I first met Cecil Andrus in 1966, when I was13. My dad introduced us, and I was impressed. Andrus had kind eyes, took time for everyone, and conveyed real interest in each person he met. Four years later, along with a dozen other Lewiston High School teenagers, I spent a summer knocking on doors working to secure Andrus the Democratic nomination for governor. 18-year-olds had not yet won the right to vote, but we were determined to make a difference.
In those days, state primaries were held in late summer. So it was on a hot August night in a store front headquarters on the low-rent end of Main Street that we celebrated his nomination. Three months later, the “north came in” (which it did back then) and at the ripe age of 39, Cece Andrus was elected governor. When the legislature convened in 1971, I was a page sitting in the House chamber proudly watching our new governor deliver his first state of the state address.
Andrus often quoted from Proverbs: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” No one listening to that state of the state speech could doubt that Cece Andrus had both insight and foresight. His vision for the state was manifest – excellent public schools, including kindergartens; a healthy and sustainable natural environment, with clean air and clear water; and a vibrant business environment where labor, no less than capital, received its due.
Being well-acquainted with a fair number of politicians, I know that the public persona often differs from the private individual. But Cece Andrus was authentic. Comfortable in his own skin, he was consistent – wise, tough-minded, loyal, and kind.
When our son Jason was just 5 years old, and a year before being elected to his third term as governor, Andrus was the guest of honor at a political event at our home. Jason was thrilled to meet the governor and, afterwards, using his best printing, wrote him a letter: “Dear Governor Andrus, Thank you for coming to our home. I think you are a wonderful governor. Love, Jason – Age 5.”
A few days later, Jason opened our mailbox to find a hand-printed letter addressed to him. It read: “Dear Jason, Thank you for your letter. I think you are a wonderful boy. Love, Cecil – Age 48.”
That kind of personal care and concern was a hallmark of the governor’s interactions with his fellow Idahoans. Many years later, when my dad was in the winter of his life, Cece dropped by the hospital after visiting hours and talked the staff into bending the rules so he could say hello to his “old friend Fred.”
In 1990, in his last run for governor, Cece asked Pete and me to co-chair his re-election effort in Ada County. The governor announced his candidacy at the grade school his granddaughter attended. I was in charge of the logistics and wanted everything to go smoothly. The day was sunny but windy and the podium, flanked by Idaho and American flags, was buffeted by gusts of wind.
As the governor stepped to the podium to speak, the wind picked up and the American flag rapidly unfurled, draping the governor. I was mortified thinking I should have thought to secure it in advance. But Andrus didn’t miss a beat. “You’ve heard of politicians wrapping themselves in the flag,” he said. “But this may be the first time the flag has wrapped itself around a politician!” The crowd roared its approval.
This week, Governor Andrus will again be draped in the American flag. The man may have passed, but his vision endures. I think if he could give us marching orders from the great beyond, it would come in a hand-written note, reading something like this: “Dear friends, Thanks for remembering me. Now get to work and realize our vision. Love, Cecil.”