Al Simpson is always good for a story or two. His story about the legendary hotelier Harold Del Monte is classic, which I will discuss below…
Al called me recently to get the address of Jim Angell’s family so he could pen a nice note to them. He had read about Jim’s death in my recent column about four folks who died, whom I had missed seeing at the Legislature.
He had fond memories of Jim, who had arranged for Simpson to speak to groups of journalists at conventions. His assessment was very positive about Jim.
Simpson also recalled the late Clarene Law, who would always have a room ready for him in Jackson no matter how late he arrived.
And Big Al was full of wonderful memories of his colleague, the late Hank Coe, the former state senator who also was from Cody.
He also shared positive thoughts on the late Leland Christensen, who was mentioned in that earlier column.
But back to Simpson’s stories.
Wyoming Highway Commission
For some reason we started talking about Wyoming Highway commissioners and he complained about the time my old friend Harold “Del” Del Monte of Lander had browbeat his dad, then-Gov. Milward Simpson, into appointing Del Monte to the Wyoming Highway Commission.
That job has always been important and always meant that whoever served on the commission could make sure highways were in good order in their neck of the woods.
Those nice highways from Rawlins to Lander and Lander to Dubois were part of Del Monte’s legacy. He was a longtime hotel owner in Lander with the famous Noble Hotel. His hotel was an original major stopover for tourists going to Yellowstone and he wanted to make sure that trend continued.
Bear with me while I digress. Like a lot of Wyoming’s roads, this column might take a few twists and turns before we reach our destination.
Del Monte was a high-energy little guy, and in his retirement years he was known as the Mayor of Sun City, Arizona. He sold his Lander hotel and moved there in his 80s. I knew him in our Lander Rotary Club as our very spirited song leader.
He would return to Lander every summer and back to leading the singing.
One time when Del Monte was 103 years old, he led us in a spirited rendition of “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.”
During that song I turned to the now-late Harry Tipton, who was a doctor (and a former longtime legislator) and I asked him: “Can you give me some of his medicine so I can do that when I’m 103?”
“Sorry,” Harry whispered back. “I can’t fix the genes you inherited from your parents. Del has a helluva set of genes.”
Del Monte ultimately died at the age of 105. He had been one of the original members of the Lander Rotary Club, which was founded in the mid-1930s.
Well anyway, Del Monte had been unbearably persistent in seeking to be on the highway commission and constantly promised to do the governor’s bidding in that role. Old Milward finally gave in and appointed him to the job.
Shortly after, Milward reached out to Del and asked him for some help on a highway project, and Del Monte told him he was not allowed to be pressured by any politician, including the governor!
Al Simpson said his dad was stunned, but learned a lesson from that experience.
Later because of a few other stances Milward took, including being adamantly against the death penalty, he lost re-election during the next governor’s race.
This was a huge blow to the Simpson family and Al never forgot it. He always ran very aggressive campaigns because of his memories of his dad losing that big election.
After the loss, the folks in Jackson invited the lame-duck governor Milward to come to their town because they had named some streets after his family in recognition of their good service.
They held the ceremony at the corner of Simpson and Milward Streets, but when they unveiled the signs, the signs read “Simpson” and “Millard.”
Milward announced that, “Hell, that wasn’t the first time I have been screwed by the Highway Commission!” Obviously, he was thinking back to Del Monte.
The signs were ultimately changed back to the correct “Simpson” and “Milward.”
Simpson also mentioned his disappointment with how politicians today just do not get along.
In his day (he is a former majority whip for the U.S. Senate), he said they would scrap like hell and then have a drink together afterward.
He also mentioned some fond times with former Gov. Mike Sullivan, a Democrat, where they would drink Redbreast, which is an Irish single-pot still whiskey.
Having served as U. S. ambassador to Ireland, we can bet that Mike would know a great Irish whiskey.