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Stephen J. Lee, Forum News Service, Published January 21 2013

Surgeon, ND political leader Ben Clayburgh dies

GRAND FORKS – Dr. Ben Clayburgh, a longtime Grand Forks orthopedic surgeon and a stalwart leader in the Republican Party who rubbed shoulders with future presidents and ran for the U.S. Senate, died early Monday in Altru Hospital.

Clayburgh was 88.

He had been living at home until three weeks ago.

Clayburgh was diagnosed in 2006 with progressive cognitive aphasia, which in the past 18 months worsened to dementia, his wife, Bev Clayburgh, said. He was hospitalized Dec. 29 and was due to come home in hospice care Monday.

A leader in professional medical organizations, Clayburgh was more widely known as a state and national leader in the Republican Party for five decades. He and his wife formed one of the political power couples in the state, with their family making it a three-generation deal.

Clayburgh served as state party chairman and as Republican National Committee member at national conventions, developing friendships with George H.W. Bush and his family, and with Ronald Reagan and Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan.

In 1994, Clayburgh made his only stab at elected public office, running unsuccessfully against Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D.

“Our message is going to be strictly an attack on Conrad with his tax-and-spend philosophy,” Clayburgh said in early 1994 before the state convention. “He has incumbent’s disease. He went straight to Washington from the (state) Tax Department.”

Clayburgh also used his expertise in medicine to make the health care plan of President Bill Clinton an issue in the campaign.

“I have a long career practicing medicine in North Dakota,” he said in January 1994, the year after he served as president of the North Dakota Medical Association. “I love my profession and have tried my best to care for every patient as one of my own family. I do not want quality care to suffer in the hands of Washington politicians. Health care in this country is not sick. Washington is.”

His survivors include his wife, Bev; sons Dr. James (Nancy) Clayburgh, Portsmouth, N.H.; Dr. Robert (Sally), Grand Forks; Dr. John Clayburgh, Grand Forks; and Rick (Nancy) Clayburgh, Bismarck; stepdaughters, Vicki Fredrikson and Susan Peterson, both of Fargo; 12 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

A prayer service will be at 7 p.m. Friday in Amundson Funeral Home, Grand Forks, preceded by two hours of visitation. His funeral service will be at 11 a.m. Saturday in United Lutheran Church, Grand Forks.