Bill Budd left his bootprints all over the dusty flanks of the state he and we all love. His passing on Jan. 2 is cause for us all to mourn, but also to celebrate a life lived in service to Wyoming.
In the interest of journalistic transparency, I need to disclose that I simply cannot write this column objectively. Bill’s firstborn grandson, Joe, is my godson, and I have deep affection for the Budd family.
Bill was born into a pioneer ranching family in that hardcore cowboy country of Sublette County along Piney Creek. From birth, he was steeped in that quiet cowboy culture that requires taking care of stuff around you, like livestock, land, family and home.
I had known Bill’s eldest, Bob, for a few years before I met his dad. When I first met Bill, I sensed a quiet, calm authority behind his wry smile. It’s the same sense you get when you meet someone who embodies the western virtues we all hold dear, and doesn’t need to advertise it.
Bill Budd didn’t need to wear a hat for folks to know he was cowboy as hell.
When Bill ran for governor in ’86, Bob, myself and a bunch of 30-something Wyomingites loosely coalesced into “Boomers for Bill,” and we worked hard on his campaign. And we had a blast!
Bill’s was the first statewide campaign I worked on, and the experience left a lasting impression on me about how enjoyable politics can be when it is done right.
“Boomers for Bill” included John Dilday, Scott Farris, Chuck Box, Bob, Don and Mary Budd and a bunch of other young ‘uns whose names escape me at the moment. I think that Colin “Bigtime” Fallat even put his shoulder to the wheel on occasion. I do recall that Bill’s daughter, Cindy, was our Boudica, and his gracious wife, Carrie, served as our Den Mother.
The point being that Bill Budd had something that drew young people his way and made us want to ride in his posse. Bill had coached several of the Boomers in baseball, and that player-coach relationship lasted long after the cleats were hung up.
The rest of us simply recognized a quality human being who would make a helluva governor. Bill’s bedrock conservatism and his compassionate humanity appealed to us. And he paid us in beer.
That election, if you recall, was one for the books. Ed Herschler had been governor for an unprecedented three terms and there was a 12-year backlog of lust in the Wyoming Republican Party to regain the seat. Every GOP heavy-hitter in the Big Empty tossed his hat into the ring for the primary.
When the dust had settled, Pete Simpson edged Bill out for the nomination and went on to lose the general election to Mike Sullivan, another fine Wyoming man about whom I have difficulty speaking impartially.
Bill said that friends he made along the bumpy ol’ campaign trail remained with him throughout his life. We “Boomers for Bill” all went our different ways, raised our own families and served our state in our own manners, our sugarplum dreams of political power having been supplanted by the realities of life.
But we all benefited from Bill’s example of dignity and pride in a race well run. I know that is a lesson I have carried with me throughout life.
Prior to his run for office, Bill was executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association and guided that outfit through the explosive growth in the industry when the Powder River Basin coal patch opened itself to the world.
After his election loss, Bill was appointed director of the new Wyoming Economic Development and Stabilization Board, the precursor of today’s Wyoming Business Council. He went to work early, worked hard and stayed late, just like he did as a young cowboy on Piney Creek.
When a man like Bill Budd leaves us, we have reason to grieve his passing. But our Brown & Gold hearts should also rejoice that the Wyoming values that he exemplified and passed along stand like a big ol’ pine tree silhouetted against the ragged skyline of our home.