Former governor, Idaho icon Cecil Andrus dies at 85

Former Idaho governor and U.S. interior secretary Cecil D. Andrus passed away Thursday night at the age of 85.

BOISE - After a long battle with cancer, former Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus died Thursday night at his home, surrounded by friends and family, just one day before his 86th birthday.

Called by an Idaho historian as the state's most influential politician, Cecil Andrus was a champion for Idaho - a sentiment held by most from both sides of the aisle.

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Born in 1931 in Hood River, Oregon, he was an unlikely politician with a passion for the great outdoors and wildlife. He attended Oregon State University, then joined the U.S. Navy for four years before moving to Orofino to begin a career in the timber industry.

But, at the age of 25, and concerned about the state's direction, he ran for the Idaho Senate as a Democrat and became the youngest member ever elected to the Idaho legislature.

His popularity rose and, in 1970, he won the governor's seat for the first of four terms.

Time magazine named him one of their "200 Faces for the Future."

In 1977, Andrus left the governor's office to join newly elected President Jimmy Carter as his Secretary of the Interior. During his four years in the Carter cabinet, Andrus shepherded Congress through a handful of national acts that are still in place today.

When he returned to Idaho, private life didn't suit him much. In 1986, he recaptured his seat as the state's CEO, a stint that lasted another two terms making him Idaho's longest-serving governor.

His retirement was filled with non-profit efforts that he led through the Andrus Center for Public Policy, which he founded at Boise State University. He campaigned heartily for local Democrats, and in 2008 introduced President Barack Obama at a rally in a way that only Cecil Andrus could.

"Some would suggest I'm in the twilight of a mediocre political career," he said. "But I like you and I still have hope!"

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Despite retiring from office in the mid-90s, Andrus was still a prominent figure in Idaho politics until his death, notably crusading against the continued influx of nuclear waste to the state.

Lamenting in a published quote, "Our children will likely be living with that reality long after many of us are gone."

The last Democrat to sit in the governor's chair, Andrus served a total of 14 years during two separate stints: 1971 to 1977, and 1987 to 1995. His four terms in office make him the longest-serving governor in Idaho history.

He served under President Jimmy Carter as U.S. Secretary of the Interior from 1977 to 1981. The first Idahoan to serve in a presidential cabinet, Andrus was known for his patience in brokering bipartisan compromises, most notably the Redwoods National Park Expansion Act and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.

(Original Caption) 1/31/1977-Washinton, DC- President Carter holds a cabinet meeting to continue discussions of the nation's national gas shortage due to an unusually cold winter. Listening to the President are (left to right): Secretary of Interion, Cecil Andrus; Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance and Secretary of Defense, Harold Brown.

A strong conservationist, Andrus played a key role during his first gubernatorial term in picking up support for a federal designation of the Sawtooth Wilderness Area.

Throughout his career, he vehemently opposed federal efforts to store nuclear waste in Idaho. Andrus made national headlines in 1989 when he closed the Idaho border to nuclear waste shipments.

Two decades after retiring from public office, Andrus was still fighting plans to bring spent nuclear fuel into the Gem State. In March 2015, he joined forces with former Gov. Phil Batt, sending a letter to the Department of Energy threatening a federal lawsuit over a deal to allow in another shipment of nuclear waste.

MORE: Former Idaho governors aim to stop nuclear waste shipments

Later that year, he filed a lawsuit seeking to force the U.S. Department of Energy to release information about proposed shipments of spent nuclear fuel to Idaho National Labratory in eastern Idaho.

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He remained passionate about the issue until the end. In an Op-Ed to the Idaho Press-Tribune in January, Andrus railed against what he called “the abject failure of the nation’s nuclear waste management efforts,” and the resulting accumulation in Idaho.

"If the decision were left to Idahoans, I don’t believe we would ever permit the state to effectively become a high-level nuclear waste disposal site," Andrus wrote. "But the sad reality is that through neglect and incompetence, the federal government has essentially created just such a site in Idaho. Our children will likely be living with that reality long after many of us are gone."

Andrus was honored with a long list of major environmental awards - from Conservationist of the Year by the National Wildlife Federation to the Audubon Medal.

Today, an elementary school in Boise and a wildlife preservation area in Washington County both bear his name. In 1995, he founded the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University.

Bubbling under the surface of his passion for Idahoans, wildlife, the environment, and land was his dedication to family and friends.

He was married to his first true love, Carol, for 68 years, a father of three, and a loving grandfather.

He had a regular golf game at Hillcrest Country Club, where he recruited some of Boise's most powerful business leaders into helping on his crusades. Those games were usually followed by friendly but lively debates in the 19th hole. He was a man who was comfortable with his convictions in any setting.

History will tell us if he was Idaho's greatest governor. Most who knew him will tell you history has already made the call.

Andrus' family has made private funeral arrangements for Wednesday, Aug. 30 in Boise. He will lie in state from noon Wednesday to noon Thursday in the Idaho Capitol rotunda.

A public memorial is scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday in the Jordan Ballroom of the Boise State University Student Union. Andrus' family asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Andrus Center For Public Policy at Boise State.

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MORE: The death of the four-term governor prompted an outpouring of condolences online including former President Jimmy Carter.