By Tim Leeds
Frank Hayes of Havre said the death today of his uncle, Mike Mansfield, has ended an era of politics.
"He was the last of the great politicians," Hayes said. "Mike wasn't a politician, he was a statesman. You don't see too much of that anymore."
Mansfield, a Democrat who represented Montana in the U.S. Senate for 34 years and was Senate majority leader for 15 of them, died at 7:35 a.m. He had undergone surgery on Sept. 7 to have a pacemaker implanted in his heart. Hayes said his uncle wanted to go back to work, but his doctors advised Montana's most famous politician that he should probably rest a while.
Hayes said Mansfield's personality was part of what made him special. "He was a remarkable person," Hayes said. "He was a very tender person."
Other Montanans remember him the same way.
I don't remember anything mean that Mike ever said,'' said former Democratic Gov. Ted Schwinden.
But that doesn't mean he couldn't speak out on difficult issues like the Vietnam war,'' he said. Mike was not afraid of the fray, but was able to step above it.''
Ray Peck, a former state representative from Havre, said Mansfield did a lot of good for Montana, both with his actions and his personality.
"I think he brought a lot of credit to the state just because he was the type of person he was," Peck said.
"He was a good man in the sense that he was not highly partisan," he added. "Fifteen years as leader for the Democratic majority shows that he was just as cooperative with Republicans."
Peck said the seniority and power Mansfield gained in his time in the Senate also benefited Montana, but he didn't start grabbing money for his state, which senior senators commonly do.
"He thought everybody should be treated fairly," Peck said. "He did a lot for Montana in the respect he generated."
Francis Bardanouve of Harlem, a Democratic state representative for 37 years, recalled Mansfield's quiet demeanor. He was a calm leader; he gave confidence to the people that government was in good hands.''
Peck noted that Mansfield had a trait of answering questions with concise answers like "yep" and "nope."
"Reporters, especially radio reporters, would often run out of questions in the 30 minutes they had to ask them," Peck said.
Gov. Judy Martz called Mansfield a rare find for humanity.
There are very few people who have or will walk this earth like Senator Mike Mansfield,'' the Republican said. He served as an example throughout Montana, the nation and the world through his work ethic and dedication to service."
Kelly Addy, a Billings attorney, former legislator and staffer for Mansfield in 1974, described the senator as extremely humble and mindful of his modest beginnings in the Butte mines.
He knew who he was,'' Addy said. He knew he came from nothing. He knew everything had been given to him. He had no quarrel with anybody.''
He said he learned a valuable lesson from Mansfield. You can't be anything more than who you are, but if you're willing to be that, it can be quite something. He was quite comfortable with who he was. He didn't have to prove anything. He was able to accept himself and, therefore, he was able accept others.''
Hayes said Mansfield became pretty well steeped in Butte politics, especially when he married Maureen Hayes. Mansfield's father-in-law was highly involved in Butte politics, and the family helped him enter politics. He fit into Butte quite well, Hayes added.
"Mike was a typical Butte boy, even though he was born in New York," he said. "He turned his life around after he came back from the service, from the Marines, and started working in the mines as a working engineer."
Mansfield, a grade school dropout, used his ability and experience from the military to earn the working engineer position, Hayes said. Mansfield started working in the mines in Butte in 1922. In 1927, he took the advise of his future wife, Maureen, and enrolled in the Montana School of Mines in Butte.
Maureen, whom Mike Mansfield credited for much of his success, died last year. Hayes said it was indicative of his uncle that all he had put on her tombstone was "Maureen Mansfield, wife of Pvt. Mike Mansfield, U.S. Marines."
"He had a wry sense of humor, but he was very proud of being in the U.S. Marine Corps," Hayes said.
He added that Mansfield also had served in the Army and Navy, but when asked if he had served in the military he would always answer, "Yes, U.S. Marines."
Hayes, choking back tears, said his uncle often used a phrase from his time in the Butte mines. "Tap her light" came from placing dynamite in the mine, reminding the workers to be careful. Mansfield used the phrase as a farewell. Hayes said that's what he wants to say to his uncle.
"Tap her light."
Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.