By DAVID R. FRAZIER,
Whenever former Gov. Cecil “Cece” walked into the room, you knew he was there. He owned the place. My newspaper editor grandfather would have said, “He was a man of bearing.”
Andrus, who died Thursday one day shy of his 85th birthday, was equally at home in a trim suit or jeans and a cowboy hat. Perhaps his best trait was remembering names and making you feel like you were his best buddy. He once introduced me to Robert Redford along the banks of the Snake River prior to a raft trip saying, “Bob, I want you to meet a good friend of mine, this is Dave Frazier.”
From his first days as governor-elect until his days as Interior Secretary, I photographed Cece for the Statesman, Time Magazine, and the New York Times. A friend once sent me a bumper sticker which read, “MAFIA STAFF CAR, KEEPA YOU HANDS OFF.” I taped it to the bumper of Idaho 1 and snapped a shot which I gave to Cece. When I showed it to him in his office he was so delighted that he took the sticker (I had used tape to hold it) down to the big black Cadillac and asked me to get a shot of him “pasting” it on the bumper next to the Idaho 1 plate.
Very early-on we made a deal: I wouldn’t make him look silly if he didn’t wear silly hats. As a result, each time he got an award or signed a proclamation for the Girl Scouts, construction workers, or a winning sports team, he was presented with some sort of hat. He very graciously thanked the presenter and promised to cherish the chapeau in his collection, but he never “wore another person’s hat.” Remember Michael DUKAKIS in the Army tanker hat?
I was told that Andrus was once at the Ft. Hall Indian Reservation when someone plopped a genuine feathered headdress on his dome. He chuckled, looked around and said, “I am sure glad Frazier isn’t here.”
Perhaps the most insightful peek into the character of Cecil Andrus came during the historic Teton Dam collapse and flood in 1976. I had sneaked aboard the Idaho Air National Guard plane moments before Andrus and a host of state officials left Boise on a flight over the inundated area of Rexburg. We buzzed some fishermen along the Henrys Fork River west of Rexburg and dropped them a cryptic note warning of the wall of water headed their way. A good chance some lives were saved by that action.
We approached Idaho Falls and Andrus told the Air Guard pilot to radio the tower to close the airport to all but emergency traffic.
“Idaho Falls tower, request you close the airport to all but emergency traffic immediately,” radioed the major at the controls.
“Negative. Only Salt Lake Center has that authority. You can contact the Center on (frequency),” came the response
from the air traffic controller.
At that, Andrus calmly took the the microphone, pushed the call button and said, “Idaho Falls tower, this is Gov. Andrus. Did you understand the airport is now closed?”
“Yes Governor, the airport is now closed,” came the prompt reply. Such was the nature of Gov. Cecil Andrus.
After calling the White House to get disaster relief started, Andrus flew back to Boise. He carried my film back to Boise so photos could reach the world while I remained behind to cover the rescues and destruction.