Hundreds gather in tribute
By Tim Leeds
The variety of people at Francis Bardanouve's funeral Friday reflected the endeavors of the long-time legislator, as did the displays in Harlem High School where the funeral was held.
A pair of his worn cowboy boots sat on a wooden chair next to a collage of photos of the third-generation Montana rancher in the Montana Legislature, at national conventions and at other political functions. Another collage showed photos of Bardanouve as a child and youth, and another had photos of him with his family. One floral wreath contained plastic figures of a horse and colt; another was made from a lariat. An album contained photos, invitations to events, letters, and thank-you notes to Bardanouve.
After the service, Bardanouve's body was taken to the Harlem Cemetery in a horse-drawn hearse.
The lid of his casket, draped with a Montana flag, held stalks of wheat and his name placard from the House of Representatives.
Bardanouve, who served in the Legislature from 1958 to 1993, chairing the House Appropriations Committee for 20 of those years, died March 17 of complications following surgery to remove a tumor from his colon.
"We have lost a statesman of the highest order," said Republican John Mercer, a former speaker of the House who was one of the eulogists.
Community members, local politicians and community leaders, along with former and current state politicians filled almost all of the nearly 300 chairs in the gymnasium, with more than 100 people spilling out onto the bleachers. Lt. Gov. Karl Ohs and other state leaders were among the people at the funeral.
Former Rep. Ray Peck, D-Havre, said today that the service was perfect.
"I think it was really Francis all the way," he said.
Peck said it was a tribute to the fairness and integrity of Bardanouve that people at the funeral represented all walks of life and both sides of the political aisle.
State Sen. Greg Jergeson, D-Chinook, characterized Bardanouve as a man who cared about all of them.
Bardanouve was successful doing his job because he trusted his constituents and they trusted him, Jergeson said.
Jergeson's first memory of Bardanouve, who was his mentor throughout his political career, was at a dinner at Jergeson's parents house in October 1958, when Bardanouve was running for the first time. Jergeson said he really didn't know what the Legislature was, or the issues Bardanouve and his parents were talking about.
"I didn't understand any of that, but I did gain a sense that this is someone special," he said during a eulogy.
Former state Rep. Dorothy Bradley, D-Bozeman, said Bardanouve did the right thing in all aspects of his life.
"Francis held himself to the highest standards of honor and integrity," she said. " On so many fronts, Francis made Montana a remarkable place."
Teresa Cohea, Gov. Ted Schwinden's chief administrative aid during Schwinden's last term, said Bardanouve's life had many different facets. Along with the legislator, there was the man who read anything and everything and was always learning and there was the brilliant and honest businessman. "There was the Francis who would take you in his pickup and do wheelies to scare you in the fields," she said.
But most of all, "Francis was the most loyal friend you could ever have," she said.
Jergeson said those who honor Bardanouve should also honor his wife, Venus, an author and speech pathologist who met Bardanouve while doing research for a program for the state. As well as helping him overcome a speech impediment from a cleft palate, she and her children supported him as a politician, and gave him spiritual support too, Jergeson said.
John La Faver was the first director of the Legislative Fiscal Analyst's Office, which Bardanouve was instrumental in creating. La Faver said he can't imagine the torment Bardanouve must have gone through as a child. He told a story about how Bardanouve as a youth had to have his friends order for him at restaurants. But Bardanouve overcame that, he said.
"He found his voice," La Faver said. He added that in legislative sessions, "We often thought, He doesn't have to make up for it all in this speech.'"
Mercer said that when he was first elected, Bardanouve took him under his wing, as he did every young legislator, and showed him how things were done.
"Francis really was the one who made things work," he said.
Montana State University-Northern Chancellor Alex Capdeville, who worked with Bardanouve in the Legislature while he was president of the Helena College of Technology, said after the funeral that Bardanouve, 84, was still advising him right up to the time of his death. Bardanouve was also still actively working his ranch, and serving on the House Prison Ranch Committee, which he helped create.
Capdeville said he received a letter from Bardanouve the week before the former legislator went in for surgery. He gave Capdeville some advice on athletics at Northern, and wrote that he would stop by to talk about it.
"He was always fair," Capdeville said. "You always knew where he stood."
Schwinden, who was also elected to the Legislature in 1958, was among those scheduled to eulogize Bardanouve, but was unable to attend. His son, former Democratic Rep. Dore Schwinden, read a letter from his father at the funeral.
Bardanouve was known across Montana as a good neighbor, a good friend and a strong voice in the Legislature, the letter said.
"I knew him simply as Francis," Schwinden wrote.
The letter said Bardanouve was Schwinden's friend, confidant and mentor. He was a man of wide-ranging abilities, Schwinden wrote, who could face down a hostile university president during a budget session, yet cry when holding a child in Warm Springs.
"Thanks for the many gifts you have given me over the years," Schwinden wrote.