His name was Rollie Bruning, though some called him “RJ” as his by-line in print was always R.J. Bruning. Thought about him the other day when I took our grandchildren to Wallace to visit the old train depot. On our way there we walked past the store front office of what used to be The North Idaho Press.
My first journalism job was a brief stint at the paper during the late summer of 1968. The paper’s owner, Wallace mining magnate, Harry F. Magnuson, had hired Jay Shelledy to run the paper for two weeks as Bruning had suffered a heart attack. Shelledy, already doing a summer stint with The Spokesman-Review, subcontracted the job to me and gave me a two-day crash course in journalism.
When I showed up on a Monday morning there sat Bruning as if chained to his desk and his trusty old typewriter, cigarette dangling from his mouth. Be damned if he was going to let some snot-nosed kid run his paper for a couple of weeks. He convinced me though to stick around for the two weeks and help out. I learned quite a bit from him.
He was a classic Idaho original - opinionated but well-read, boisterous but with an ability to tell great stories, and a wonderful, infectious laugh. He could handle his whiskey and loved to play poker. Like Harry Magnuson, he was a rock-ribbed Republican, when Shoshone County was the most Democratic county in the state. (There was one precinct in Mullan that Andrus routinely carried 100 to one.)
He also was an outspoken supporter of Governor Don Samuelson. Wallace, and Kellogg, then was totally dependent on mining. Bruning was well-versed on the Mining Law of 1872, and on all aspects of the industry itself. During the 1970 gubernatorial election, he often criticized Andrus for his opposition to Asarco’s proposed molybdenum mine in the White Clouds.
So, I was somewhat surprised when in late 1974 Andrus told me to put out a press release announcing that Bruning was joining the gubernatorial staff as a special assistant and an unofficial envoy to the business community. In a politically astute move, Andrus recognized that RJ was the perfect ambassador to Idaho’s business community and to the various clubs they belonged to - the Rotarians, the Kiwanis, the Lions, the Elks. Wherever two or three business folks gathered, one would find RJ in their midst, and he must have spoken to every club in the state.
When Andrus became Interior Secretary, almost all the Idaho Mafia he took along was under the age of 35, except RJ. Though in his 60s, his vast knowledge of mining and his good relations with the industry, made him indispensable. Besides, he had gray hair and whiskers. Andrus installed RJ as a Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy and Minerals - a move well received. (more…)