By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
The Speaker of the Wyoming House of Representatives delivered a tearful farewell at the Capitol last Friday, in the final hours of his career in the Wyoming House of Representatives.
A veterinarian and rancher by trade, House Speaker Rep. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, has served the chamber since 2013. He has held the top rank as House Speaker since 2021, and served as House Majority Leader from 2019-2020. He served as a US Marine in the Cold War era, from 1984-1988.
“Ten years ago… I raised my hand and took an oath to do the best I could while I was here,” began Barlow during his farewell address. “And I had a lot of learning to do, but hopefully somewhere in there I was effective. And toward the end, I thought, maybe I could be helpful in leadership.”
Barlow was chosen for his first leadership in 2014, as the House Labor, Health and Social Services Committee Chairman, and went on to Chair the Select Committee on Coal and Minerals, the House Rules and Procedure Committee, the Management Audit Committee, and served for two years as Vice Chair of the Management Council.
“I hope my term, the majority of my time here, I made people feel like I was listening, and I cared, and I was doing good work on behalf of the constituents back home who gave me the privilege to serve here,” Barlow said.
He acknowledged the other representatives as his “brothers and sisters,” and expressed a special fondness toward the few remaining delegates who were sworn in with him in 2013, as fellow “freshmen.”
Those are current Majority Floor Leader Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, and Republican Reps. Jerry Paxton, of Encampment, Lloyd Larsen, of Lander, Sue Wilson of Cheyenne, Tom Walters, of Casper and Mark Baker of Green River.
‘Couldn’t Be More Proud’
“But the family that gets us here, are the people who are right up here, for me,” Barlow said, gesturing to his own family who had come to see his farewell address.
The speaker became emotional as he addressed his mother, Bernadette Barlow.
“Come here, Mom,” he said. A small-statured woman approached Barlow and hugged him as he became tearful.
“My mother,” Barlow told his colleagues, “was born in Southeast Asia, was a very well-educated attorney, law-professor type in Cambodia, (who met a man) from northeast Wyoming; and (she) came to northeast Wyoming and raised a family with three kids.”
Barlow said his mother has been a “pillar in the community.”
“Mom, thanks,” he added.
He then spoke of his two children, calling his daughter a “beautiful person” and his son “a joy.”
“I couldn’t be more proud,” said Barlow.
“But I gave up something with them to be doing this.” Turning to his children, he added, “I can’t give it back to you. I just hope maybe something I did while I was here helps you, sometime, along the way. I love you both.”
Barlow said that, having acknowledged the generation that raised him and the one that he helped to raise, it was time for him to laud his own generation, and the member of it with whom he’s been able to spend his life – “because God said ‘this is the one,’ and that’s this wonderful woman right here.”
Kelly Barlow was born in Mississippi but attended 18 different schools throughout her youth due to frequent family moves and as a result, said Barlow, “she learned you had to make friends everywhere you went.”
The pair met in ninth grade at a Gillette junior high school.
“And we bumped teeth the first time we kissed in the west stairwell at Twin Spruce High School,” said Barlow, prompting a wave of laughter in the chamber.
They married 10 years later and have been married for nearly 31 years.
“Kelly you gave up – you did the most – to help for me to be here,” said Barlow, praising his wife’s work ethic and faithful handling of many duties on their ranch. “Thank you for making this service possible for me.”
Speaker Pro Temp Rep. Mike Greear, R-Worland, delivered a speech on behalf of “the whole body.”
“Leaders make decisions people don’t like; they make decisions that are necessary; they make decisions that are hard – and all we can ask for our leaders is that they work hard, that they have integrity, they’re honest, and they have service in their heart. And you, sir, have all four of those things and I am honored to serve under you.”
The House delivered a standing ovation for its Speaker.
Barlow told Cowboy State Daily in a Saturday email that he’s chosen now to leave the house “because I believe my time has come to a natural endpoint.”
“Let’s be clear, this is not a ‘retirement.’ I am moving on. No golden parachute. No severance package. Just go to the ranch, do what needs to be done there, and prepare for what comes next,” he said.
Barlow said one of most gratifying aspects of legislation was the tipping point between concept and policy.
“Whether it is a moving debate, winning a close vote on an amendment, or passing a bill that was important,” said Barlow, those moments emphasize “the vital work we do and how gratifying it is when there is a success.”
There were also challenges, he said, including tough votes, incomplete information, unclear expectations, and leaving the mission-focused “trenches” of policy-making for the desk of leadership, “where it seems no one is quite satisfied.”
But looking back on a decade of thought clashes and policy changes, Barlow said “the losses are important too,” because they grant “insight into what can be done better the next time.”
Barlow was grateful to the people who have mentored him, and hoped that he “provided something positive for someone along the way too.” He also acknowledged the legislative service staff, “who serve Wyoming with quiet distinction and deserve all our thanks.”
His “seminal” moment, said Barlow, occurred in the 2021 legislative session, when the House hosted a ceremony honoring Wyoming servicemen and women who have given their lives since 9/11.
“It was a needed reminder that while we serve, our American service members past, present and future make what we do possible,” he said.