Ray Peck, an educator, former Havre area state lawmaker and Democratic activist, died at 84 in Helena on Friday.
Peck represented the Hi-Line in the Montana House of Representatives from 1982 to 1998. He served in a variety of positions for the state Democratic party after term limits forced him from office.
Tributes poured in from throughout the Hi-Line and around Montana for the strong-willed lawmaker. Many said Peck was responsible for them entering political life.
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said Peck talked him into running for the Montana Senate in 1998.
“Sharla and I are saddened to learn of the passing of our long-time close friend Ray Peck," Tester said.
He said Peck "set the standard for public servants in Montana through his passionate commitment to future generations and veterans."
Funeral arrangements are pending. They will be posted on havredailynews.com when they are final.
"Ray served eight terms and he was often unopposed because people realized his commitment to the people in his district," said Hill County Democratic Chair John Musgrove.
When Peck was ineligible to run for re-election, he convinced Musgrove to run to succeed him.
Because of his passion for politics, he convinced many people to see things his way, Musgrove recalled.
"He was an arm-twister, just like LBJ," he said.
During his tenure, Peck was known as an advocate for K-12 and post-secondary education, especially for Montana State University-Northern.
Musgrove, a retired Havre High School teacher, said he first got to know Peck when Peck was an administrator with Havre Public Schools. He was a constant fighter for students facing difficulties, he said.
"He was my mentor," said Debi Friede, a former Hill County Democratic chair.
"Ray and Betty talked me into running for chair," she said.
"He was passionate about everything he did," Friede said. "Term limits are a bad thing. When he couldn't run again, we lost a lot."
"He had a big heart," she said. "If he believed in something, he had to get his hands into it."
"He always stuck to his principles,:" she said, even when he didn't agree with the Democratic party line.
"Ray was always pro-life," she said.
"I get frustrated sometimes because every thing is so party line," she said. I wish we could have more Ray Peck-type politics. We could get more accomplished." "
"Ray thought that if you believed in something, you should work to put it into action," said Jim Elliott of Helena, the chair of the Montana Democratic Party.
He was a volunteer at the party's headquarters on Wednesday, the day he suffered a massive stroke that killed him, Elliott said.
He did all kind of volunteer work, he said. "He would stuff envelopes or whatever was needed," Elliott said.
He was well known for letters to the editor that he sent to newspapers around the state.
Prior to the 2010 elections, he sent letters to the Havre Daily News supporting Democrat Dana Sapp Seidel, who was running for Peck's old House seat. She eventually lost to Republican Wendy Warburton.
The day after his party took a drubbing in 2010, he urged party loyalists to start preparing for a comeback in 2012, friends recalle
Greg Jergeson, a former state senator and public service commissioner, recalled serving on the Legislature's Joint Appropriations Committee with Peck, where he was a strong advocate for education.
He was also a strong supporter of ethics legislation that barred lawmakers from benefitting financially from their actions in the Legislature, he recalled.
Around the state, Democrats praised Peck's legacy.
“Ray was one of the premier authorities and biggest advocates for education in Montana," said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. " His legacy will live on in generations of students.”
Gov. Brian Schweitzer said, “Ray Peck was one of the great leaders of Montana, and he was certainly one of the best political mentors for me.”
Praise for Peck came not only from established political leaders, but from younger people.
Phil Drake, a reporter for Montana Watchdog, a news service that provides news stories to newspapers around the state, recalled that when he held a seminar on the essentials of blogging in October, Peck showed up.
And Matt Singer, founder and former writer for Left in the West, a Missoula liberal political blog, wrote succinctly: "RIP Ray Peck. Montana loses a giant."