BOISE – Longtime Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus’ life and legacy were celebrated and remembered by an overflow crowd of more than 1,300 at Boise State University on Thursday, with friends, families, fans and even former political foes in attendance.
Idaho GOP Congressman Mike Simpson said when he wasfirst elected to the state Legislature, he thought of politics as a dichotome between Republican and Democrat, rather than right versus wrong. “And it used to frustrate Republicans that in the most Republican state in the nation, we could not elect a Republican governor,” he said. “… for 24 years we could never figure that out.”
“It took me a while to figure out that there must have been a lot of Republicans voting for this Cecil Andrus character,” he said to laughter.
“I finally came to the realization: They weren’t voting for a Republican, they weren’t voting for a Democrat,” Simpson went on. “They were voting for a man – a man who shared their dreams, their aspirations, that cared about the education of their children and would protect the beautiful place that we all called home. Somebody they could trust.”
Andrus died of complications from lung cancer last week, on the eve of his 86th birthday. Elected four times as governor of Idaho, he was the state’s longest-serving governor and also served as U.S. secretary of the interior. He built a legacy of education improvements, including bringing kindergartens to Idaho; environmental preservation, including protecting wilderness and fighting for cleanup of nuclear waste; and efforts to build the Idaho economy through the state Department of Commerce.
Simpson said he learned from Andrus “that no matter if you’re a Republican or a Democrat or an independent, there is so much more that unites us than divides us… We sometimes have differences of opinion on how to achieve those goals. But if we’ll sit down with an open mind and discuss the issues, we can find solutions.”
“That, to me, is the Andrus legacy,” Simpson said.
Andrus’ daughter, Tracy Andrus, told the crowd, “You know, growing up an Andrus kid, you learned that your father had to be shared with many others. And I have to admit, sometimes that was hard to do.” But, she said, “We realized, as we grew up, that dad loved all of you just as much as you loved him. He was at his best greeting friends and strangers alike. He truly loved getting to know people, exchanging quips, and kneeling down to look a child in the eye as he made a new lifelong friend.”
“What happens when an avid outdoorsman ends up with three daughters?” she asked. Amid laughter, she said, “He teaches them to fish.”
Marc Johnson, longtime aide to Andrus, said Andrus lived “a quintessentially American life, rising from the most modest of beginnings. … Frequently his many and varied victories came in the face of the longest of odds.”
A student of history, Johnson said, “I like to say he was elected four times in three different decades, a Democrat in practically the most Republican state in the nation, a conservationist in a state where timber, mining and agriculture were paramount. He built a remarkable record of accomplishment that occurred while his party never once controlled either house of the Legislature.”
Among those in the huge crowd for the public service were four Idaho governors, including current Gov. Butch Otter, and former Govs. Phil Batt, Jim Risch and Dirk Kempthorne.
Former longtime state Sen. Mary Lou Reed, D-Coeur d’Alene, recalled first meeting Andrus when he was a young candidate for governor in 1966. “He remembered everyone, because he cared about people,” she said. She remembers seeing him, “his face just lit up by the crowd.”
Jim Hawkins, who served as Andrus’ commerce director, recalled Andrus asking him to join his cabinet, and Hawkins wondering if he really wanted to leave the private sector. “He said, ‘Hawkins, you owe it to the state, and I only need you for two years,’” Hawkins said, “and I stayed for eight.”
“This guy could have done absolutely anything in politics or in business,” Johnson said. “He inspired people to be better than they were, and they followed him. And that is the essence of great leadership.”
He added, “Cece Andrus’ life is all the proof any of us need that one person can make a difference. … He showed us how to do it.”
Andrus, a Navy veteran, will be buried Friday in a private ceremony in Boise with full military honors, including an Idaho National Guard flyover.