elder stateswoman of Idaho Democrats, and continued to work on those things most important to her. That included education, promoting home health care, and preserving Idaho’s rivers and landscapes through the Sawtooth Society, the nonprofit organization she founded.
Church sat on the board of the Wilderness Society, founded the Frank Church Institute at Boise State University, which hosts yearly public policy conferences, and helped establish the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial in Boise.
She only considered running for public office herself once, in 1986 for the U.S. Senate, but then bowed out when then-Gov. John Evans announced his bid.
“I’m better as a backup person, I think,” Church said.
Born Jean Bethine Clark in 1923 in Mackay, she grew up in Idaho Falls, where her father and grandfather were mayors.
Former Idaho Gov. Cecil D. Andrus, the last Democrat to hold the office when his term ended in January 1995, said in a statement Sunday that he and his wife, Carol, join thousands of other Idahoans mourning Church’s death.
“She was a force of nature, a great political partner to Frank, and for almost 30 years after his death a keeper of his legacy, fighting the good fight for what both of them cared deeply about,” he said.