If one needed a reminder that, despite all its changes, North Dakota is still a statewide small town, nothing more would be needed than to scan the crowd gathered Thursday at a memorial service for the state’s 26th governor, William L. Guy.
There were politicians and legislators, former and current, city, state and national, Democrats and Republicans at Bismarck’s First Presbyterian Church, mingling with Guy’s family and lots and lots of his friends, who had admiring stories to tell about the man who served four terms as North Dakota’s governor from 1960 to 1972, and who died April 26 at age 93.
Former North Dakota Sens. Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan recalled memories of Guy, whom they credited for inspiring and mentoring a whole generation of young people to enter politics.
Both former long-serving senators pointed to Guy’s profound impact on the state, crediting him with ushering in the modern era in North Dakota.
Conrad remembered his first meeting with Guy at a political rally in Bismarck. Conrad was 12 years old, he said, and he recalled an “air alive with possibilities, a new day dawning in North Dakota politics ... a sense of possibility.”
“He was a giant in North Dakota political history,” Conrad said, calling Guy “an architect of development strategy for this state.”
Among the ideas Guy pursued were water and energy development, a focus on higher education and mental health issues, and the changes the Interstate highway system could bring about, he said.
“The modern era of this state began with Bill Guy ... and it was ever a partnership with Jean Guy,” Conrad said. “(Their) greatest legacy was the confidence and faith they put in young people.”
“Would that we could all be 93 and have accomplished so much,” said Dorgan. Guy came into office at the intersection of two decades, when the 1950s collided with the 1960s, Dorgan said.
“He didn’t come to office to ‘be’ somebody, he wanted to do something,” he said. Guy had big ambitions; he wanted to do big things, Dorgan said.
“No airs, not flashy, not a backslapper,” he described the former governor. Traveling around the state with him, Dorgan recalled him talking with “bankers and barbers, presidents and plumbers.”
Dorgan remarked on the courage it took for Guy to appoint Dorgan state tax commissioner when Dorgan was just 26.
“My service for almost 40 years was due to Bill Guy,” he said. “He spawned a whole new generation of leadership in this state. He profoundly changed our state for the better.”
Clay Jenkinson, who worked on a documentary about Guy in 2010 called “The Charisma of Competence,” described Guy as a problem-solver, as well as a man who demonstrated wisdom and restraint when handling situations such as the 1970 anti-war protest at North Dakota’s Nekoma ABM sites, just 11 days after the shooting of students at Kent State in Ohio.
North Dakota musician Chuck Suchy added another layer of “home” to the service, reminding listeners of Guy’s profound connection to North Dakota with a pair of songs, “Dancing Dakota” and “It’s a Matter of Faith.”
The Rev. Wayne Quibell, who knew Guy during his last years of retirement in Fargo, spoke about his lifelong interest in promoting community and connection wherever he was.
Private burial services are planned at the North Dakota’s Veterans Cemetery near Mandan.