Deep in the Books: The Long Life Spans of 20th Century Wyoming Governors

Historic Quote:”If Lincoln were alive today he’d be turning over in his grave.” Gerald Ford, then House Minority Leader.

By Scott Crass

Looking for a guarantee that you’ll live to a ripe old age? To the extent there are any, I have one idea. Try winning an election as Governor of Wyoming. If your successful, it just may – may, add years to your life. Many years.

Skeptical? Are you thinking, have you lost your mind, Crass (don’t answer that)? Understandable. But I can give you my full assurance that this is neither a wives tale nor is it far-fetched. It’s actually right here deep in the bowels of the Wyoming history books. Let’s go to them, shall we?

Five individuals who have served as Chief Executive of the “Equality State” since 1903 have lived beyond their 90th birthdays, with a few achieving or coming darned close to reaching full centenarian status.

Nellie Tayloe Ross secured her place in history by becoming the first female Governor of a state whose appropriate motto is the “Equality State” in 1924 (her husband had died in office and Democrats chose her to replace him. Voters concurred). For a time, she held the record for longevity as well.

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Ross’s death at 101 in 1977 made her the longest living Governor in history, only surpassed recently by Jimmy Davis of Louisiana and Alberto Rossolini of Washington, who also lived to 101 (the latter passed away in 2011) Five GOP Governor’s who have served since 1903 have lived to be 90 or longer, with others passing or coming darned close to reaching full centenarian status..

Besides Ross, Fenimore Chatterdon lived to nearly 98, Cliff Hansen to 97, Milward Simpson, 95, and Nels Smith,91. Chatterdon served less than two years as the state’s 6th Chief Executive, during Teddy Roosevelt’s tenure, but outlived his Governorship by 53 years.

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Smith also had little distinction outside of Wyoming, but the South Dakota native’s base was Crook County, just a little bit east of the border. It is the most Republican county in the among the most Republican states (FDR was the last Democratic Presidential candidate to take it, and only in his first run), but Wyoming was a little different then. Smith was defeated by Democrat Lester Hunt. He lived to 1976 at which time Ross, who would become history again as the first female director of the U.S. Mint, was preparing to observe her 100th birthday.

The other Governors share some major family and political anomalies which, as you know by now, I thrive in pointing out. The saying is six degrees of separation. In a state as lightly populated as Wyoming, it’s more like three and a half. Indeed, what’s remarkable is that most of the Governor’s I’ve cited have relations to current history — and not always together.

Let’s start with Milward Simpson. His biggest claim to fame may ultimately be that he was the father of Al (the Simpson in “Simpson-Bowles” and newly discovered gangnum champ). Simpson went to the Senate a few years after his Governorship ended, served until 1966, and saw Al win his seat a dozen years later.

Who held that seat in the interim? Hansen. He struggled to beat the state’s lone Democratic Congressman, Teno Roncalio but, following his 52% win, served in the Senate until 1978. But, get this! There’s a lofty Hansen legacy as well. Grandson, Matt Mead, is the current occupant of the Governor’s mansion, having won a very hotly contested primary against a Palin backed rival by just 714 votes. He shares his grandfather’s pragmatism. But the family ties don’t end there. His mother (and Cliff Hansen’s daughter), Mary Mead, herself was a candidate for Governor, losing to incumbent Mike Sullivan in 1990 by a 65-35% margin (she died in a horse riding accident years later). Mead was pro-choice, while Sullivan was not, marking a rare example of a pro-life Democrat facing a pro-choice Republican. So you ask about longevity, and you get a lesson on family ties. But there’s a little more where that came from.

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Photo from madeinwyoming

Hansen&Mead may be the William Henry/Benjamin Harrison of WY politics, with Grandfather and grandson making it to the top as the former’s son and latter’s parent aimed for political success as well. Some students of history may recall that John Harrison, son of William and father of Benjamin, briefly served in Congress. Well, Mary Mead is clearly the John Harrison of that group.But, as if on cue, it doesn’t end there. There’s an uncanny coincidence in the Harrison comparison as well

Wyoming also had a William Henry Harrison in Congress.The President with his name-sake was his great-great-granddad.He served three consecutive tenures in the House but lost a bid for the Senate.By the way, he lived to 94.

The bottom line: if you’ve got longevity on the brain, it may not be what you eat, how you exercise, or your level of stress. it may be where you live. And if you’re a Wyomingite, you might as well seek the Governorship. Managing to win may literally add years to your life.

Author: SCOTT CRASS

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