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Helmut Schmidt, Published April 30 2013

‘We stand on his shoulders’: Guy, four-term governor of North Dakota, lauded for lifetime of selfless service

FARGO – The life of Bill Guy, the farmer from Amenia who became a four-term governor of North Dakota, was celebrated Tuesday in a memorial service at Fargo’s First Presbyterian Church.

Former Sen. Byron Dorgan counted Guy as a mentor who led a tireless life of duty and selflessness.

“Would that we could all live 93 years and accomplish so much,” Dorgan told the sanctuary full of North Dakota political luminaries, and relatives and friends of Guy.

William L. “Bill” Guy was a man of incisive intellect, who listened and made people feel comfortable, Dorgan said.

It was that combination that won Guy four terms as governor. He served from 1961 to 1973. Those qualities almost led Guy to Washington, too. He lost a 1974 bid for the Senate by the thinnest of margins – 186 votes.

Dorgan, drawing on the humor of Garrison Keillor, said Guy was truly “a top talent in towns under 2,000.”

“He was our leader. He was our friend. And he had a profound impact on all of our lives,” former Sen. Kent Conrad said.

Conrad said Guy shaped North Dakota’s policies on energy, water and mental health, all while keeping budgets in line.

He spent much of his public life championing the long-stalled Garrison Diversion project, and in recent years had advocated a Bismarck-to-Fargo water pipeline, to use Missouri River water as a backup to the Red River to sustain eastern North Dakota towns, farms and industries.

“We stand on his shoulders,” Conrad said.

Conrad, like Dorgan, regularly received long, hand-written letters from Guy.

“My staff knew when a Bill Guy letter arrived, I’d want to see it right away” for the elder statesman’s views on the issues of the day, Conrad said. “There wasn’t much wishy-washy in a letter from Bill Guy.”

Cass County State’s Attorney Birch Burdick’s father, the late Sen. Quentin Burdick, was a contemporary of Guy, winning a special election to the U.S. Senate in 1960. Birch’s mother and Guy’s wife, Jean, also knew each other growing up.

“He (Guy) always struck me as a man of great compassion, of great energy and of great purpose,” Burdick said.

“He was driven to serve, and serve he did,” Burdick said. Guy was “an example of how we can contribute to the world around us … in big ways and in little ways.”

In recent years, Bill and Jean Guy lived at Riverview Place in Fargo.

“Each one of us here is deeply grateful that we had the opportunity to know and love Bill Guy,” the Rev. Wayne Quibell said.

“Bill was no snake oil salesman. We’ve got plenty of those,” Quibell said. “He never pushed something for his own gain,” but rather for the good of North Dakota.

“We can best serve the governor’s memory by serving the land and the people we love,” Quibell said.

Guy, 93, died of Alzheimer’s disease on Friday at Eventide at Sheyenne Crossings, West Fargo.

He was born Sept. 30, 1919, in Devils Lake, N.D., the son of William L. and Mable (Leet) Guy.

He graduated from Amenia (N.D.) High School in 1937, and graduated in 1941 from North Dakota Agricultural College (now North Dakota State University). He later earned a master’s degree in 1946 from the University of Minnesota.

During World War II, he served as a lieutenant senior grade in the U.S. Navy, on the USS William D. Porter, from 1942 to 1945.

On Jan. 30, 1943, he married Elizabeth Jean Mason at First Congregational Church in Fargo.

Guy was a livestock salesman at Union Stockyards, West Fargo, in 1946 and became an assistant county agent for Cass County in 1947. He owned and operated a farm supply business, with Corman Bean, from 1948 to 1952.

Guy began his political career in 1959 as a member of the North Dakota House.

He farmed near Amenia until 1960, and taught agricultural economics at NDAC during winter quarters from 1952 to 1958.

On the national level, Guy was chairman of the National Governor’s Conference, and was an election observer for President Lyndon B. Johnson in South Vietnam and a member of Johnson’s Commission on Health Facilities.

He served on the national campaign committee for Hubert Humphrey in 1968 and 1972, and headed the National Farmers and Ranchers for George McGovern in 1972.

Guy received many awards over his lifetime, including honorary doctorates from Concordia College and NDSU.

Guy is survived by his wife, Jean, Fargo; children, William (Marilyn) Guy III, Fargo, James (Jane) Guy, Amenia, Deborah Igoe, Bismarck, Holly (Dale) Mossberg, New London, Minn., and Nancy (Greg Stites) Guy, Bismarck; his brother, John (Ruth) Guy, Rochester, Minn.; seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

He was preceded in death by his parents, William and Mable Guy; and brother, James.

There will be another memorial service beginning at 10 a.m. Thursday at First Presbyterian Church in Bismarck, 214 E. Thayer Ave. Visitation will be one hour prior to the service.

A private burial will be held at the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery south of Mandan.

The Guy family encourages the public to send memorials to:

• Dollars for Scholars, PO Box 5509, Bismarck, ND 58506-5509.

• The Salvation Army, 304 Roberts St. N, Fargo, ND 58102.

• Any charity making a difference in the lives of North Dakotans.

Hanson-Runsvold Funeral Home, Fargo, is in charge of arrangements.


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Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583