William Guy dies

Friends of former North Dakota Gov. William Guy remembered him as a dedicated leader who spearheaded the Democratic charge in a mostly Republican state.

Herb Meschke of Minot practiced law in the Magic City from 1954 to 1985, served in the North Dakota House of Representatives from 1965 to 1966 and in the Senate from 1967 to 1970. He also served as Senate Minority Leader and was appointed to the North Dakota Supreme Court in 1985 by Gov. George Sinner, serving until his retirement in 1998.

“I worked with him when I served in the Legislature and I’ve known him as a friend from before he ran for governor and since he has retired,” Meschke said.

Meschke called Guy a marvelous and able man. He noted that in the Meschke home, they often refer to Guy’s short speech praising the North Dakota atmosphere.

“Whiter and brighter in the winter, cleaner and greener in the summer,” Meschke said. “And it was a standard he liked to urge and carry out as best he could do in his positions of responsibility.”

Guy was elected North Dakota governor from 1960 to 1972, and was defeated in a race for the U.S. Senate in 1974 by Milton Young, a Republican who represented North Dakota in the U.S. Senate from 1944 to 1980.

“I think the state missed a great opportunity to elect him to the Senate when he was defeated by Sen. Young,” Meschke said.

Meschke remembered Guy as a hard-working leader who paid attention to his job and tried to do the best he could for the state.

“He has my highest regard among people who have been active politically,” Meschke said.

To say Guy left a lasting mark as North Dakota governor would be a modest assessment of his accomplishments, according to Meschke. He noted Guy signed the bill that made Minot the home of the North Dakota State Fair in 1965.

Meschke said Guy, a Democratic governor, did his best to work with both parties in a North Dakota Legislature that was mostly Republican. To help build the lines of communication, Meschke said Guy initiated the process of having breakfast with the legislative leadership around once a week soon after becoming governor.

“I can remember having breakfast at his table. His wife would guide the breakfast and it was a quiet, friendly context to discuss the problems of the state and what the Legislature was doing to deal with them,” Meschke said. “I think he accomplished a lot through those modest efforts of working with both sides of the political aisle. He was a real large person in the history of North Dakota.”

Wayne Sanstead of Bismarck served eight years in the North Dakota House of Representatives, two years in the state Senate, was the lieutenant governor of North Dakota under Gov. Art Link from 1972 to 1980, and was the North Dakota Superintendent of Public Instruction from 1984 to 2012.

Sanstead said he had the honor of knowing Guy well through his work in the North Dakota Legislature.

“I was elected to the House out of Minot in 1964. He was elected, of course, in 1960, so he had a little time ahead of me,” Sanstead said. “We became fast friends and allies in the legislative process and I respect him so much.”

He said Guy broke all records with two two-year terms and two four-year terms as governor. Those 12 years as North Dakota’s leader is a record Sanstead believes will never be broken.

Guy’s book, “Where Seldom Was Heard a Discouraging Word… Bill Guy Remembers,” couldn’t have had a better title to describe him, Sanstead said.

“That’s the kind of guy he was,” Sanstead said.

Sanstead noted Guy went through many challenges on the road to becoming governor, including the Great Depression and World War II.

“A lot of people don’t know this, but he was on a ship that was sunk by the Japanese in World War II,” Sanstead said. “He had that military service and was mindful of that all the time he served as governor.”

On a lighter note, Sanstead said Guy’s wife, Jean, once pulled aside his wife, Mary Jane, at a function to ask her if they hired a babysitter for the young Sanstead boys. When told they did, Jean Guy asked Mary Jane Sanstead for help to a problem unique to children with parents in high public office.

“(Jean) said, ‘You know, it would be really nice if you could call one of our girls (to babysit), because nobody really wants to call the governor’s residence and ask for a babysitter,'” Sanstead said with a laugh. “So our boys ended up having their daughters serve as babysitters during my legislative days, and it goes to prove that they’re human like everybody else.”

Guy was chairman of the National Governor’s Association in 1967, and Sanstead said he had a lot of respect from the White House throughout his tenure as governor because of Democratic presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

“Being a recognized Democratic leader nationwide, he had a high standing at the White House,” Sanstead said. “And clearly North Dakota was positively regarded.”

Sanstead noted that at the end of Guy’s book, a reporter asked what Guy thought his most significant contribution to North Dakota was.

“He ended up saying, ‘Well, I was pleased that I could bring to North Dakota a two-party system,'” Sanstead said. “And it’s true because a lot of young Democrats were elected to office in those days with him. And I was one of them.”

“It’s very one-sided legislatively and in the executive branch these days,” he added. “And I’m sure he’d be dismayed by that.”

Sanstead also spoke about the 1965 legislation that made Minot the official home of the North Dakota State Fair. He said Minot’s delegation had the support of Guy’s administration, particularly with youth and the agricultural scene.

“And there was heavy pressure from the east side of the state for Fargo. At that time the Red River Valley Fair was in competition, clearly. So to have the governor come out and sign the legislation in support of our position (was wonderful),” Sanstead said. “And now looking back on it I think it was one of the most positive moves that we could make in making sure that Minot became the central focus of education and entertainment.”

Sanstead said it is certainly a time for reflection, as longtime North Dakota state auditor Bob Peterson recently died, as well. While time continues to march on, Sanstead said it will do nothing to dim the memory of North Dakota’s longest-serving governor.

“He was certainly the most soft-spoken of all six governors I’ve had the privilege of working with because he approached everything from an intellectual point of view,” Sanstead said. “And I think from that perspective he gave great leadership during those days. We’re going to miss that.”