Once upon a time, there was a Sen. Cecil Andrus. Not a governor then. A simple, lowly state senator. Nothing unusual about him. Just over six feet, 175 pounds, trim physique but balding a bit on top.
I first met him in early 1965 when he came for a weekend in Pocatello with native Rep. Darrell Manning. Manning introduced us. A weekend visit that far away from his Orofino home was unusual for Andrus because, while serving in the state senate, he was selling insurance out of Lewiston. So, most weekends, he went home to check on family and the business. Just not that weekend.
I was reporting for KID-TV out of Pocatello’s Bannock Hotel. It was a couple of months later I learned why the visit to far Southeast Idaho. Manning was introducing him to local Democrats, some business and money folk. Andrus was prepping a run for governor. He came to Pocatello more and more after he announced. Always paid KID-TV a visit and, usually, sat for a short interview.
In 1966, he lost the primary to then-Democratic candidate Charles Herndon. Andrus was out of it. Then, in September, Herndon and several others died in a small plane crash. Andrus became the last minute replacement. And he took off. He and I had stayed in touch and he asked me to be his press guy. So, with a wife and three kids at home, I quit a secure job and hit the campaign road.
While I’d covered politics, being IN politics was a whole new game. Steeped in ignorance about what was expected of me, I met Cece at the Pocatello airport early one morning. Cece had been a private pilot for some years; I hadn’t started on my own license yet. In the aftermath of the Herndon crash, his wife, Carol, made him promise to quit being a pilot. So, that morning, our chauffeur was Johnny Bastida, soon to be an Ada County Commissioner. Oh, yes, he was also a solid lifetime Republican. He was, also, the finest private pilot I’d ever met.
As we cruised at 10,000 feet to Boise, Cece asked Johnny about feathering a prop. That means, turning off one perfectly good working engine and, after a short time, restarting in the air. Before the Herndon crash, Cece had been licensed only in single engine.
Obliging the request, Bastida feathered a perfectly good engine and walked Andrus through the restart procedure - while the dead prop looked like a standing tree to me. It was a warm day with lots of thermal activity - hot, bumpy air rising from the East Idaho desert. I was jammed in the backseat, balancing a very small portable typewriter on my upright knees, trying to compose a news release for Boise media, trying to think, looking at that dead prop and worrying about the descent.
You see, Bastida seemingly paid no attention to locating an emergency landing spot as he was teaching Cece how to restart an engine while losing altitude. Maybe he didn’t because we were smack over the middle of the Craters of the Moon where landing a helicopter would have been damned near impossible much less a twin-engine Cessna.
The two of them were animated and busy. In hindsight, and as a now-licensed pilot, I’m sure Johnny had things under control . But, he was so patient with Andrus who was taking what seemed forever to learn what I found out later wasn’t a very difficult procedure. We may not have been in as much trouble as it seemed to a non-pilot at the time, but it was beautiful when that starboard prop was spinning again. And the boys up front were laughing and having a good time.
I relate this story because many Idahoans didn’t know Andrus personally. To me, it fits his personality to a “T.” He was a constant learner - his eyes and ears always open to something new. And he asked questions. All the time. More hearing than talking was my experience.
But he did learn to talk politically like a master. Again, curiosity and hard work. In his first years as governor, he would talk to anyone. Anytime. Anywhere. He learned by saying “Yes” to every invitation to speak. If three others people were on an elevator, he practiced. He’d go to the furthest corner of Owyhee County to talk to a half dozen cattlemen. PTA’s, Rotary, Kiwanis, bridge clubs, hunting clubs, feed lots and cafe’s. Any audience. Anytime. Anywhere.
And he got to be a master of public speaking which served him well for 50 years. Which served Idaho well for 50 years.
I hope others who are sharing their “Andrus stories” will continue to do so. Even those closest to him, and who thought they’d heard them all, are being surprised by the outpouring. And that’s good.
Maybe, unlike so many other public figures before him, he won’t soon be forgotten or simply relegated to his political activities because there’ll always be another story. A “new” Andrus story.
He’d like that.