UPDATE: Former Missouri Gov. Hearnes honored at Capitol service

Wednesday, August 19, 2009 | 5:46 p.m. CDT; updated 10:24 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, August 19, 2009

JEFFERSON CITY — Former Gov. Warren Hearnes was remembered Wednesday for a "legacy of compassion" to the mentally ill and children as officials from Missouri's political past and present paid their respects at a Capitol memorial service.

Hearnes, the first person to serve two full consecutive terms as Missouri governor, died late Sunday night at the age of 86 at his home in Charleston. He was governor from 1965-1973.

"The people of Missouri today are the inheritors of this grand legacy," Gov. Jay Nixon said in a memorial address recounting Hearnes' accomplishments. "His life — both as a public servant and a private citizen — was a testament to the simple fact that one individual can make a difference in the lives of thousands and millions."

Heading a bipartisan crowd of about 300 mourners were former Govs. John Ashcroft, Roger Wilson, Bob Holden and Matt Blunt, the widow of Gov. Mel Carnahan, all of Missouri's current executive officeholders and numerous state and federal legislators.

After the service, six state troopers serving as pallbearers carried Hearnes' casket out of the Capitol Rotunda and into a hearse. A military drum corps then led a slow procession in drizzling rain around the Capitol. They stopped directly in front of the governor's Capitol office for a fly-over by four Apache helicopters and an artillery gun salute.

Earlier in the day, Betty Hearnes paused, alone, and placed her hand upon the casket of her late husband before greeting the scores of people who passed through the Capitol to express their condolences. The casket, sitting on a marble slate, was draped with a Missouri flag Hearnes had saved for 40 years for precisely this occasion.

After serving in the Army, Hearnes enrolled in law school and began his political career in January 1951 as a 27-year-old freshman Democrat in the state House of Representatives. Within several years, he rose to become the majority leader.

After a four-year term as secretary of state, Hearnes became Missouri's 46th governor in 1965 and quickly secured passage of a constitutional amendment allowing the chief executive to serve successive terms. He then became the first governor to do so.

During his tenure, Missouri tripled its budget for mental health care, doubled its spending on higher education and significantly boosted state aid for K-12 public schools. To pay for that, Hearnes pushed a major tax increase through the Legislature. Voters initially blocked it through an initiative petition drive, but Hearnes got the Legislature to pass the tax hike again.

Nixon noted that Hearnes also championed legislation creating the state's teacher retirement system and the state's first civil rights act regarding public accommodations, and he sheltered workshops for the developmentally disabled. .

"In his work for children, the mentally ill, minority groups and all Missourians, Gov. Hearnes walked the path shown to us in the Gospel — that 'Whatsoever you do for the least of my people, that you do unto me,'" Nixon said.

Among the many who paused by Hearnes' casket was former Republican state Sen. J.H. Frappier, who was a House member from Florissant when Hearnes was governor. It was the manner in which Hearnes governed, not the substance of his policy, that Frappier recalled most fondly.

"He was always a gentleman, he was always courteous, and he was a wonderful politician," said Frappier, who now lives in Jefferson City. "I think we were fortunate to have him as long as we did."

Funeral director Elgin McMikle, who joined the mourners, reminisced of chauffeuring and golfing with Hearnes over the years, describing him as "one of the most intelligent people we had in Charleston."

"He's been one of the better governors we've ever had in the state of Missouri."

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